My friend Debbie has been here for a week with her granddaughter in a Spanish immersion class. She’s a medical doctor. I discovered (in addition to curing me of my intestinal ailments) she knows all the Latin botanical names for mushrooms, since she likes to hunt them in the forests near her North Carolina home. So, I decided we needed a trip to the wild mushroom village of San Antonio Cuajimoloyas, up the mountain from Teotitlan del Valle in the Sierra Juarez.
I’m going to miss the Wild Mushroom Festival there this year, but wanted to cook and eat hongos silvestres before I leave Oaxaca for a while on July 10. Debbie, who has been eating out all week and is a great cook, jumped at my offer to take us to the mushroom village and offered to prepare any mushrooms we found for dinner. Granddaughter likes pizza and pasta. Dinner would be spaghetti topped with sauteed mushrooms and garnished with hard cheese. Hold the mushrooms for the pre-teen.
(Note: Hongos are different than champiñones, the common button mushroom that we find in all our USA supermarkets. Hongos are truly wild, uncultivated, and you have to know what you are doing to pick and eat them.)
It’s about a 40-minute drive up the mountain from Tlacolula to an altitude of 3,200 meters. That’s 10,400 feet, about 4,000+ feet higher than the Tlacolula Valley. We drive through Teotitlan del Valle and San Miguel del Valle community lands. At a mirador, we stop to see Teotitlan del Valle just below us.
When we arrive about 10:45 a.m. it’s chilly. Er, actually, it’s COLD. I was in three layers of lightweight cotton and could have used a warm wool sweater and a hat. Mittens might have been in order. A breeze made it even chillier.
I decided to stop at the ecotourism center. We joked about doing a Zip Line and then bailed on the idea, opting for a walk through the forest instead. Rather than doing it on our own, we arranged guide services, which cost 200 pesos for two- to three- hours and definitely worth it. It supports the town’s ecotourism and the people who are committed to preserving the natural environment.
Meet Manuel, who’s mom owns a tiny convenience store and comedor at the entrance to town. He was our leader, equipped with a walkie-talkie and knowledge of local vegetation. Manuel took us into areas I had never been before, up and over barbed wire fencing, through wildflower meadows and fields of grazing goats.
As we walked, we warmed up. Now, closer to noon, the clouds had moved away and while it was still chilly, it was comfortable since the first hour of the walk was horizontal or downhill. I noted that what goes down must come up. And the last 45-minutes to hike out of the community-owned forest was a struggle for me at this altitude, even though I’m now a seasoned walker!
I pulled the soy grande card and asked Manuel if he would rescue us from the remaining 30- minute grand finale stretch laid out before us at a 90-degree incline. I handed him my car keys. By then, we were on the road between Cuajimoloyas and Llano Grande. I had to stop every five minutes to catch my breath. I’m reconsidering going to Peru!
However, the walk is glorious and the upcoming Feria de Hongos promises to be even more than it was when I attended last year.
We finished the day eating a comida of tasajo and quesadillas at the comedor, completely satisfied with the adventure, and left town with a big bag of wild mushrooms, and locally grown organic potatoes, apples and peaches.
Foodie Fest, Wild Mushrooms Fair (Feria del Hongos) in San Antonio Cuajimoloyas
Just a forty minute drive into the mountains from the Tlacolula de Matamoros crossroads at MEX 190–Panamerican Highway — is the village of San Antonio Cuajimoloyas. It is one of several known as the Pueblos Mancomunados for eco-tourism. A Zip-Line crosses the village and mountain bikes are everywhere.
A basket of wild mushrooms. Yummy.
Each year during Guelaguetza time they host a two-day, Saturday and Sunday wild mushroom fair. It is much more than that: it is a natural food lovers paradise. I went on Sunday when Oaxaca city was filled with 150,000 tourists and all the attendant frenzy and the Tlacolula market nearly impossible to navigate.
Avocados and pomegrantes. Five pesos each.
Not only are the temperatures at least ten degrees cooler at 10,400 feet altitude. What is very cool is the showcase of all the organic foods produced in the region as well as mushrooms.
And a box of dried mushrooms to keep longer
Gathered around the municipal building courtyard, small local growers are selling apples, potatoes, peaches, avocados, fava beans, onions, artisanal chocolate, mushroom cultivation starters and preserves. The fruit is always small, pocked and insecticide-free. Not giant perfection as we know in the USA.
At the entrance on a perfect day, fresh air, clear skies
At this moment, you might ask: What’s the difference between the Spanish words Hongos, Setas, and Champiñones. Hongos are referred to as FUNGI. Setas are called MUSHROOMS. Champiñones are cultivated, commercial mushrooms. Around these parts, the Hongos are always the wild variety. But of course, the locals can tell the difference and name each variety. For example, the yellow ones with the red tops are called amanitas. Delicious sauteed in olive oil and butter.
Ceramics from the Sierra Norte of Oaxaca
They grow flowers here as well as succulents, so there are wheelbarrows filled with plants potted in recycled plastic bottles and yogurt containers. There are artisans from surrounding villages who also make an appearance: potters, weavers and embroiderers.
Homegrown succulents in hanging Clorox pots
Escabeche=onions, carrots, green beans, chiles in vinegar, $3 USD
Along the periphery of the municipal building, small puestos are set up that are equipped with wood-fired stoves and comals. Local cooks prepare everything with the wild mushrooms — tacos, empanadas, mole, pozole. It’s like a progressive dinner where you go from one kitchen to another to taste the specialty of the house.
Chiles rellenos — stuffed with wild pink mushrooms
Mushroom tacos with mole amarillo — our lunch
There were perhaps a handful of hueros (those with pale skin). Most visitors were locals from Oaxaca who know that this is where you come to get the most delicious fungi around. It’s the rainy season, but there has been no rain. The vendors from Cuajimoloyas brought the wild mushrooms in from Llano Grande, farther up the mountain where cloud cover ensures the proper humidity.
Viviana Lucia Martinez Zaragoza.
Local pears and apples
On our way out of town, I spotted a pile of beautiful mushrooms perched in the doorway of a comedor. I said to Laurita, let’s stop! Inside we found eighty-year-old owner Viviana Lucia Martinez Zaragoza, who Chef Susanna Trilling says runs the best kitchen in town. I bought more mushrooms. She invited us back for a trout lunch.
The biggest mushroom ever at Sra. Viviana’s comedor
I ate it so fast I almost forgot to take a photo — mushroom quiche
We decided to take the dirt road back from Cuijimoloyas to Teotitlan del Valle that goes through the mountain town of Benito Juarez where there are more cabins and is favorite eco-tourism spot. It was like a ribbon winding through pine stands, sheer cliffs and skirting deep forested valleys. It was not a short-cut, but offered gorgeous views of the Tlacolula Valley.
Plenty of dried fruit and mushrooms for sale, too
Hand-made chocolate from neighboring Papaloapan roasted cacao
The trip back took about an hour. We knew we were close when we saw the village reservoir in the distance. Then, a familiar car was approaching. My taxista Abraham Flores was going up the mountain taking a family home from the Tlacolula Market. This is a small world, though vast in what it provides.
And the band plays on — always a village centerpiece
Grow your own mushrooms, if you wish
A machine-stitched top from Tlahuitoltepec. Nope. Didn’t buy it.
Posted in Cultural Commentary, Travel & Tourism
Tagged fair, Feria del Hongos, Mexico, Oaxaca, San Antonio Guajimoloyas, wild mushrooms