Tag Archives: food

Pre-Hispanic Oaxaca Cooking Class with Vicky Hernandez

High up the hill in the shadow of Oaxaca’s famed archeological site of Monte Alban is a humble comedor on a dirt side street down the hillside from a paved access road. Carefully make your way down a curved, steep stairway cut into the hill to find the simple kitchen of Cocina Pre-Hispanica con Fogon where Vicky Hernandez teaches about the origin of Oaxaca food. Simple yet complex, organic and healthy, flavorful and rich with tradition.

Carol, who has known Vicky for years, arranged this cooking class for her daughter and her daughter’s fella. I tagged along. While I used to own a gourmet cookware shop and cooking school, there is always more to learn, especially about the roots of Oaxaca food. Moreover, I remember meeting Vicky six years ago when she taught her first cooking class in Carol and David’s miniscule kitchen on Huzares.

First, what is a FOGON? This is the adobe mud table-height cooking stove fueled by wood and topped with a clay comal (griddle) that is nixtamalicized (coated with white calc so the corn doesn’t stick).

Mamela with yellow corn masa, beans, cheese, salsa verde

We start the morning at 8 a.m. Vicky picks us up in the Historic Center where Carol lives, hiring two taxis to ferry the four of us and her to Abastos Market first to do the shopping. Central de Abastos is one of the largest market in Mesoamerica. It is a maze, a warren, a hub of everything Oaxaca — food, drink, pottery, clothing, animals and feed. The uninitiated can get lost — easily. It is best to follow an expert like Vicky, who led us to her favorite organic vendors.


Vicky at Abastos Market, smelling a lime for ripeness

On the cooking class menu today are memelas, sopa de guias, quesadillas with squash blossoms, chicken with mole rojo, atole — all traditional pre-Hispanic foods. So we gather ingredients, wending our way through narrow aisles just as the market vendors start to set up shop. The bustling begins.

Vicky shopping for ingredients ts

We are like ducklings and somehow, we end up on the other side of the market only to exit to find the taxis waiting for us on the street. We climb in and begin the drive up the winding Monte Alban hill.

Cheese vendor, Abastos Market

The day is starting to heat up but the hillside shade keeps us cool. We start off with traditional sweet bread to dunk into a cup of steaming cafe de olla (sweetened coffee flavored with cinnamon). On the table are plump cobs representing different pre-Hispanic colors of corn. Vicky asks Becky to choose which color corn to use for the memelas, and Becky points to the red.

Chicken vendor, Abastos Market
Becky and Tyler with Chipil

Vicky puts the corn kernels into a pot on the charcoal burner and adds calc. Corn needs human intervention to eat. The corn soaked and cooked in calc will soften the hard protective shell, making it edible. Then, the grinding begins. For speed, Vicky uses an untraditional hand-cranked grinder instead of a metate (original stone grinding platform).

Nixtamalization, corn cooking in the olla

We learn that corn soaked in ash is used for corn beverages like atole and tejate, while corn soaked in calc is used for food preparation. We learn that pre-Hispanic cooking translates to using only natural materials: clay, wood, calc and ash, and native plants.

Vicky’s mom preparing a mamela

The memelas are the best I’ve eaten, smeared with bean paste and topped with Oaxaca queso fresco (the crumbly local cheese). The corn base is shaped into a huarache (a shoe). The native red corn turns blue in the cooking. It is crunchy, nutty, filled with flavor. Corn and beans combined are an excellent protein source.

Sopa de Guías ready to eat

For the sopa de guias — squash vine soup — three local herbs are needed: chipil, chipiche and piohito. The base is water to which is added small round squashes called calabacitas that are quartered, squash blossoms (remove the stamens), shredded squash vine leaves, and 2” cut sections of the vine (thick outer strings removed like you do with celery stalks). Nothing of the plant goes to waste. We set about stripping the leaves and flowers from the chipil stalks, careful not to add the seed pods.

