Looking for a spectacular brunch spot in Oaxaca with gourmet taste at a moderate price? Look no further. Criollo restaurant offers it all! Note: Be sure to make a reservation! Doors open at 10 a.m.
There is a reason that this Top Chef Enrique Olvera (of Pujol fame) dining spot is packed with locals and a few foreign visitors on Sunday morning! The outdoor dining alfresco under the shade trees and palapas is a real treat. It’s casual. It’s beautiful. It’s delicious. Okay. Now I’m repeating myself.
Set in proximity to a cocina de humo — an outdoor smoke and grill kitchen — the picnic tables are adorned with huge vases of fresh flowers on a patio of crushed gravel. Waiters offer a choice of barrista made coffees or café de olla— the sweet, cinnamon and vanilla infused coffee that native Oaxacans love to dunk their breakfast bread into.
Now for the bread! The choices are conchas—bigger and more delicious than you find anywhere, sweet bread stuffed with vanilla cream, and a nutty fruit bread flavored with ashes—my particular favorite. One little bite was not enough to satisfy. I had to eat the whole thing. Estoy gordita.
Dean, Kay and I shared a plate of grilled meats. It comes with grilled veggies and pineapple, guacamole, beef, pork ribs and chorizo. It isn’t on the menu — so be sure to ask for this. We also had a fresh fruit platter. They added granola and yogurt to the meal.
As founders of Oaxaca Eats, they know the best eating and grazing joints in town. I trust their taste explicitly. We’ve known each other since North Carolina days, before they moved to Oaxaca over six years ago.
After breakfast, Kay says, wanna go to the symphony? Sure, I say. So we hop in a taxi and get to Teatro Macedonio Alcalá JIT.
Seems the symphony is auditioning for a new conductor. Today was a special treat. Maestro William Harvey was on the podium and not only dazzled us with Bach and Beethoven, showing off his own violin virtuoso, but performed his own composition paying homage to indigenous peoples and featuring a vocalist from the Spokane tribe of Washington state, of whom only 25 native speakers remain.
It was an amazing day, a cultural treat all the way around.
According to Navajo legend, the red sandstone buttes of Monument Valley that stand 1,000 feet above the desert floor, trap long-defeated monsters that are part of the Navajo creation story. Monument Valley is a Navajo Tribal Park and almost everything here is Native owned and operated. We are here for three nights, spending the first night at Gouldings in Utah, and the second night at The View Hotel, just across the border in Arizona. On Wednesday, October 4, we took a 4 p.m. to dusk tour with Chris, our Navajo guide from The Three Sisters Navajo Guided Tours. The tour was spectacular and Chris gave us both a cultural and personal history of the region, making it extra special.
We are in an ancient sea bed of red sand rich in iron ore, outcroppings of juniper trees, grasses, sage, and yellow-blooming chamisa. Once, millions of years ago, the mesa was at the top of these monster spires, which give the landscape a other-worldly appearance. We could be on the surface of an unknown planet. If you want to read more about the geology, click here.
Anthropologists generally agree that the Navajo came to North America some 6,000 years ago from north Asia, moving from Canada south into the American southwest and Monument Valley about 500 years ago. To read about the Navajo creation story, click here.
Our tour, on a dirt and sandy trail, took us into the far reaches of the valley, where erosion, wind, shifts in the earth, create phantasmagorical sculptures on the 7,000+ foot high desert floor that is part of the Colorado Plateau. In the distance, we can see Bears’ Ears, the latest national monument to be created by the Obama administration. Chris tells us that under the 45th President, there was a move to sell off the lands to private mining interests that was then reversed by Joe Biden. Still, the region is in peril of mining development because of strong lobbying interests.
Monument Valley is an icon of the America west. In the 1930’s, Henry Goulding, who had established a trading post here in the 1920’s, needed a source of income during the Great Depression. He went to Hollywood and convinced director John Ford to film Stagecoach starring John Wayne in his breakthrough role. The film was released in 1939. Goulding constructed lodge rooms and dining facilities to host film crew and actors. The rest is tourism history!
On this trip we have heard a multitude of languages here: Italian, German, Dutch, Russian, Slavic languages, Korean, Japanese, Dine (a southern Athabaskan language) spoken by the Navajo or Dine people, Spanish, and English. Tourists are here from all over the world!
If you want to know more about the history of the Dine people, please read the epic book Blood and Thunder, by Hampton Sides, about the conquering of the American west and the key characters who waged war and appropriated the land, including Kit Carson.
We made a stop to visit a rug weaver who raises Churro sheep on the reservation, cards and spins the wool, and who was born in a hogan (pronounced Ho-Wahn) next to where she conducted her demonstration. She tells us that winters have changed — there may be one foot of snow when in recent years there was six feet or more during the winter. Now, it is just windy and bitterly cold from December through early March.
