Monthly Archives: July 2013

Chiapas Textiles in Oaxaca This Weekend Only — Exhibition and Sale

El Diablo y Sandia Bed and Breakfast Inn is hosting an exhibition and sale of fine quality Chiapas textiles this weekend only, July 19-20, 2013.  The textiles are hand-woven on back-strap looms by the women’s cooperative El Camino de los Altos in San Cristobal de Las Casas.

  •  10 a.m. – 7 p.m. @ El Diablo y La Sandia B&B, Libres #205, Oaxaca Centro Historico, between Morelos and Murguia, Telephone 951-514-4095

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All the funds go to supporting the work of over 130 women and their families. Chiapas is the poorest state in Mexico and is predominantly populated by Maya peoples.

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I have known Camino de los Altos for many years.  Each year I add a few pieces to my collection — pillow covers, table linens and dish towels — that are durable and easy to wash.   The work is stunning and 100% cotton.


A group of French textile designers started the cooperative and has transitioned it over to local management.  This weekend show is organized by Ana Paula Fuentes, a former museum director and textile expert.

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The added joy of having the exhibition at El Diablo y La Sandia is meeting owner and host Maria Crespo.  She is selling a private label mezcal that is SO GOOD and so reasonably priced that I had to buy a bottle.  But, before that, I got a good buzz sampling the different varieties she has to offer.

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The green bottles are hand-blown glass from the State of Puebla.  They are the traditional mezcal containers and make a beautiful decorative display. Several antique shops in Oaxaca offer these for sale, too.

El Camino de los Altos welcomes visitors to its San Cristobal de Las Casas shop at Restaurante Madre Tierra, Insurgentes #19, Barrio Santa Lucia. Their workshop is at Cerrada Prolongacion Peje de Oro #3-A, Carrio de Cixtitali.  Telephone (967) 631-6944


Xochimilco: Connecting to Mexico’s Aztec History

The Xochimilco (so-chee-milko) floating gardens of Mexico City constructed by the Aztecs long before the Spanish conquest to support agriculture and small village life is at risk of extinction.  To take a boat ride along the waterways that extend for miles around the islands, called chinampas, is to experience what life may have been like then and for me is an essential part of knowing Mexico.  It has always been important for me to link past with present as a way to understand what the future may hold.


Leave the dock in a Venetian-style gondola painted in primary colors and within twenty minutes the boatman has you in a serene natural environment beyond the hectic, urban center of the Xochimilco neighborhood.

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Float by and see the greenhouses and nurseries where Aztec descendents grow ornamental plants and vegetables just like their fore bearers.  Known as floating gardens, they are in fact Aztec-made islands anchored to the lakebed by centuries of rock and humus.  Degradation from encroaching waterlilies and illegal squatters threaten their fragile existence.

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To help with preservation, Xochimilco was named a World Heritage Site by UNESCO.  Yet, rare species of wildlife are at risk and the canals are filling in and becoming polluted.  Go while you still can!

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On Sundays, local families and tourists fill all the gondolas you see in the photo above.  Many stay on the water for six or eight hours.  A curious sight is to see a “side-car” gondola attached to the one carrying people from which cooks prepare and serve meals.   Other side-car gondolas carry minstrels and mariachi music-makers to entertain, or you can pull up to a comedor situated canal-side complete with boat dock.  Our Thursday afternoon excursion was much more tranquil.  We could concentrate on the natural beauty.

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It’s not easy to get here.  The neighborhood is in the southern part of the city and takes a good forty-five minutes to more than an hour to travel from Mexico City center depending on traffic, which is fierce during most hours of any weekday.  Ask your hotel to book you a driver.  We paid 120 pesos an hour. The boat ride was 300 pesos an hour for up to twelve people, so we asked our driver Fabian if he wanted to join us.  He did.  He was thrilled and loved the experience, a first for him.

This was an extra-long day.  We spent the morning at Casa Azul, The Frida Kahlo Museum, the home she shared with Mexican muralist-artist Diego Rivera.   The Coyoacan location was much closer to Xochimilco than where we were staying at El Patio 77 in the San Rafael district, which we liked very much by the way!


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After we got to Xochimilco around one-thirty in the afternoon, we made a beeline to the public market in search of fast-food tamales and blue corn tacos for lunch. Not exactly street food, but pretty close.  (Hunger called. We ate the tamales so fast we forgot to take photos.)

