Monthly Archives: October 2010

Oaxaca Restaurant Review: Zandunga

Tucked into a corner and across the street from La Biznaga on Garcia Virgil  is a sweet little cafe-style restaurant called Zandunga.  You might walk past it and not think much of it.  The small square tables are covered with brightly covered bandana-design cloth like many family-owned comedors in the region.  The seats are either benches or simple chairs, and it is far from the elegance that would draw in a typically sophisticated crowd looking for high-end gourmet.  But looks deceive.  Zanduga is operated by Aurora (whose last name whizzed by me in the flurry of introductions) who is from the Isthmus of Tehuantepec, where the women are strong, creative, and energetic.  (Great role models, for sure!)  The food that she and her family prepares is exceptional.  The black mole and chicken tamale is a delicate custard with plenty of meat and sauce wrapped in a banana leaf and steamed.  The banana leaf wrapping is typical of southern Oaxaca coastal cuisine, a juxtaposition of traditional tamales as we know it wrapped in corn husks.  I wish I had taken a photo.  I was too busy eating!

We also ordered for sharing (para compartir) a plate of traditional Oaxacan foods from the Isthmus that included an array of delectables:  plantains, queso fresco, empanadas, a wonderful ceviche of shrimp and fresh tomatoes, carne de res, and a sweet-savory cabbage slaw.  The price of this dish was 270 pesos and easily shared as an appetizer by four people.  Linda has a shrimp bisque — and all I heard was ummmm, ummmm, ummmm between slurps.  The average cost of an entree is 110 pesos and you can get by for far less.  A great array of Mexican beer is available, and Aurora has a supply of finely crafted smooth mescal from some of the finest local producers.

Aurora also sews for the Museo Textil de Oaxaca, and makes extraordinary huipiles that she also sells at her shop of the same name on Abasolo.

Don’t miss this spot.  It’s a hidden gem.

Heads Up: Finding Aeromexico at Benito Juarez Airport, Mexico City

Travel life has just gotten a little more confusing now that Mexicana airlines is bankrupt and no longer flying.  The only way to get to Oaxaca is by flying on Continental (semi-officially now known as United Airlines) from Houston direct, or via the other major carriers through Mexico City with a 45-minute connection on AeroMexico or a six-hour bus ride on ADO.

This is written for those of you who are flying to Mexico City on US Air or American.  Your flights will land in Terminal One — the original Mexico City terminal.  Since AeroMexico is located in the new international Terminal Two, you will need to take the airtrain (aerotren) from Terminal One to Terminal Two after you clear customs.  It’s a schlepp, so factor in enough time to get to your connection — I suggest at least 30 minutes.  AeroMexico is located in L3 (lounge 3) of Terminal Two.  Our wait in line to get our electronic ticket converted to a paper ticket took about 20 minutes.

If you are flying into Mexico City on Continental (United) or Delta, they arrive at Terminal Two, so no worries, no extra hassle.

The airfares now are about 20-30 percent higher to get to Oaxaca because of this reduced competition.  There is very little if any cost benefit to connect in Mexico City.  The round-trip from RDU to Oaxaca via Houston on Continental was actually less this week than the price to buy a RT from RDU to Mexico City and then a separate internal flight on AeroMexico.  That last leg was costing out at $300 RT MC-Oaxaca.  Bummer.

Recipe: Zapotec Cure for the Common Cold — Garlic Lime Tea

I was feeling a little funky earlier this week and feared the beginnings of a head cold coming on.  A bit of a sore throat, that tired feeling of not having enough sleep that comes with too much to do and so little time.  I was searching for vitamin C in the house and couldn’t put my hands on any. Janet, who has been with us for several weeks now, said, “let me tell you what my mom does when I’m feeling that way.”  Okay, I said.  Trust me, she said, you will feel better.   Here is the recipe.  And let me tell you, it works!

5 cloves of garlic, peeled and slightly crushed

the peel of one lime (no juice)

2 T. honey (or to taste)

1-1/2 to 2 cups water

In small saucepan, bring water, garlic, lime peel and honey to a boil.  Pour through tea strainer.  Drink hot.  Better than Theraflu!


