You can get anything you want--including these highly colorful, durable plastic shopping bags--at the exciting Sunday market in Tlacolula, Oaxaca. In Mexico Cooks!' opinion, the Tlacolula Sunday market is the best market in all of Mexico, a do-not-miss whenever visiting the central valley of Oaxaca. Located about 30 kilometers (17 miles) from the city of Oaxaca, it's an easy trip on a Sunday morning. Take a bus or a colectivo (shared) taxi, or hire a driver and make a day of it. Best of all options, let Mexico Cooks! take you on a three-part Sunday outing: Tlacolula, Teotitlán del Valle, and Santa María del Tule.
Metates, Oaxaca-style, carved and painted with colorful flowers. These volcanic rock grinding stones (and their manos [grinding pins]) are always tempting to bring home. They're used to grind everything from nixtamalize-d corn to chocolate and from beans to toasted tomatoes, onions, and chiles. Unfortunately, they are also extremely heavy and impractical to carry if one is traveling by plane. Next time I drive to Oaxaca, though, temptation might get the better of me.
Groups of like objects fascinate me. These are the business ends of molinillos, the wooden hot chocolate frothers used in Oaxaca and most other parts of Mexico. Like everything else pictured, they're for sale in the Tlacolula market.
A market vendor sorts through her goods. She's selling beautiful radishes, verdolagas (purslane) and many kinds of herbs, including epazote (for seasoning dried beans during the cooking process and for adding to quesadillas and other dishes) and hierba buena (one type mint).
Inside this gallina (laying hen) you can see egg yolks of every size, from pin-head to the mature yolk that we see in the eggs we eat (foreground). The majority of people who buy eggs at a store, either by the kilo or by the carton, are astounded by the formation process of an egg. First the yolk grows to its mature size, then the albumin (egg white) collects around the egg, and then, less than a day prior to the egg being expelled by the hen, the shell forms around the yolk and albumin. A few hours later, boom: breakfast! Click on any photo to enlarge it for a better look at the detail.
A pig head, ready to be long-simmered with chiles and other herbs and spices to make pozole.
Flor de calabaza (squash flowers), ready to use in any number of traditional Oaxaca dishes: quesadillas, sopa de guías,or stuffed with requesón (similar to ricotta cheese) and fried. Only the male flowers are cut; the female flowers are left on the squash plant to develop calabacitas (little Mexican squash much like zucchini).
Mamey fruits were everywhere in the Sunday market at Tlacolula. These fruits, which look like small, slightly fuzzy footballs, are deep orange inside and taste quite a bit like baked sweet potato. The flesh is used to make licuados (smoothies) or to eat out of hand; the seeds are used to make tejate, an iconic drink from Oaxaca.
This tejate stand at the Mercado Tlacolula is unusual in that the vendor prepares tejate made of the standard chocolate, but also sells tejate made of coconut (middle back). I tried them both; the coconut is excellent, but I still prefer the chocolate.
We were on a deadline at the market: our appointment for comida in Teotitlán del Valle was waiting. I had talked with Restaurante Tlamanalli's Rufina Mendoza several weeks prior to our anticipated arrival to make certain that the Mendoza sisters would be there to greet the group and make sure that we had a wonderful meal. As we walked from the heat of Oaxaca's mid-February sun into the cool shade of the restaurant, I saw Abigail, Marcelina, and Rufina at work in the kitchen. It's so wonderful to see good friends after an absence!
Left to right (clockwise) in the photo: Marcelina, Rufina, and Abigail Mendoza Ruíz, the hearts and soul of Restaurante Tlamanalli in Teotitlán del Valle, Oaxaca.
The restaurant's daily menu, hand-written on the Tlamanalli chalkboard. There are just a few offerings for soup and main dishes, but when what's on the menu is as fabulous as the food at Tlamanalli, no one cares. Mexico Cooks! dined on sopa de guías (squash flower soup), segueza de pollo (a delicious pre-Hispanic tomato and corn sauce served with post-Hispanic chicken), rice, and beans.
All of our group enjoyed the house mezcal and guacamole with totopos (in this case, house-made blue corn chips) and pepitas (squash seeds) before and during our meal.
Sopa de guías (squash tendril soup), with pieces of squash, the tender shoots, and squash flowers.
Mole zapoteco (Zapotec-style mole with chicken). This is a relatively simple mole to prepare, but it has a marvelous fresh and complex flavor.
Segueza de pollo, with a roasted tomato afloat in the delicious tomato broth. The broth is thickened with toasted and ground corn and is prepared with hoja santa (an anise-flavored leaf) and other herbs. In pre-Hispanic days, the dish would have been prepared with native turkey or rabbit, as there were no chickens in Mexico until the Spanish brought them from Europe.
I would love to take you to Teotitlán del Valle to introduce you to Abigail Mendoza (photo) and her family, and of course to have a meal at Tlamanalli!
Next week: A cooking class, filled with recipes, nostalgia, and beautiful memories.
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