Dance of the Feather Grand Finale and Rain

I’m finally settled into Teotitlan del Valle, Oaxaca, after a whirlwind two days in Mexico City and a six-hour bus ride south.  It’s raining here and has done so for days. Evenings are chilly enough for a blanket. The afternoon sky is filled with dramatic shades of gray cumulus clouds punctuated with intermittent sunlight. The river is flowing, the land is green, and the Dance of the Feather just ended, an annual village ritual celebrated since before the Spanish conquest and adapted with a new story line.  Rain or shine, the dance continues.

This year the Danzantes (the dancers), who were born in Teotitlan del Valle, but have lived in California since they were young, returned as a group to make their three-year commitment to honor their Zapotec heritage.

Read Meagan and Ben’s blog post about Dance of the Feather and their experiences at the public health clinic!

Ben Cook and Meagan Parsons, the two physician assistant students who are volunteering this month at the Teotitlan del Valle public health clinic, immersed themselves in the culture of the Dance of the Feather.  They wrote a post about it on their blog, Ben and Meagan’s Teotitlan del Valle adventures 2013, and included lots of photos to give you a sense of what it’s like to be here.

Plus, there’s some great pictures of the always alluring Sunday Tlacolula market, which they went to with Deborah Morris, MD, PA-C, their academic coordinator.

Today, Debbie and I got together in the courtyard, dodging drizzle and hiding from the sun, to make felted wool cloth which we cut and sewed into flower pins. We arrived at Las Granadas B&B in time for a simple dinner of quesadillas, brown rice, and black beans topped with Magdalena’s amazing smokey salsa de chile pasillo, just as the rain clouds opened up with a deluge at six thirty this evening. The lightening display was dramatic.  Thunder still roars.

Here’s a shot Debbie took of the rain coming over the mountains from the village of Benito Juarez.


One of the most popular Teotitlan del Valle rug patterns is called Mountains and Rain!  We know why.

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Eat Like a Mexican: Tasting Mexico City Street Food with Eat Mexico Culinary Tour

Forbes Magazine says Mexico City is the hottest place for food.  They are not talking temperature.  Mexico City has it all — from gourmet cheeses and meats found in pricey restaurants to humble street food like tacos and tlacoyos. Today, I focus on eating on the street where people consume complete meals or snacks, sitting on stools or standing at the curb. This is Mexico’s version of fast food and is something I have shied away from.  But my secret yearning to sample was finally realized because I want to eat like a Mexican, too!  Thanks goes to Lesley Tellez who started an off-the-beaten-path, non-touristy culinary walking tour called Eat Mexico (see below for contact information).   

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This is real food, homemade by women and men who work at portable cook stoves at street corners or at little stationery stands who continue home-style family traditions.  We discover, however, that humble is a misnomer and what we taste rivals any high-end restaurant for quality if not for presentation. Lesley has done her research well.  All the food is delicious, and the preparation is safe and clean.

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Our guide Natalia and guide-in-training Arturo, meet us at the designated spot, then lead us down a side street to a corner seafood taco stand that has been in business for over forty years.  We belly up to the outdoor bar, gaze at the selection of fresh crab, shrimp, lobster, fish, and octopus through the protective clean glass that separated us from the cooks.  We choose either the blue crab tostada or a deep fried mixed seafood quesadilla. Luckily, Debbie and I can share so we choose one of each, drizzled with lots fresh lime and Valentina sauce.  YUMMY and AMAZING after first bites.

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After a block or two, we turn the corner near the San Juan artisans market and come upon a stall that is operated by a third generation cook.  Right on this corner, whole turkeys are cut up on the seat of a plastic chair, then deep-fried in a giant cauldron filled with oil until done.  The meat is then sliced, layered on a toasted roll (torta), slathered with homemade chipotle chili salsa (another OOOH, AAAAH here), and topped with avocado.  We are invited to add a papalo leaf to the ingredients before closing up the sandwich to eat.  This is a minty herb with a sharp, flavorful taste unlike anything I’ve ever eaten before.  We each get a half-sandwich to sample.  What I notice while I inhale this treat is how the plastic plates are wiped with a cloth only used for this purpose.  The plate is covered with a clean piece of paper before the sandwich finds its resting place.  I have no concerns about sanitation here.