Vintage Molcajete with salsa, plus ingredients for quesadillas

Next comes the herb epazote. This very aromatic green is used to flavor beans and squash blossom quesadillas. We use quesillo for this, the Oaxaca string cheese. Don’t be skimpy with the cheese! Vicky tells us epazote is also used as a tea to kill parasites and to eliminate gas and bloating when added to beans during cooking. She a scrambled egg sandwich with epazote and chopped onions is the best.

Tyler consuming a quesadilla

The mole rojo, the red sauce for the chicken, is started by cooking together roasted, skinned organic tomatoes and two tablespoons of vegetable oil, then adding two cups of chicken broth. Once this is combined and cooked, we add about one cup of mole paste Vicky bought in the market earlier. Later, we eat this slathered over a piece of cooked chicken, scooping up the sauce with pieces of tortilla. Yum.

Chicken slathered in mole rojo

Kitchen accoutrements are basic: a molcajete to make the salsas, a metate to grind the corn or cacao, a clay olla or cooking pot, a comal (griddle) on which to cook the tortillas. For the salsa to accompany the Sopa de Guias, Vicky puts sliced onion, lime juice, salt and chiles de agua in the molcajete her father made 50 years ago, smashing all the ingredients together. Aromatic and flavorful. If you can’t find chile de agua, you can substitute jalapeño or serrano chiles.


Vicky and Carol go way back together
Tomatoes roasting on bed of charcoal

We sit to eat at a table in the humble comedor with views of the mountain above and the city below. The sun is shining and we are satisfied. At the entry, Vicky’s mother prepares an order for customers at the next table. I sip the hot atole. It is the best I’ve ever had, a rich corn liquid punctuated with small particles of floating corn. I ask to take home the corn residue left after squeezing the liquid through the gauze cloth. I’ll use this to add crunch to my homemade, gluten-free biscotti. In Italy, the residue is what makes polenta. Mexico, the source of corn, provides sustenance around the world.

View from the comedor

When we finish, we walk to the crossroads a short distance from the comedor and hop on a new Oaxaca city bus that takes us back to the zocalo in the historic center I. 20 minutes. Cost: 8 pesos or 40 cents.

Bus to town

Note: Class is taught in Spanish. If you need translation, Vicky can arrange for a translator to be there with you.

How to find Vicky Hernandez:

Telephone: 52-951-396-2621

email: vickyher70@gmail.com

Instagram: cocinaprehispanica

Reserve class with linktree — linktr.ee/cocinaprehispanicaoaxaca

Website: cocinaprehispanicaenfogon.com

Cost: $1,800 pesos per person cash for a 5-hour experience

Four stuffed and satisfied people

Highly recommend for great food and culinary education.

Eating in Oaxaca: A Culinary Paradise

Norma’s Note: Rico. Delicioso. Sabroso. I again invited Carol Lynne Estes to contribute a blog post about her experiences living in Oaxaca. Carol isn’t a visitor; she is a resident who knows the ins and outs of eating — from humble comedors to the finest upscale restaurants. Her impressions and recommendations are here for you to savor and enjoy.

Carol’s Restaurant Recommendations

Of the many joys of Oaxaca, food tops most lists. The variety and freshness of vegetables and fruits plus excellent quality meats make this a culinary paradise.  Combine that with the creativity and imagination of Oaxacan cooks, and there’s a treat around every corner. The documentaries running on the TV leave most viewers ready to hop on a southbound plane, and rightly so.  The joy of it all are the many “levels” of dining, from street food and carts with seats welded on the front, to roof top dining in five star, famous restaurants… and all in between.

After seven years, I am not a tourist, and so I approach my meals as though I’ll be here a while with no need for a blow out meal three times a day. My apartment has a beautiful kitchen, and so unless I’m dining with friends, I generally eat at home.  Rarely will I eat on the street carts unless it’s a fresh peeled grapefruit that I cannot resist or tamales. Any time my friend Gail arrives to meet me,  she’s munching on some treat she’s bought along the way from hamburgers to potato chips. She’s the expert on what to buy where from a cart. Many Oaxacans do not have kitchens and eat all their meals at these street stands. Food is plentiful and reasonable.

