¡En Oaxaca!


(Revised, with photos, June 5, 2007)
God, I wish I could show you a photo of what I´ve eaten already! But I haven´t figured out a way to upload photos from my camera yet. Sooner or later, I´m bound to find a place with wireless internet. (I knew I should have bought a flash drive.) But for now, I´m just going to have to make myself write tantalizingly vivid descriptions to make up for the lack of visual food porn.

I arrived yesterday at Oaxaca International Airport, a short 2.5 hour flight from Houston, Texas. Houston was a good way to ease into a foreign country from New York. The Oaxaca airport, thankfully, was small and easy to navigate, and I found myself easily enough in a cheap airport shuttle that dropped me off at my homestay, the home of Betsy the grandmother, Patty the mother, Homero the father, and their two children, Valeria and Homero, Jr. They´ve had students stay with them for years, and so they´re used to speaking slowly, using easy words, and being very very patient. And lucky for me, Patty is an excellent cocinera (cook)–more on that to come.

Their house is a little north of the center of the city, but still easily walkable to the famous zocalo (square) and the famous cathedrals, and just blocks from my school, Instituto Cultural Oaxaca. It´s on a fairly busy street with a few bodegas, a fancy liquor store, a gas station, and a couple of restaurants, but it´s easy to find because it´s marked with a huge, beautiful tree with vibrant fuschia flowers that planes directly in front of the gates. The family also maintains a little hostel behind the house where another student, 53-year-old Jane from Miami, is staying.

My room, to a New Yorker´s eyes, is huge, half the size of the old tiny tenement apartment I shared with my sister in the East Village. To my happy surprise, unlike most mattresses I´ve encountered outside the U.S., the mattress is firm and I slept better last night than I have in weeks. Probably also helps that I now have absolutely zero responsibilities, ha ha!

I spent an hour or two yesterday just orienting myself in my neighborhood, wandering around with Jane who was in Oaxaca two summers ago. But today is the real day my Oaxaca adventures began, starting with an unbelievable desayuno (breakfast).

When I sat down at the breakfast table, there was a plate of cut-up fruit, banana, papaya, and half a mango, and a bowl of nicely sour yogurt. When Patty asked me last night if I ate todo (everything), I answered with a strong “¡Si!”, forgetting how much I loathe papaya. This papaya was a deeper orange than any papaya I´d ever seen, and I thought I would give it a chance. Nope, still tasted like fart. I ate as much of it as I could, dumping small pieces in the yogurt and eating it with the banana to mask the taste. I´ll have to figure out some way to tell them.

I was happy and full, when Patty came out with a big platter–my God, a oaxequeno tamale! Imagine this: the platter covered with unfolded banana leaves, and in the center, chunks of tamale, shredded chicken, the possibly the most complex and delicious sauce in the world, mole negro. “¿Todo para mi?” (All for me?).

Tamales are not my favorite food. Too often, they´re too dense and uninteresting. But a tamale like this, I could eat for breakfast almost everyday. The corny tamale was so flavorful, it was almost fluffy, it was so easy to eat.

I wish I had the words to describe what mole negro means to me. It was already my second mole negro in Oaxaca, as I´d had enchiladas en mole con quesillo (cheese) the day before with Jane, and thought it reasonably enjoyable. But this mole negro made obvious why mole is not something to be taken lightly or eaten mindlessly. Slightly sweet, earthy and deep. Perfecto.

I ate it all.

And then I walked all the way down to the zocalo and sat at a cafe on the western side, drinking pineapple juice and watching people walk by.


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One Response to “¡En Oaxaca!”

  1. Erin Says:

    So exciting, all of it!

    I totally feel you on the papaya thing- it has a certain funk. Though I really want to like papaya, as it’s now the only fruit I have reservations about. Everywhere I travel, I always try it, hoping to overcome my dislike. And in Brazil this fall I did eat some papaya that I liked much better. But the stuff at home is still funky.

    Also, over the weekend I cooked Cochinita Pibil from the All About Braising book. After 7 hours in the oven, the 10-lb. pork roast literally fell into pieces once we removed the banana leaves. It made me even more excited for your upcoming adventures in Mexican regional cooking…

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