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It’s the middle of July and the rainy season in Mexico.  As we enter San Juan market, boxes are filled with just-delivered mushrooms, varieties of which I have not seen before.  This market offers a gourmet food experience and many top chefs shop here for exotic meats (like ostrich, lion, and kangaroo), fruit and vegetables.  We sample fresh rambutan, chico zapote, mango, jackfruit, figs, nectarines.  The mamey tastes like a creamy sweet potato and I love it.  Eat it solo for dessert or try it as an ice cream.

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Coffee, anyone?  The barista grinds beans from Veracruz and brews me a cup of Americano from the espresso machine.  MMMMM, good.

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Next, is a tasting of fruit jams and jellies, tapenades, and honey.  I walk away with a jar of jalapeno jelly and rose petal jam.  Next door is the cheese purveyor who puts out a sampling plate of world-class varieties like smoked gouda, pistachio infused manchego cheese, brie, and a mozzarella, all made in Mexico.  He offers us cups of red wine to sip along with the tasting.  Baguettes of fresh, crusty French bread hang from the overhead rack above his stall, ready to take home.

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By now, I am full, but we press on.  Our guide Natalia explains the history of the market dating from pre-Hispanic Aztec times.  Mexico, she says, gave the world three gifts:  chocolate, chiles, and vanilla.  At the next intersection is the chile vendor where some of us buy mole rojo and vanilla beans at 20 pesos each (that’s about $1.50).  Natalia recommends we put a vanilla bean in the sugar jar for a great taste.

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At the Oaxaca specialty food stand, we pop chapulines (grasshoppers) into our mouths.  No one is reticent.  The big ones are the females.  The little ones are males.  They are roasted with salt and chiles, crunchy and tasty.  I say no to another taste of Oaxaca quesillo.  No more space in my stomach.  Debbie buys a bag of peanuts roasted with chile, salt and lime juice.  I watch her pop a few!

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We move out onto the street in the direction of the common people’s market Arcos de Belen.  On the way, we stop at a molina to see how the corn is ground. Next door is the tortilleria where the masa dough is formed and cooked by machine. (In Teotitlan del Valle, we can still get handmade tortillas!)  Natalia gives us a history of corn as part of the cultural identity of Mexico, where it was first hybridized eight thousand years ago in the Oaxaca valley close to where I live.

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After we tour the market food courts, we all pass on a taste at the fresh juice bar (estoy lleno–I am full) and move on to the corner where a woman sits making blue corn tlacoyos.

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The finish is at the pulque bar, where the double swinging doors look like a saloon entrance.  The décor is decidedly neo-Aztec with bright figures painted on walls and ceilings.  We cozy up to a side bar where the owner brings us a sampler tray of flavored pulques – pineapple, celery, coconut, oatmeal, guayaba plus au natural (a viscous, sour taste).  The sweetness helps mask the milkiness. Natalia tells us the Aztec history of the drink and explains that it is fermented, not distilled, from the agave plant and must be served fresh.  It is cheap, gives a nice buzz, and is favored by university students who represent most of the clientele this day.  I take a liking to the celery and pineapple.

University students at the pulqueria

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We say our goodbyes at the next street corner.  What a great adventure, very fun, educational, and gastronomically delightful. I have a map but I’m not going to share it with you!

I recommend you sign up for Eat Mexico Culinary Tours and discover this great food experience for yourself!

P.S. The cost of $85 per person includes guide services, map, a bottle of water, and all food and drink along the way.  We sign up in advance and pay online.  Very easy.  Eat Mexico sends lots of email communication to tell us where to meet, what to wear that would be comfortable, and a little bit about our guide so we recognize her.  Be sure to check out Lesley Tellez’ The Mija Chronicles blog, too.

Oaxaca Food Heaven: Restaurant Reviews by Guest Contributor Eva M. Olson

Our blog post today is written Eva M. Olson, a writer and former arts administrator based in Austin, Texas. I invited Eva to share her Oaxaca “foodie” experiences after she and a friend made a recent whirlwind eating trip.  Eva first visited Oaxaca with her family when she was 13, and says she has been fortunate to return to her casa de alma many times since then.  Here’s her take on several of Oaxaca’s best restaurants.


Oaxaca Comida–Buen Provecho! by Eva M. Olson

Returning to Oaxaca always feels like coming home. The air, the people, and the active zocalo are soothing and familiar.  My last visit was in November 2007, when Oaxaca was still reeling from the teachers’ strike and its aftermath.  Now, almost six years later, the city’s energy feels whole again.  Since dining well is central to any journey, and especially here, my best companion and fellow foodie B. and I decided to try a few new restaurants as well as some of my old haunts.  We stayed at Hotel Casa Oaxaca, a centrally located spot from which to launch our dining expeditions.