A great pleasure are the “squat and gobble” spots. Often on our way to the gym of an early morning, my husband I would stop by our favorite tamale lady off Garcia Vigil to enjoy a tamale stuffed into a fresh bolillo roll and a cup of atole. Total cost, $2 each. Occasionally as a weekend treat, we wandered to the Zocalo around 9pm when the trailers set up along the streets outside the large mercados. The Compadres are two groups of young men with stands next to one another.  They start the evening with two roasted pigs’ heads, and when the evening is over, they’re all gone, including the oink. They are poetry in motion, and we all have a great time. We love taquitos or pozole there. Delicious beyond your dreams and about $4 for both of us. At both these places, we  were the only white faces and welcomed generously.

Also in abundance are tiny restaurants for three or four-course lunches (comida corrida) served around late afternoon. A menu at the front door lists what’s on offer for the day, usually fresh produce that was available that morning at the market. Always offered will be a soup or salad, an entrée, and a dessert plus an agua fresca (fresh fruit drink). These meals range from $70-90 pesos, less than $5. Some of the best soups of my life have been these simple broths prepared well.

Coffee shops and bistros… Gourmand, Nuevo Mundo, Boulenc, Brújula, and my new favorite where my Australian nephew works, Onnno Loncheria.  There are amazing bakeries in all of these, plus wonderful Oaxacan coffee. Each is a very nice place for a simple, healthy, delicious meal.  Locally-owned Oaxacan coffee shops are on every block where most roast their own beans, often from family owned coffee plantations.

Next up are what I call the mid-level restaurants that garner $$ on Google. Most are excellent.  One of my favorites, and for many expats here, is El Quinque, now located on the west side of town and two blocks from our previous apartment on the way to Mercado Abastos.  David and I had our first date at their original restaurant near Cruz de Piedra. Many of us get the hamburger “itch” satisfied there. They also offer wonderful seafood dishes (especially on Friday), and I’ve never been disappointed in their salads. I was there last week, and the shrimp and rice was generous and delicious. El Olivo is next to my apartment on Calle Constitucion and has delicious charcuterie and extensive wine selection, and a rooftop with music that I enjoy from my courtyard. Chepiche in Barrio Xochomilco is another breakfast treat, my favorite meal out.

Close by is El Tendajon with creative, delicious huevos rancheros, but then the taquitos de cerdo are as tasty as they are beautiful. La Levadura serves “criollo” (original/indigenous) food, especially tomatoes, that amaze.  The tomato salad boasts nine varieties of tomato in every size and color. It is served on a 10” plate with a bed of beet purée. Here words fail. Yesterday one of my tiny lady friends ate TWO of these. My tamale came to me on a bed of smoldering corn husks… oh my! Almost always I have enough food to carry home for mañana.

Finally further on down the Alcala is Los Danzantes, a place I love. It is located in a classic interior courtyard between Allende and M. Bravo. Enter next to Oro de Monte Alban. The ambiance is special. One can dine under the stars next to a beautiful waterfall fountain. When I went there recently, I enjoyed a thunderstorm that accompanied a ribeye steak with a chocolate “gravy” that I remember still and cannot describe. Another place with lots of stars and wonderful, gracious service, is La Catedral, one block from the Cathedral. Breakfast there is a special treat, and the place is “old world” beautiful. Many professionals here have what seem to be business meals here. Ambience is great and the food never disappoints. 

This past year has been a challenge world over, and Oaxaca had covid pains as well.  But as this place is no stranger to tough times, they responded with grit and creativity.  Most all places hustle deliveries to whoever calls. Food arrives fresh and packaged carefully. Most restaurants are still here. In fact, La Biznaga, a favorite of many expats, moved to a larger place with a nice patio, and La Zandunga (creative Isthmus fare) next door expanded into their old space.  Both seem to be thriving. La Biznaga is famous for their margaritas, and never let anyone convince you that two is a good idea.

