Oaxaca Impressions 2
Spent our first couple of days wandering the city, and discovering new interesting spots and re-discovering old haunts. Restaurants continue to feature largely for us and we easily slid into a more local routine of lunch at 2:00 and dinner at 8:30. Only one dreadful meal to date, a dinner at supposedly hot restaurant, Zandunga which I would not recommend.
My spanish is very creaky but workable for the simpler moments in life and normally utilitarian enough for restaurant use. Unfortunately the menu items were in spanish and each a paragraph long so it was not a simple matter to try and understand their intricacies and none of the waitstaff had any english, as a result we were flying blind. Not the first time this has happened and we usually pretty relaxed about this since in a good restaurant we're pretty comfortable with folding our arms and falling backwards, trusting in a good kitchen to catch us before we come to harm. Unfortunately, not in this case. When the food did arrive it was unpleasant and the service even more so. We were served by a short, round, elderly woman, clearly the patroness, who brought our mains before our starters and was not best pleased to be asked to bring our starters first. Our mains were banged onto the table and so we proceeded to eat them, our starters then arrived about 5 minutes later and all the dishes piled up on our table. That would have been annoying but marginally acceptable, a quirky eccentricity of the restaurant, had the food been good but it was unpleasant in the extreme and my starter tasted as if the meat was rancid. Paid our bill and beat a hasty retreat. Zandunga, should you be in the neighbourhood and tempted, give it a miss!
Drove out to a market about an hour away from Oaxaca, in Tlacolula de Matamoros. A very old market and one of the largest in the region. It covered all the side streets for blocks around the zocalo and the market building and was comprised of hundreds of small stalls set up by vendors who travel from market to market as well as local farmers and producers coming from the countryside to sell their goods. The market is held only on Sundays and was teeming with people when we arrived. We did not have a mission, but as usual we found lots of reasons to buy and came away with incense made from copal which is a local tree whose resin is collected and burned, wonderful aroma; I bought four very beautiful hand-painted bowls made from gourds which will be great for soup; a block of the uniquely flavoured local chocolate; and a ball of Oaxacan string cheese which is produced in strips about the width and thickness of a leather belt and is wound into balls and sold by the ball; these can be anywhere from tennis ball sized up to the size of a small volley ball. Fascinating to watch the vendors take an enormously long strip of cheese and wrap it into a ball of the desired size and then cut the strip of cheese and tuck the end in to produce a perfect sphere.
On our way home we stopped in a rug weaving village, about which more tomorrow, and then on to a restaurant for lunch, at 4pm. Mexico, that's why I love it. We had been told to go to a particular restaurant, Sopa de Piedras, because of their unique food prep method, and the name of the restaurant says it all. The soup is made by heating baseball-sized granite stones on a very large open hearth until they glow and then dropping them into a soup bowl to cook the dish. The building housing the restaurant is a very large wooden building with a thatched roof lit only by very large fire built on a stone platform in a brick annex which ran along one side of the building. There was barely enough light to read a menu, had one been provided, but the only choices were a bowl of the soup, with either shrimp or fish or a combination of the two. We each chose the combination and watched as water, vegetables and a piece fish and a handful of fresh shrimps were added to each bowl, the bowls being large dried gourds. A red hot stone was then place in each bowl and as you might expect, the bowls bubbled and spat. A wait of 2 or 3 minutes, the stones were scooped out and a second stone was added, the soup now hot and seething and seriously exploding gouts of hot soup on unwary bystanders. Again 2 or 3 minutes later the second stone removed and a final stone was added which caused volcanic eruptions in the liquid and waiting only a minute to calm the troubled waters, the bowls were brought to our table. Surprisingly good with the addition of a squeezed lime but too hot to eat for quite some time. Interesting as a novelty, but not a serious contender for Michelin. Nonetheless it is a traditional cooking method of the tribal group in that area of the state.