Our first night, we wandered into one of my favorite spots, Casa Oaxaca Restaurant where chef Alejandro Ruiz has developed a succulent tribute to the distinctive cuisine of the region. And it turned out to be the best meal of our visit.  Every detail was covered – the presentation and the service were perfection – and our food was luscious.

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B. had the silky blue bean soup and I had a gorgeous salad of fresh tomatoes, queso fresco, and watermelon (above).  Our entrees were simple grilled seafood – shrimp for B. and for me a whole octopus (breathtaking and perfectly prepared). For dessert, a trio of sorbets  – limon, coco, y leche quemada –lime, coconut and burnt milk (below).

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(Sadly, the wine here – as well as everywhere we ate – was disappointing. The list of wines by the glass was thin and the choices expensive. I realize that Oaxaca’s beverage of choice is mezcal, but it overpowers food, and I really enjoy a glass of wine with a meal.)  But, did I mention the attentive, relaxed, and thoughtful service?  The bill for this extraordinary meal was just over $100 USD (plus about a 15 percent tip).

Do you agree with Eva?  Let us know what you think!  Leave a Comment.

We had Saturday night reservations at Origen – friends had recommended it highly, and we were looking forward to discovering a new restaurant star.  It was underwhelming and ordinary on all counts – definitely not the outstanding meal we’d been anticipating.

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Our salads were adequate – mine with grapefruit and smoked trout (though not much of it) and B.’s mixed greens with an abundance of purslane (definitely an acquired taste). My sea bass with rice was unmemorable; B.’s ribeye with marrow was well prepared, and the marrow rub was excellent (arguably the best part of the meal).  Our merengue dessert was delayed for almost 30 minutes – and the mushy white paste that arrived was inedible.  We were the only people there, until a couple showed up at the end of our meal.  The bill here was $110 USD plus tip.

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The following day we walked a lot, and on an early afternoon jaunt stumbled across Carbon de Palo, a brand-new restaurant on 5 de Mayo.  Billed by our waiter as Continental fusion, with a Colombian chef, it was a lovely surprise.  Our lunch starters were excellent   – a grouper ceviche with lime foam and an incredibly fresh caprese salad (above).  B. chose squid ink pasta topped with a giant scallop, and pronounced it the best he’s ever had.  My entrée was a beautiful – the only word that fits – avocado, skinned and presented whole, stuffed with crab.  I had a glass of Penedes and B. had a Victoria. We vowed to come back for dinner as soon as possible.

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One night we had dinner at our hotel – not surprisingly, it was a beautiful meal with exquisite service provided by Daniel. To start, ceviche tacos and a beet salad, sea bass with green mole and shrimps in mole as entrees.  We all but inhaled the dessert – a delicate camote y piña flauta.

Want to make your own recommendations? Leave a Comment!

We returned to Casa Oaxaca Restaurant for our last supper, and admittedly overdid it.  We started with a cheese platter – a wide assortment of local cheeses, all delicious and rich.  B. had the pulpo – and was awarded an extra-large serving of rice loaded with huitlacoche after letting our server Omar know how much he craves this tasty corn fungus.  For me, Omar recommended the grouper served with chicatana salsa –a delicacy, and a very distinctive taste.

I can’t forget to mention the incredible breakfasts at Casa Oaxaca Hotel.  Included in the cost of the room, and served in the sunny courtyard, each meal was outstanding. Freshly squeezed juices of our choice (usually apple for B., papaya and orange for me), a variety of eggs, a fresh fruit plate with granola and yogurt, enchiladas, quesadillas, chilaquiles, freshly baked breads, homemade jam, as well as cappuccino and espresso, and hot chocolate made to order.

We’re already thinking about restaurants for the next trip – we’ll definitely return to Carbon de Palo and Casa Oaxaca.  We made reservations at Pitiona but never got there – that has to go on the list.  Also missed Los Danzantes.  Oaxaca is calling, and we’ll be back.


Norma’s Note:  There are wonderful restaurants and outdoor cafes all over Oaxaca with varying price ranges, from comida corrida (food of the common person) to gourmet extravaganza. Eva’s review here give us her “top shelf” dining experience!

If you would like to contribute a blog post about your Oaxaca experiences, please contact Norma.