Sunday, December 26, 2010

Christmas in Oaxaca - Firecrackers, Grasshoppers and Mole!

I had to wake up at 3:15AM, but was soon in a great mood when I checked facebook. Two more of my good friends might come to run the Berlin marathon next year! This trip was taken on my miles, so I got to fly first class all the way to Mexico City. My seat mate for the second flight was a nice Mexican-American guy named Danny, who told me all about the food awaiting me in Oaxaca. Mole, Chapulines (deep fried grasshoppers with lime and chile), oaxacan cheese... For culinary-minded people, Oaxaca is one of the great food destinations in the world. I have wanted to come here for years, and the time was just right. Danny made sure I got through customs and escorted me to my tram to terminal 2. It was a nice welcome to Mexico.

For my little flight to Oaxaca, all of the intercom instructions were in rapid-fire spanish. A recorded voice came on later in english, with the funniest pronounciation of Oaxaca. ¨Flight 2409 to Oh-hox-i-ca¨is boarding now.

I had booked two nights at a hostel at the far edge of town, purely because it got rave reviews on tripadvisor, and I could get a gigantic room with my own bathroom for one third the price of in-town (Oaxaca is a little pricey). My taxi driver winded up steep, steep hills and I arrived at a fun hotel-hostel complete with a little bar, a christmas eve party and plenty of friendly (and a few quirky) people to talk to. I had a beer with Matt, an older English guy who has been here for 18 years, 9 months. That is because his daughter is exactly 18 years old. He had plenty of colorful, fun stories to tell. I also met Hugh, a former wall street worker, now painter-writer who lives in different places (Niger, California, Mexico) for a few months at a time to paint portraits of people and work on his book. I called it a night after an hour and slept amazing in my huge room, falling asleep to distant firecrackers and faint music.

On Christmas I walked three miles into town, stupidly up and down hills in flip flops (did I not learn in Amman?). I love how most people with yards set up a little nativity scene:

I stopped in El Llano park where I custom-ordered a squash flower quesadilla that was awesome:

Virgin of Guadeloupe:

An unusually quiet street in Oh-hox-i-ca:

I took an almost identical photo like this in Merida last year. I had a conversation with a guy from Alaska about Merida. He agreed with me that Merida, in the yucatan, has many of the charms of Oaxaca but gets very little attention. I have been raving about it since I went last year. A cheaper, easier to get to sort-of clone of Oaxaca (with completely different but also delicious food) - Merida - it´s great!

ALL over Oaxaca, there are ladies selling fried grasshoppers. I have many questions about this. HOW do they catch so many? Don´t they hop away? Wouldn´t grasshopper-catching and frying be a labor- intensive, thankless job? How do they stay in business when I really don´t see tons of people eating them? I have seen people eating them, but it seems like the supply far exceeds demand. I really need to learn more about the business of chapulines. If only my spanish was a little better. My spanish is getting better by the year, though. I have entire (yet simple) converstaions and transactions in spanish. The Chapulines questions would require Trisha-quality spanish.

I hate to break it to you this way, but I have moved here and opened a fruit stand. See ya!

While I was walking near the edge of town, I came across a random party with a mariachi band. As soon as they saw me take the photo, I was invited to the party and offered food. But I declined this time...

View from La Villada:

Mole shops - everywhere in the markets! There are seven different types of mole here. So far I have had the black and the red. They are both amazing.

When I got back to the hostel, Hugh rounded up some more people to come back into town for Christmas dinner and drinks. From left to right (below) are Craig from England (teaches English in mexico city), Anton from Madrid (dating Gabi and writes for a magazine & makes films and commercials), Gabi (Architect from Mexico City), and Hugh.

Gabi and Anton had recently returned from living and working in India for a few years. They had some very entertaining stories to tell. Everyone did. It was a great group and a fabulous night out. I also tried Mezcal for the first time, a smoky, wood-aged version of Tequila that is found in the south of Mexico. It was smooth, I swear. Not harsh like some tequila can be. I don´t drink liquor as a rule, but this was nice to try. I might have talked Gabi into going to the middle east for her birthday.

We tried to find a Chapuline seller at night so that I could finally try some, since I refuse to try them completely sober. Apparently grasshoppers are only a daytime food. Every time I tried to ask about them after dark, I just got head shakes and laughs. Manana for chapulines!

Do I try them? What do they taste like? Stay tuned to find out if I eat some ´hoppers!


Trisha said...

Yikes! I'm so behind...first of all, since when do you turn down free food!?! And from a mariachi band, no less! Hmm, I would love to help you explore this grasshopper thing. Feel free to call me tomorrow and I'll do my best to translate ;)
And I'll totally come to your fruitstand...but I hope you didn't steal that sign from an innocent fruit vendor!

Danny Gomez said...

Hey, it's Danny! Thanks for the mention!
Did you get my email?