As I write this piece, Oaxaca still reels from the pandemic, but gradually life is returning. Restaurants have opened carefully with well-spaced seating, and the vast majority of people wear “cobrebocas.” Most stores and restaurants take temperatures and hand out squirts of sanitizer before anyone enters. Poco a poco….

Other foodie recommendations from my goddaughter Janet Chavez Santiago who is visiting me in Taos and lives in Oaxaca. She’s a local who travels the Cheap Eats circuit:

  • Dururu for Korean food. Best for carry-out since they are tiny, tiny with only two tables. Corner Manuel Doblado and Colon.
  • La Popular has great tacos de cochinita pibil and sopa de guias.
  • Gourmande for Oaxaca-brewed draft IPA. Their brewery is in San Sebastian Tutla.
  • Tacos Don Juanito. Try the tacos el vapor!
  • Arugula on Calle Miguel Hidalgo offers all organic and vegetarian choices for Comida Corrida (the 4-course, fixed priced lunch Carol mentions above).

Want your own culinary adventure? Sign up to take a tasting tour with Oaxaca Eats.

See the Facebook page, Taste of Oaxaca, for dining recommendations from locals and visitors.

In Oaxaca, Stories of Hope: Face Masks, Food and Dogs

How to feed impoverished people has always been a challenge in Mexico. Now, with the ravages of coronavirus destroying fragile infrastructure, street corner businesses, and tourism that feeds Oaxaca’s economy, needs are even more acute. Here are a few stories about people rising to the occasion to help.

Face Masks and Distribution

Getting masks is one thing. Distributing them to Oaxaca friends and people in markets or on the street is another thing. Explaining in Spanish how and why to use the masks in public is essential for public health education.

For a start, Kalisa Wells ordered 50 face coverings from Patzcuaro for distribution in Oaxaca. They arrived today. She announced on Facebook that “They are here at my place in the centro, ready for pick-up.”

She says,
“The Mujeres Mágicas are a group of low income women in Pátzcuaro who have been taught to sew and sell high quality products to help support their families, increase their self-esteem, and gain lifetime skills. The changes in their lives and those of their families have been phenomenal. As their shop is closed now and they are in quarantine at home, they are sewing pleated protective face masks from double fabric with elastic ear loops. They can be washed dried, and are reversible. For only 30 pesos each [$1.26USD], you can purchase these masks for everyone you know and help empower women at the same time.

Donate via PayPal to cherie.verber@yahoo.com

“For more in-depth information about the Mujeres Mágicas, please visit their Facebook page, Pátzcuaro Mujeres Mágicas. They need donations and can receive them in dollars or pesos via PayPal.

The problem is that many local women do not feel at risk. Kalisa plans to hand some out to people she meets on the street, but this necessitates explaining the importance of using the mask — in Spanish, which fortunately, Kali speaks well.

Shannon Sheppard says, “The masks will probably help protect us and others from the droplets/spray (cough, sneeze, breath) coming from the wearer. If we all wear masks, we protect each other.

Cheri Verber says, “Education is everything. Those who are distributing the masks in Pátzcuaro are native speakers who explain to people exactly how they can protect themselves and everyone with whom they come in contact.

I suggested adding hang tags in Spanish to explain how to use and why it is important just in case the giver doesn’t speak Spanish.

Feeding Vulnerable People in Oaxaca: Friendly Food Donations

This message is from Jesi Jello, a founder of Friendly Food Donations.

“Hello, everyone! ❤️ My partner Erick Garcia Gomez and I have just created a Paypal account to receive direct donations that will go toward the immediate purchase of produce from local farmers.

“All donations go directly to supporting small local vegetable farmers who will deliver a month’s worth of produce directly to the door of the most vulnerable people and families in the different communities surrounding Oaxaca City, Mexico.

“The donations consist of generous amounts of fruit and vegetables with staples like eggs, beans, rice, and cooking oil.

“All money goes toward the purchase of food directly from the farmers and all food goes directly to the door of those who need it, no price inflation.