Garlic Lime Tea, cure for the common cold



Mexico Discourse: Safety, Drug Wars, and Fear

From Stephen to My Mother, age 94:

I very much enjoyed reading your email and the article about Mexico.  It is truly horrific. But so are the drug killings in this country as the drugs are dealt out. The same gangland shootings have been going on in the States, but here, the media’s white, and after a while nobody pays attention anymore.

Most of the people in Mexico are untouched by the violence, as are most people in this country.  Here and in Mexico, it’s largely the unemployed/unemployable despairing poor who run the risks of dying to make a way up and out.  We can never win the “war” on drugs. We need to legalize them immediately, thereby destroying the illegal manufacturing and transport industries that have grown up around them.  Your points about our nation being the cause since we’re the buyers of druga and the sellers of arms is a good one. Also about the thugs in the banks and on Wall St. And all the oil thugs, and the revolving door between corporations and the government, etc.

I wrote a colleague of mine who retired to Mexico last March on a one year trial. They are in San Miguel Allende, a mountain town north east of Mexico City, with a lot of Anglo expats, some in gated communities.  This is what I said and his response:

“Everyone here asks about the drug war and its impact on expats as the horrific slaughter mounts. What’s your experience and your take on the whole mess?”

He replied:

“In San Miguel one has absolutely no idea there’s a drug war going on with the exception that people are skittish about driving to and from the US.  When there is a visiting dignitary there are a lot of soldiers and body guard types in town but I have nothing to compare this to and it may simply be business as usual and nothing new.  For the celebration of San Miguel Day there must have been someone visiting town.  We counted 75 soldiers and bodyguard types walking home from our Spanish tutor and lots of streets around two hotels were roped off.  But this may be standard procedure.  People never talk about the narcoterrorism thing except to comment on the fact that people in the US are afraid to visit and tourism is down sharply and restaurants and boutiques are going out of business.

We went to Xilitla in the mountains east of here (above the Gulf of Mexico) to see Las Pozas, the 80 acre jungle mountain site  converted into a surrealistic park with amazing buildings and sculptures.  I’ll forward you some photos in a  separate email.”

The same thing is true in Oaxaca where the US market for drugs is destroying the local economy, most of which is based on tourism.  Local agriculture in the valley, both commercial and the smaller milpas people kept, have been made irrlevant by NAFTA: the price of US government subsidized corn and beans is well below the cost of locally produced Mexican corn and beans, so small farms are going under, just like in the States, and the land is being bought up by Mexican and US corporations. So the US has successfully exported monocrop pesticidal and herbicidal factory farms to Mexico.

Mexico and many other post-colonial countries may be rife with corruption, a residue everywhere of colonial occupation;  yet our country is not immune. We call it “bribery” in the third world. Here, we call it lobbying.

So, this has been enjoyable, but I need to get up, feed my pigs, thin my beets and carrots and focus on marketing my practice so some day I can retire.

Wrapping Up a Week of Oaxaca Rug Exhibitions in North Carolina

Janet says that this has been a terrific week.  “We really liked being in Durham, Chapel Hill and Pittsboro to meet people all over the Triangle.  I noticed that people really like the Mountains and Rains designs because it has a lot of colors, and represents the traditional designs yet also reflects a contemporary look.  They also liked the small special designs that my father Federico wove because they are non-traditional and unusual.”


Tapetes Federico Chavez Sosa


This rug includes colors made from cochineal, pomegranate, marigold, pecan leaves, moss.

Janet also says that people who know about weaving and appreciate textiles and art are those who understand the labor and time that goes into creating them.  It was wonderful to welcome people to the exhibitions at Dos Perros Restaurant in Durham, at Erica Rothman’s home in Chapel Hill and at the General Store Cafe in Pittsboro.  We had so many people come to the General Store Cafe that we have started saying Pittsboro del Valle, because it is Janet  home away from home in Teotitlan del Valle!