When we left off, we were in modern, bustling, crazy Mexico City, trying to make sense of the chaos by pounding down tacos and meditating on the tranquil, ancient calm of the pyramid complex at Teotihuacán. After saying goodbye to our busy pop star friends in Mexico City, we boarded a bus for the relative calm of nearby Cuernavaca, “The City of Eternal Spring”. There we were met by José, another couchsurfer who invited us to share his lovely home with two other American backpackers. They were fresh from a volunteering bout in Guatemala and had good things to say about Guatemala, but complained about the food to no end. I felt a pang in my heart as I realized I would soon have to leave my spiritual homeland of México and venture into unknown eating territory. They quipped ominously; “Everything is fried and salty. And I hope you like rice and beans…”. On the other hand, they had nothing but good things to say about the rest of their stay. They were just thrilled to be somewhere where everything they ate tasted amazing, a feeling I readily identify with. Somehow the idea of a good old fashioned barbecue emerged and I was happy to take charge of the proceedings, here´s a sample of the results. I´d post the recipe, but really its disgustingly simple, chicken marinated in some day old chilaquiles salsa (see ESF#2, ed.) and thrown on the grill with veggies tossed in oil and salt, and an entire eggplant shoved in the coals until soft. Thats all, really.
I did however have a recipe request a while back from my buddy Zack, who wanted to know how to make the famous rice drink, horchata. To be honest, I´ve never made it, but have a recipe on good faith from my good friend Soleta, who told me this when I asked; Take some rice (one cup) and some sugar (half cup-ish) and some nice Mexican cinnamon (the papery, really fragrant stuff, 2 or 3 finger sized chunks), put it all in some water ( enough to cover) overnight. When you wake up, take the whole mixture and put it in the blender. The rice should be soft. (If not, wait longer for this step.) Liquify 5 minutes or so until all the rice and chunks have disappeared. Strain. The result should be creamy like milk, slightly sweet and spicy. If too thick, add water. Serve over ice on a hot day.
While I´m thinking of it, another classic Mexican beverage everyone should know is Café de Olla, or coffee a lá pot. This is really common all over Mexico, served all day but especially nice with breakfast. To make it, you bring water to a boil with a couple chunks of the good cinnamon in it, bring to a boil, add a couple thumb-sized chunks of piloncillo (cane sugar usually sold in cones) add in coffee relative to desired strength (for me a half cup of coffee per 4 cups of water does pretty well), and remove from heat. Let steep 5 minutes and strain. Mmmmmmm….coffee.
We spent a day exploring Tepoztlan, a neighbor of Cuernavaca ringed by dramatic forests and sandstone bluffs. We hiked up the sheer canyon to visit the Tepozteco ruins, but they didn´t look too impressive for the entry fee, so we opted to hang out a bit and observe the mischievous marsupials called “tejones” molest the tourists by stealing their water bottles and entering their backpacks looking for food, and then we walked back down to the town for a lunch of quesadillas with huitlacoche, a black mold that grows on corn around the end of their season, which is quite the delicacy. I would put it up against any type of exotic tree mushroom, with an earthy taste and slightly chewy texture.
Craving beach time, we left Cuernavaca headed for the coast of Oaxaca, to the beach town of Puerto Escondido. After a lengthy bus journey, we were pleased to be reunited with my old friend from Denver, Dave, at his new hotelito “La Osa Mariposa”, in the sleepy, sweet neighborhood Brisas de Zicatela. Dave was a little surprised to see me at his door in the hazy early hours of morning, but quickly invited us in and put us on some coffee. We ended up staying for about a week, relaxing in the laid back beachside ambiance of the Oaxaca coast, going swimming and not much else. Dave and his mellow, helpful staff did do their best to keep our cups well stocked with café mezcal, a local specialty crafted by a fellow Coloradan in town. Here are some pictures of Puerto Escondido, and our daytrip to the nearby hot springs at San Jose Manialtepec. The market pictures are taken in Puerto Escondido. For those who have never had the pleasure of exploring a Mexican market, they are a dazzling array of sights, sounds, smells and tastes. They are often the best place in town to get the freshest and most locally procured produce, meat, fish, herbs, spices, dried goods and prepared foods- in other words a foodie´s heaven on earth. The friendly vendors will typically give you samples of whatever they are selling, which is agreat way to try exotic new fruits such as mamey, zapote negro, chinco, guanabana and chinese pomegranate (just of the fe we´ve been sampling of late).
To leave you with, I have one more recipe, for the classic Mexican dish Posole. It is literally eaten everywhere in Mexico and is a real treasure. This is an amalgamation of two different recipes given by two different women in different areas:
2lbs Chicken, pork or beef (cuts for stewing, ie shoulder or butt)
2 onions, finely chopped
1 lb inflated hominy (the package will say “for posole”), cooked according to the instructions 1 day prior, and then rinsed until water turns clear
5-6 cloves garlic, minced
5 chiles “guajillo”
3-4 chiles “del arbol”, or “sureño”
4 or 5 cloves, ground
Tostadas, sliced radish, dried oregano, limes and diced onion for garnish
Put meat to boil, covered with water until done. Extract the meat and set aside to cool. Meanwhile, add the chiles, onion, garlic, bay leaf and cloves and simmer in the broth. If necessary, skim any excess fat from the broth. When the meat is cool enough to handle, shred it using two forks in each hand, or if it is chicken, the classic preparation is to leave it in quarters. Set aside. Extract the chiles from the broth when they look tender, remove stems and blend them in the blender using just enough broth to liquify into a salsa. Add this to broth, bring to a boil and season with salt. Spoon hominy into bowls, topped with broth and finally the shredded meat or chicken on top. Serve with garnishes. YUM!
Next El Sin Fin will be brought to you from the wilds of Guatemala! Until then, happy spoonfuls!