Chapulines and Breakfast at Mercado del 20 de noviembre

(Post 23 of 189. Thanks again to those who participated in the Fundrazr!)

One of my bucket list items for Oaxaca was to get over my fear of trying chapulines — grasshoppers. As I was on my way to the Mercado del 20 de noviembre, I started to pass vendors selling them. One young lady had time for me and had me sample two flavours, lime and salt and chile. They were crunchy and flavourful, with a distinct new flavour behind them. But as I feared, all the little appendages got stuck in my braces…

They were also much smaller than I expected. I bought a 20-peso bag of them from her and got through about half of it, so go me on that. I don’t see myself ever eating them that way again, but if I saw them on a menu as part of a food item, like on pizza, I’m past the squeamish factor.

The market was spotless and new-looking, more like markets I’ve seen in Europe than here in Mexico — no grottiness at all. I would eat and buy from any stall in it, unlike the food stalls at the big market in Mérida that repulse me.

I sat down at the first spare table I saw and a menu appeared. The server recommended I try a mixed platter of beans, rice, cecina (a thin slice of pork very similar to Yucatecan poc-chuc), tasajo (a dry cut of beef, almost jerky), and chorizo sausage. So that’s what I had.

It tasted very good (although the tough meat could have used a better knife!), especially doused in hot salsa and served all mixed together in tortillas! I enjoyed a hibiscus water with it. Funny how I’m not crazy about jamaica in Mazatlán and Mérida, but I have enjoyed it here. I think the amount of sugar must differ.

Breakfast was a bit heavy, so I headed to that juice bar in the above picture… where I had probably the most expensive small grapefruit juice in Mexico — 45 pesos!

After I ate, I wandered briefly and saw that besides all the food stands selling pretty much the same things, there were also lots of bakery stands. It didn’t feel like a place to linger after eating.

Unfortunately, I did not enjoy dining at the Mercado del 20 de noviembre because of all the touts. It really got exhausting, and the locals at my table told them off more than once. It was weird how everyone was selling the same things today that I hadn’t yet seen anyone selling (wooden kitchen implements). I guess everyone came in from the mountains, maybe?

A Change of Plans and Sunday Morning at Santo Domingo

(Post 22 of 189. Thanks again to those who participated in the Fundrazr!)

For today, I was all set to go to the huge “local” market in the nearby town of Tlacolula that people from the mountains travel hours to get to on Sunday. I’d done my research, knew how to get there, and was looking forward to it. But… I felt off about it in a way I could not ignore. It might be that I was so tired. Or that everyone I talked to here in the last few days about going there warned me about the increase in pickpocketing of tourists. Or that “something else” was going to happen. I don’t know. But when I made the decision last night that I was not going to Tlacolula, I felt a lot better.

So I gave myself a slow Sunday morning. Still woke up early, but lazed in bed with coffee and my iPad, steadily plugging away at the last job in my queue. Upload speeds here being so slow, I got some pictures uploading to the blog so I could catch you all up on my adventures. I finally headed out late morning, with my destination being… church.

On the way there, my friends watching B called to say that they are heeding the Government of Canada’s call for Canadians abroad to come home ASAP as there is talk of closing the border. So they are on the first flight home this week. Thankfully, they are leaving Wednesday AM, but, unfortunately, that’s a few hours after I arrive, so we won’t get to say our goodbyes. 🙁 I understand their urgency to get home, of course. These are insane times we live in. It feels surreal to me to be here having a good time on holidays when the world is shutting down. Mérida is on lock down right now, so who knows what I am going to go home too. But I can’t get a flight till my scheduled one on Wednesday, so I might as well stay calm and carry on.

So my destination was Templo de Santo Domingo de Guzmán, the exterior of which we saw on Thursday.

Santo Domingo

Little did you know then what lies inside… Oh my world… So much gold!

I left a small donation and headed out in search of breakfast. There were tons of touts in front of the church mostly selling the same thing (“cocktail sticks”), but an earring vendor caught my attention, of course. She makes all her earrings from corn husk with natural dyes. I prefer dangly earrings, but hers were all too long, so I bought these studs for 50 pesos.

Saturday Afternoon at Coyotepec (Bonus Evening Taco Review)

(Post 21 of 189. Thanks again to those who participated in the Fundrazr!)

Our final stop was Coyotepec.

Coyotepec is known for its black clay pottery. Again, something I’ve seen but never appreciated.

We got a really great demonstration of how a typical water jug is made. I mean, he started from a lump of clay and went right up to showing us how the high polish is achieved using a quartz stone. It was incredible to see him use water and leather tools to shape the container, including the iconic mouth of the jug. Unfortunately, the room was packed and I never managed to for long get a clear view, so I don’t have as many photos as I wish I had showing the process. I felt bad for the English speakers there as this was only in Spanish.

Once the clay is sculpted, it is polished with a piece of quartz. That’s all that is necessary to achieve the high shine — there’s no sealant. The black colour is achieved by firing the pieces only 10 hours at a low temperature. These are the decorative pieces that are fragile and porous. The tools of daily life, like cookware, are fired for about 12 hours at a much higher temperature. They turn out dark grey and are much less fragile and not porous.

There was a huge gallery of pieces, from vases to little animal figures. I couldn’t believe how affordable everything seemed to be.

I saw this striking piece and thought that it would look great as a pencil holder on my desk. Look at the detail of that scallop pattern! This was only 100 pesos, to give you an idea of how affordable it was to shop there and support local artisans.

