Wednesday, January 16, 2013

To Market, to Market: Oaxaca, December 28, 2012

Oaxaca, Mexico
We had eight days in Oaxaca. One was the Radish Festival, two were Christmas, one was Monte Alban, another was Hierve el Agua (next post), and one day I spent in the bathroom debating the pros and cons of antibiotics. I'll spare you the details, but I took my Cipro.
Oaxaca, Mexico
You'll see that leaves very little time for the finer things in life, like shopping. At any rate, the day after our trip to Monte Albán, the rest of the family took a cooking class and I tagged along on their expedition to the market. I didn't join them in the class because I am not, even at the best of times, a recreational cook, and although the worst of my illness had passed my stomach still rebelled at the though of anything more interesting than bread and water.
We started out with a whirlwind dash through the fruits and vegetables:
This is a small zucchini, which I am told is less watery than the kind we see in Maine.
Chiluacle negro (also spelled 'chile huacle') is only found in southern Mexico, and apparently makes an excellent mole.
The most vivid red chile I've ever seen. I was afraid to touch them because they just look insanely hot.
Quesilla, the unique Oaxacan cheese. It has a texture like string cheese, but a stronger, maybe saltier flavor. If you ask for 'cheese' in Oaxaca, this is what you get. There are plenty of other 'quesos' but you have to ask for them by name.
Some kind of habañero peppers, I think.
The tejocote tree (Crataegus mexicana) is a relative of hawthorne. I imagine these must be similar to crabapples.
After the vegetables we wandered into areas that were a little more challenging to the American palate. This stall sold various mole pastes and two snack foods:
Ajos fritos con chile (fried garlic cloves with chile)
and chapulines (fried grasshoppers with lime and chile). I never got to try the big ones - we had some small, powdery ones that we used as a spice on tortillas. They tasted like lime and chile.
 I'm so used to our sanitized grocery stores that it is very disconcerting to see meat that isn't wrapped in plastic.

These were in an alley outside the market.
We stopped in at Chocolate Mayordomo to pick up paste for the mole sauce. The raw beans (above) are poured into the giant grinders (below)
and then mixed with cinnamon and chile and other spices to make a sort of paste, which you can use for hot chocolate or mole sauce.

Once the others went off with their chef, I wandered into a local artisans' cooperative, which was hung with papel picado flags.
Most of the shops were filled with standard Oaxacan tourist fare; painted wooden figures, black pottery, beaded jewelry, and hammocks of all colors; but in a poorly-lit back room I found a wall of luchador masks. I own too much stuff, so I sworn an informal oath not to buy anything on this trip, but the masks almost tipped me over the edge.
I know exactly nothing about Lucha Libre wrestling, but that panda mask would scare the pants off every kid who knocks at my door next Halloween!
And on my way through the Zócalo, I saw an inflatable luchador, complete with curly painted chest hair.


  1. An amazing tour again!What are those plastic glasses in the second picture filled with?Fruit and...?AriadnefromGreece!

    1. I'm not sure - I think it's some sort of custard, and the colored bits could be fruit, or they could be bits of jello. I'll have to go back and try again!

  2. Lovely Jen, brings back memories from when Don and I spend Xmas there 3 or 4 years ago. The markets were fantastic - and masks could tip me over the edge too. Luckily, I did not get the stomach thing till the last day - the day we flew home - when I got hit with both that and with swine flu at the same time (and spend the whole next week at home in bed).... I did read that the grasshoppers have high lead levels and are best avoided which struck me as a good excuse not to try them ...

    1. Oh lord, being sick while flying is awful! You poor thing. I wonder how the grasshoppers get high lead levels...

  3. Thanks for another set of wonderful photos! I notice that the employees in the meat market wear face masks - is it routine or were they just sick or was the smell not to their liking?