“My partner and I started this so that we can be 100% certain that no one is profiting and that all money goes directly to feeding people in need. We are also more likely to get donations from our own personal connections, clients, friends, and family this way…. There is so much poverty here, I say we need all the help that we can get. This is my personal effort to help people and I am just sharing it in case someone is back in their country and wants to reach out and help people in Oaxaca.

“We are opening a donation account in case we are able to reach even more vulnerable people and families. We have been doing our research through the people we know and have our own personal and confidential list of families who are presently suffering, who have no money or food. We will not be taking any profit for ourselves.❤️ Donation link is: http://www.paypal.me/friendlyfood ❤️ Please Share ! ❤️”

Help for Monte Alban Street Dogs

Earlier this week, Norma received this message [below] from Mark Allen Brown asking for help to care for street dogs on the road to Monte Alban. Norma immediately referred him to Merry Foss in Teotitlan del Valle who runs TeoTails, Tanya LaPierre who volunteers with APA OAX the Oaxaca animal rescue and sterilization organization, and Rebecca Durden Raab founder of Friends of Megan Animal Rescue. They responded quickly. Please help; you can make donations directly.

Beezie, a Teotitlan del Valle rescue dog, 2018

Here is what Mark wrote:

Hi, Norma,

There are 15 to 20 abandoned dogs along that short climb to Monte Alban. They’re usually grouped into 2 packs; they include puppies and old dogs.

I’m on a bicycle. It’s the only transportation I have. But every day for the past couple of weeks I’ve cycled up there carrying as much water and food as I can. It’s never enough. I notice other people are aware of the problem and help, but all the help combined is not enough. I will worry about them if I were to miss a day. 

I would like to see the population reduced.

All of the dogs are well mannered, most are kind, appreciative, and loving. They clearly have been with families and will make great companions. 

Some of them need to be fixed. I’m willing to pay for that. 

I’m also willing to support a number of the dogs with their medical issues and food while homes are found.

I rent an apartment in Oaxaca and cannot keep any dogs myself. I intend to stay here long-term, but as soon as the pandemic has passed, I’ll be traveling for several months. 

Can you tell me of any organization, or better, any person who can advise on this matter or help me with it? I know nothing of Facebook or Instagram. 

Thanks! Mark

Monte Alban archeological site, Oaxaca

Recipe Redux: Nicuatole with White Corn Meal, Oaxaca Tradition

I served the nicuatole recipe I made and published last week to my Zapotec friend Janet. She said it was good, very good, but it wasn’t the traditional nicuatole recipe she was used to eating here in Teotitlan del Valle. The traditional cooks of Oaxaca use white corn, not comal (griddle) toasted and ground yellow corn, like I used. I confess, it’s what I had on hand for the cornbread and I didn’t know the difference until now!

Hence, Recipe Redux.

Honoring the Virgin of Guadalupe, vintage ex-voto

December 12 is the feast day for the Virgin of Guadalupe in Mexico. I’m celebrating Lupita by going to a Virgin Play Day, where a bunch of us will make something related to the pre-Hispanic Goddess of Corn who is the syncretic icon more popular than the Virgin Mary or Jesus. I want to bring nicuatole to contribute to the potluck and I want it to be just like its pre-Hispanic origins.

This is a dessert I’m fond of for many reasons. It is corn. That means, it’s gluten free. I use almond milk instead of cow milk. That means it’s dairy free. (I imagine one can also substitute other nut and plant milks, too, but I think coconut milk will give a distinct flavor that will alter the taste.) This dessert is comforting, creamy, like pudding, eaten with a spoon it is almost like a mousse.

In my research, I could not find a specific recipe for a white corn nicuatole. So, I watched some videos that came up in the search — all in Spanish, and all with no measurements of ingredients provided! Traditional cooks here make food like their mothers and grandmothers — by touch, sight and consistency. Great, but not good enough for the precision we need in the USA.