We arrived back at the Zócalo right on time at 6PM. I went straight home to shower and get back to work. Around 8:00, I ventured out in search of tacos. Unfortunately, the stand by the apartment was only just setting up. I went “around the block” and found a restaurant… just around the corner from me. I’ll be glad to know it’s there tomorrow night!

Well, this was a first — finding myself at a place with all the… unusual taco fillings, like snout, heart, and stomach. I’m not that adventurous yet, so I decided to try cabeza (head) and chamorro (described as being part of the leg) — both of pig.

I’d never had tacos al vapor (steamed) before and am a fan! The rather gristly and fatty meat was offset by a good schmear of guacamole, with onions and cilantro. I wasn’t sure if I was supposed to dip my tacos in salsa or open them up and add sauce, so I tried both ways and preferred the latter. I’m now convinced there is no such thing as anything but very hot salsa in Oaxaca!

Four tacos, a mango water, and a beer (they had beer, yay!) came to only 101 pesos, a perfect end to my night. I found ice cream at the store across the street and came in to read (work) for a few hours before I passed out!

Saturday Afternoon in Cuilapan de Guerrero

(Post 20 of 189. Thanks again to those who participated in the Fundrazr!)

The drive from Arrazola to Cuilapan de Guerreo felt long as it was very twisty and bumpy. I was glad to see what the state looks like outside of the capital city. We finally pulled into a restaurant near our next stop.

There, we were greeted with a shot of mezcal, my first! I found it quite good — more to my taste than is tequila. The restaurant was open air, but with a roof, with dozens of tables to accommodate several tour groups. I sat with two ladies from my group. There were plenty of servers and we were quickly served our beverages. I really wanted a beer but knew it would put me to sleep, so I went with a horchata.

Lunch was awesome! It was a buffet with dozens of choices and everything from beets (!!!) to all manner of stews. Everything had just been brought out, with all the hot dishes on burners and the cold dishes on ice. I had no idea what anything was, so I loaded up on a bit of several dishes, not coming close to sampling everything. I tried a variety of stews, some with chicken and some with pork, with the sauce colours in ranges of yellows, reds, greens, and browns. I was so glad that I’m not a picky eater and was able to let my tastebuds go on an adventure. By the way, lunch was only $150, and I paid an additional $40 for my horchata and a bottle of water. Incredibly reasonable for the quality and quantity of food offered!

Unfortunately, I only got a blurry picture of my first course, so you’ll have to take my word for it that everything looked — and was — very yummy!

Can you see the bit of mole negro behind the rice? I suspected I’d need it with the tamal!

I went back for a few more things, and came to the conclusion that I’m not a fan of tamales. I find them dry and pretty tasteless, but am willing to have that opinion challenged if someone’s Mexican abuela is reading this and is feeling offended. 🙂

I missed that there was dessert, but one of my tablemates had me try a piece of her gelatine and maize-based dessert, basically atole in Jello-form. I was not a fan. But somehow, I got wind that there were green mangos in vinegar and that piqued my curiosity, so I went in search of them. A lady at the table tried to discourage me, making a face and saying that they are super bitter. I like bitter things (hello, fan of black coffee and grapefruit juice — together!), so I was not daunted.

I did not find the mango bitter (or sour) at all. In fact, it barely had any non-mangoey flavour. It just wasn’t sweet as the mango wasn’t ripe before going through the “pickling” process. The texture was unusual, too. I really enjoyed my mango and it was the perfect end to a great lunch.

We continued on to the Dominican monastery ruins, which date to the mid-1500s. Who needs to go to Europe, huh?! By the way, some say Cuilapan, some say Cuilapam…

This was a centre of evangelisation in the area. The architectural style is really interesting, combining Roman arches with Greek Corinthian columns and Moorish towers!

Today, the site is used as offices for the INAH (National institute for anthropology and history), where it does research and holds workshops.

I picked up a shawl from a vendor outside the convent, for $150. I think it’s probably mass-produced, but it’s soft and the colours are pretty. I have a blanket in those colours on one sofa, so when I don’t need to wear this shawl, I can display it on the other sofa

Unbelievably, we had one stop left to make!

Saturday at Arrazola, Home of Alebrijes

(Post 19 of 189. Thanks again to those who participated in the Fundrazr!)

From Monte Albán, we headed down sandy, twisty roads past many houses made of wood (!) to the community of Arrazola, home of Alebrijes, wooden painted decorative objects.

There, we got a brief demonstration of how the wood is shaped using a machete (sorry for the blur).

Then we saw how every piece is hand painted and, thus, unique. I have seen so much of this stuff in the city and never appreciated it!

The paleta vendor was doing brisk business. I went with passionfruit!

I fell in love hard with this one. Thankfully, it was too expensive and difficult to get on a plane. 🙂

Ah, more in my budget at 250 pesos (still a lot for me for a purely decorative object). It was the decision of the decade which one of these two to adopt. Can you guess which one is coming home with me?

These reminded me of the earrings I picked up on my, appropriately enough, Mexican themed day in Belgrade.

Yes, this was a shopping stop, but not in a way I found offensive. We got a really good demonstration about this art form, there were no pushy vendors, and the prices were reasonable for the quality of the workmanship — I even got $25 off at the till for paying cash. I’m really glad that I came out here on a tour as I think would have been a lot of work to get myself out here otherwise and not really worth the time to do just that stop unless I was really there to shop, so to visit many studios.

Next stop was going to be lunch. We were all curious about where we would end up!