Our guide Kris Chee, age 41, has only returned to Monument Valley, the original home of his family, a year ago. He had a yearning to return to his roots after working outside, telling us that there is little employment here other than tourism. His dad, who was in the US Army, was stationed in Fayetteville, North Carolina, for many years, and that is where he grew up. He returned here to finish high school and left again. Now, he drives a big Toyota Tacoma 8-cylinder truck that hauls a trailer to hold passengers intent on seeing the valley, explaining the lore as we make various stops to see buttes, climb sandhills, and oggle at ancient petroglyphs carved in rocks by Anasazi predecessors.
On our way back to the Visitor’s Center, we made a stop at Navajo Code Talkers point. The spot honors the young men who created an unbreakable code for communication during WWII based on the Dine language. This is an important part of our collective history to recognize the contributions of Native American culture.
Kris is intent on understanding and practicing native rituals and beliefs as he embraces traditional Navajo life. These are based on how to live in harmony with nature and other people. Something we can all learn to do better!
Tomorrow, Friday morning, we leave for Mesa Verde. To be continued!
We are still jet-lagged after two full days here in Barcelona and can’t seem to get the rhythm of sleep down. But, we have discovered the tap-tap-tap of tapas with a great orientation to Bilbao Berria tapas bar right down at the corner from where we are staying across from the Barcelona Cathedral.
What’s the procedure, I asked our bar keep Alfre (muy guapo). It’s buffet, he said. Pick up what you like then put the wood stick in the container at your table. That’s how we charge you. I tell my sister, this is like eating dim sum.
New dishes keep coming out of the kitchen to tempt you. I’m especially loving the anchovies and grilled cod. Oh, and then there is the aged jamon Iberico. Oh, and the deep friend camembert rolled in chopped pecans.
This is definitely not Mexico and it is too early for me to find any but the most superficial similarities. Compare and contrast. Can we drink the water? I asked the hotel staff. Madame, he replied, you are in Europe now. Well, we might be able to drink it but it doesn’t taste very good. Paper in the commode is okay.
Here, it is tapas and pintxos, not tacos and tamales. Tipping is optional. Leave a euro (now valued at a little more than a dollar) on a twenty-dollar check, its sufficient.
At many of the bars and at the stalls at the Boqueria market, a glass of wine or sangria or a beer on tap is included in the food cost, as is tax. Try El Quim or Bar Central. Along the periphery are amazing seafood comedors with huge platters of grilled fish and shellfish. More about that to come.
Yesterday, I took over 400 photos at Gaudi’s Sagrada Familia. It will take me a while to edit and post these. We ended the day today with gelato equal to any offered in Italy. The city is swollen with tourists who speak languages I cannot name.
I’m getting used to this Old World version of Spanish, with its tildes, cedillas and x’s that sound like sh. Some of the words are familiar, like digame, tell me, when I start to ask a question. Gracias is pronounced grathias as in Barthelona. Think Mexican Spanish with a lisp.
I’ll say goodnight now. We are nine hours ahead of you if you live in California, USA. It was two-days in the getting here. Food and art are great salves.
Guadalupe Rivera Marin remembers the elaborate meals served at Casa Azul, home of her father Diego Rivera and Frida Kahlo. Lupe lived with them for a few years and claims to have taught Frida how to cook. Evidently, Frida loved to entertain but didn’t take much to the preparation. I wouldn’t either if it required grinding the masa by hand on a metate to make tortillas over a smokey charcoal fire! The lore around Diego and Frida continues.
In this Washington Post interview about Diego Rivera’s favorite foods, Lupe recalls tables set with flair, abundant meals featuring Oaxaca’s mole negro, and table conversation with famous guests. Now age 90, Lupe Rivera authored a 1994 cookbook Frida’s Fiestas that replicates many of the recipes served at the Casa Azul dinner table. Lupe learned these recipes from her mother Guadalupe Marin, Rivera’s second wife and a subject of both Rivera’s and Kahlo’s paintings. During our art history tour, we visit Casa Azul where these foods were prepared and served, eat some of these favorites at some great restaurants, and explore the paintings of both Rivera and Kahlo with in-depth narrative by a Mexico City art historian who speaks fluent English.
We invite you to join us!
Special thanks to Bruce K. Anderson for sharing the Washington Post article with us!
We know the culture! We are locally owned and operated.
Eric Chavez Santiago is Zapotec, born and raised in Teotitlan del Valle, Oaxaca.
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What is a Study Tour: Our programs are learning experiences, and as such we talk with makers about how and why they create, what is meaningful to them, the ancient history of patterning and design, use of color, tradition and innovation, values and cultural continuity, and the social context within which they work. First and foremost, we are educators. Norma worked in top US universities for over 35 years and Eric founded the education department at Oaxaca’s textile museum. We create connection.
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Dye Master Dolores Santiago Arrellanas with son Omar Chavez Santiago, weaver and dyer, Fey y Lola Rugs, Teotitlan del Valle