Tag Archives: gastrointestinal

Gastronomy + Gastroenterology: Oaxaca Digest

Those of us who live here are witness to the growing worldwide interest in Oaxaca food. Food festivals are everywhere any time of year. Take your pick from mole to salsa to tacos and tamales, and of course chocolate. We have fusion, small plates, tapas and schnitzel. We even have food trucks — something I was used to seeing more of in Durham, North Carolina, than Oaxaca, Mexico.

Chileajo from Oaxaca’s Mixteca prepared by Mario Ramirez

Innovation is everywhere and we want to try everything. Well, maybe just a taste of salsa de chicatana (or not) and a sprinkle of chapulines on top of a hot, Oaxaca cheesy molote.

The All-Chocolate Pop-Up Dinner inspired a Pop-Up of the Pop-Up immediately following, which inspired this post.

Meal prep with Rosario and Medellin, Columbia cook Mariano Capdevila

If you come to Oaxaca for the annual July Guelaguetza you can go off to explore the Sierra Norte and the Feria del Hongos to be held July 19-20 in Cuajimoloyas. Its an easy day trip from the city if you start early enough. Here you can sample all the wild mushrooms that the rainy season gives forth. They are stuffed into empanadas. Sautéd for enchiladas. Steamed for soup. Ready to take home in their natural state to prepare any way you like them, perhaps tossed into a delicious pasta prepared with butter and garlic. Recently on an upscale restaurant menu, I saw carpaccio de hongos — a deviation from thinly sliced beef or prosciutto, served with squash and a blossom.

Let’s get to the guts of it: Gastronomy and gastroenterology.

There is an underbelly to all this. Delicious food that doesn’t quite settle in the digestive system. This is not isolated to visitors. It happens to long-time residents, too. It happens to locals — people born and raised here! But no one talks about it. We suffer. We run to the bathroom. Our gut gurgles. We emit noxious odors or sounds we try to hide with a cough timed just right. We endure.

Mariano’s couscous with wild mushrooms (hongos), almonds, prunes

We keep eating because being here is all about the food. It’s a subject for discourse, comparison, and enjoyment. Yet, the symptoms of digestive malfunction persist. We may resist taking azythromyacin and opt for acupuncture or aguamiel or a tincture. Anyone have an antacid?

The table is set and Rosario is ready!

Maybe after a while, in between the pollo con mole negro and the sopa de garbanzo and spicy chileajo con puerco, we can endure no more and seek the advice of a gastroenterologist who sends us to a lab with container in hand. You might not like the results. You may be asked to eliminate all dairy, all beans (gad, how can you live in Oaxaca and not eat beans, for god sake?), all mole, and anything fried. You need to rebalance your microbiota aka your gut bacteria, you are told.

Tortilla española with potatoes, onions, Moroccan spices
Ingredients for the tortilla before adding the scrambled eggs

Then, after months of this regimen, life doesn’t change.

Norma’s mixed grill: costilla, chile poblano, tomatoes, onions

Meanwhile, back in the USA, the infectious disease clinic needs a three- to six-month lead time to schedule an appointment. They have little or no interest in responding to the urgency of a Mexican-inspired intestine.

Maude’s cucumber and parsley salad
Still Cleaning Up from the Pop-Up of the Pop-Up prep.

So, you go to another Oaxaca gastroenterologist who says take this pill for two weeks, eat whatever you want and read The Schopenhauer Cure. Your sister, who has experience with digestion, says Drink aguamiel morning and night for two weeks. You do both. There is major improvement. To what do you attribute this? Modern medicine or pre-Hispanic Zapotec folk cure?

Mariano’s tagine of mixed veggies and chicken with Moroccan spices

What’s to do but eat?

Kalisa’s extraordinary cheesecake made with Mama Pacha chocolate

Feliz Año Nuevo. To Your Health. Intestinal Bugs in Mexico.

Happy New Year. May the year ahead bring you contentment, satisfaction, and, most importantly, good health. Good health seems to be what I’m thinking about most these days. I will end 2018 and begin 2019 by first saying that my intestines seem to be in better balance now, thanks to Oaxaca gastroenterologist Dr. Miguel Gomez Arciniega.

Today, I gathered with a few women friends and my Teotitlan del Valle family to mark my birth day, share our intentions for 2019, and eat gluten-free chocolate cake topped with Oaxaca chocolate frosting. It’s good to be back in the kitchen. (I’m experimenting with a gluten-free diet.)

Now, back to the bugs.

For the past four months, my system has not functioned well. After two blood tests and an equal number of lab samples, I was declared bug-free in the USA. But the problem persisted. So, I sought out Dr. Miguel, who diagnosed me almost immediately and confirmed within days that I had a parasite after lab work was done here in Oaxaca in early December.

Chicken with mole negro — a no-no

I do not eat street food. I sanitize my fruit and vegetables with an anti-bacteria disinfectant. I hesitate to eat lettuce except in the very best restaurants. I’m cautious. But sanitation is illusive. We can even get sick (and I have) in upscale Mexican restaurants owned by the most famous chefs. In the USA, we can get poisoned from something as simple as bad romaine lettuce. Food and water-borne disease have no boundaries.

I was diagnosed with Blastocystis. This is a common microscopic organism, but as Dr. Miguel explained, when the microbiota is out of balance we have problems. I had too many bugs in my intestines!

What to do?

Dietary No-No’s. No dairy, he said. Not even yogurt or kefir or milk. No mole. Now Oaxaca is famed for her seven moles and its a challenge to eat Oaxaca food and not consume mole. Next, no beans. No legumes. No garbanzos. No quesillo or queso fresco (likely because they aren’t pasteurized). What can I eat? I asked him, disheartened. Anything else that you want, he said. Well, it really didn’t matter since I had no appetite. A travesty when one lives in Foodie Heaven.

The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention lists the symptoms and possible cures. Here is what the Mayo Clinic says, too.

Here in Oaxaca, there are many over-the-counter remedies. That lead me to believe that a lot of people here suffer from long-term intestinal upset. Bugs are a way of life. People just don’t talk about it.

A few people have shared with me cures that employ natural homeopathic treatments, like consuming pounds of raw garlic. Intestinal bugs come in many different forms and varieties, but it seems that the symptoms are similar.

When friends asked, How are you? I told them. Some whispered they have problems, too, and asked for a referral. Intestinal health is a topic most of us prefer to keep private.

Oh, and did I mention, the lab work here was 300 pesos (equivalent to $15 USD) and my first hour-and-a-half consultation with Dr. Miguel was a hefty 500 pesos (equivalent of $25 USD).

Meanwhile, my Zapotec friends and neighbors celebrate the New Year by wearing something new and cleaning house. Making a fresh start, so to speak. It might be more effective to clean house than to make a resolution!