White corn ground at my neighborhood mill (molino)

Receta de Nicuatole de Maiz Blanco — Las Delicias Lupita, this is a high-calorie treat that uses whole milk and condensed sweetened milk. As we would say here, muy rico. This is fun to watch to see how great food comes from humble kitchens. No measurements. I made up the recipe below from just watching and from making the previous recipe. Here, I’ve added specific measurements.

Norma’s Nicuatole Ingredients

  • 2 cups white corn, ground fine
  • 4 cups of water
  • 1 cup of almond milk
  • 1/2 to 3/4 cups of white cane sugar
  • 4 pieces of stick cinnamon, broken or 1/4 t. ground cinnamon
  • 2 T. sugar colored with red food coloring

Directions:

Combine 2 cups of cornmeal and 3 cups of water in a blender and process mixture until smooth.

White cornmeal and water in blender

Note: I bought whole kernel, organic white corn that had been dried, from a puesto (stand) in the Teotitlan del Valle village market. One kilo. I’m certain it was grown on local land by her family. I then took the corn to my corner molino (mill) where the kernels were ground into a fine meal. I told them I wanted it to make atole!

Pour water/corn mixture through cheesecloth or a fine sieve to filter out any large corn particles. If you buy commercially prepared cornmeal, you probably won’t need to do this step.

Pour filtered liquid into stainless steel saucepan or heavy clay cooking pot. Put pot over a heat diffuser and turn heat to medium. Add remaining liquid and stir. Add sugar. Stir. Add cinnamon. Stir. Cook over medium heat, stirring occasionally for the first 15 minutes. Turn heat to low, and then stir constantly for the remaining 30 minutes (45 minutes cooking time total). I set my timer to stir every 5-7 minutes until the last 10 minutes of cooking time, making sure the bottom doesn’t stick to pot.

Mixture will become the consistency of heavy cream, then thicken to a consistency of heavy porridge like Cream of Wheat. When you stir and see the bottom of the pan, you know it is done. Watch the video to see the proper consistency.

Pour the hot corn mix into a square pan. Let it cool. Top with colored sugar and refrigerate. Prepare 12-24 hours in advance to chill sufficiently so that it is firm and easy to cut into squares.

Serves 8-12, depending on portion size.

Here is another nicuatole video to tickle your taste buds for a smaller batch, but it uses GMO corn. Substitute organic.

It’s December 11 and almost 9:00 p.m. in Teotitlan del Valle as I write this. The cojetes (firecrackers) have started. There is a full moon, the last of the year. On December 12, the Dance of the Feather, Los Danzantes de la Pluma, will honor the Virgin of Guadalupe in the church courtyard. Take a taxi and come on out to join the festivities. Maybe there will be nicuatole, too.

Teotitlan del Valle traditional cook prepares nicuatole

Follow-Up on Food Sanitation and Gut Health: The Myths

Oh, wow! I didn’t realize what a response I’d get from the post about Healthy Eating and Disinfecting Food in Mexico.

In addition to Microdyne, more recommendations came in, both from blog and Facebook readers, and from my housekeeper Rosario.

I decided to take these additional recommendations seriously and look them up.

One person recommended vinegar and purified water as a better option to chemicals. In the USA, this can work. In Mexico, vinegar isn’t as effective as we think: https://www.forceofnatureclean.com/diy-cleaning-products-vinegar-drawbacks/

Another swears by bleach, having used it for years. This solution has merit, with a caveat: https://www.mnn.com/health/healthy-spaces/stories/disinfectants-a-guide-to-killing-germs-the-right-way

Rosario says she disinfects fruit and vegetables with lime juice and salt.

What AARP says about the lime juice and salt disinfectant myth: https://www.aarp.org/home-garden/housing/info-03-2010/myth_buster_can_you_sanitize_kitchen_tools_with_lemon_juice_and_salt_.html

Maybe, just maybe, I ate fresh tomatoes at the Quinciñeara last weekend that were probably not disinfected. Quien sabe?

Food borne illness is a big deal and is borderless. We get sick anywhere in the world, even in Los Estados Unidos aka El Norte. One friend says she is going to take Microdyne back with her when she returns in December.