I Moved To Oaxaca

Friday, June 26, 2009

We had a teacher from Spain during one of our fitful attempts to learn Spanish. We remember two things from that class: the woeful ineptitude of the high school students taking the class in order to graduate (good luck), and the teacher's constant pooh-poohing of Spanglish and Mexicanismos.

I'm sure it's different in the Old World, but on the West Coast I have yet to hear someone actually use almuerzo to indicate a meal taken. But lunche? All the time!

Which I find makes total sense. If you're not eating dinner (the big meal of the day, taken mid-day, just like comida), you're eating lunche.

Friday, June 19, 2009

Can you imagine our excitement on learning of a Oaxacan restaurant in San Francisco, just down the street from my brother-in-law's house?

How about now, if I say that we have no plans to go back to that restaurant anytime soon?

Yeah, I know. Breaks my heart!

Monday, February 25, 2008

Life in Oaxaca: often exciting, sometimes infuriating, but never a dull moment. Great cuisine, history, culture, shopping, scenery, sports–all on the peso and in lovely, warm temperatures.

Finding a place to stay is a cinch–47 weeks out of the year. During the week of semana santa in spring, July's Guelaguetza, Day of the Dead celebrations during late October/early November, and the last two weeks of December, everybody and their mother comes to town so accommodations are tight. Not impossible, just expect to pay a little more.

Oaxaca has two English-language newspapers with good tourist and resident information, the free Oaxaca Times and the bilingual Go-Oaxaca. And you can't beat the local, all-Spanish Noticias for sheer balls, what with the paper being the target of a siege/vendetta by Gov. Ruiz of the PRI Machine.

Plenty of schools have Spanish classes, but I'm partial to Oaxaca International, Los Libres 207. Their rates are very reasonable, and they include fieldtrips; homestay options available, even if you aren't studying there.

Oax-town has plenty of internet cafes around town, ranging in price from 5-10 pesos an hour. Inter@ctive, Alcalá 503 (across from Santo Domingo), has DSL with all new equipment with USB ports, supplies like cds and diskettes, a scanner, color and b/w printers, and direct connections for your laptop. 5 pesos per half hour.

Oax-town is also a good walking town, though take care on the sometimes sketchy sidewalks. If you get tired, the city has plenty of cabs; negotiate and agree on a fare before getting in. Also take note of the cab's sitio in case you leave something in the cab. For destinations in and around Centro, figure no more than 30 pesos. City buses are usually 3.50, 3 pesos for the older ones; almost all have the fare marked on the outside of the bus. Drivers give change, too. No transfers. Destinations and major landmarks are written on the windshield or on signs hanging from the windshield. Signal for a stop by pushing the buzzer at the back door.

Hey, sports. Head out to Gringolandia for a pick-up game of basquetbol or futbol, or over to the Llano for early morning jogging. I hear there's a bowling alley somewhere, too, though I never did find it. Co-ed Zinacantli Rugby, Alcalá 902-BIS, www.planeta.com. Open practice every Saturday from 11a-2p at the sports field near Gringolandia. Beginners welcome!

We're also lucky to have several bookstores with good selections of English-language books. Amate Books, on Alcala, carries cookbooks, history, art, and handicraft books, magazines, and a choice selection of art. Provedora Escolar, on the corner of Independencia and Reforma, has tons of books on Oaxaca and Mexican history, including many obscure titles. The gift shop in Santo Domingo also has a good selection of books, and the full range of the excellent (Spanish-language) Archeologia magazine.

Oax-town has a number of movie theatres. Cinepolis shows first-run movies in both Spanish and English; their schedule is online. Same with Multimax, though their website is infuriating. Both are in Gringolandia. Take any bus marked Plaza del Valle. Admission is normally $37 pesos, with 2x1 Wednesdays. Both have stadium seating and cupholder armrests.

Over at Garcia Vigil 817, Cine El Pochote plays movies from around the world, poorly projected via LCD projector onto a wall in a small theatre with hard wooden seats. But it's free if you're cheap, or you could toss a 5-pesos coin in the collection box. Movies usually play nightly at 6pm and 8pm, though this being Mexico times do change. The Oaxaca Times carries their schedule.

Don't bother with Sala Versalles, on Av. Juarez, which plays first-run movies. It's crap. (Is it even open still?)

Tourist Office, Murguía 206, tel. 516-0123. Very friendly, and fairly knowledgeable if you stick to the usual tourist stuff.

The American consulate, Alcalá 407-20, tel. 514-3054. Yes, it's in a mall. Surprise.

Post Office, Independencia across from the cathedral. It's open Mon-Fri 9a-7p, and on Saturday from 9a-1p. It costs Mex$8.50 to send a letter to the U.S.

Airport vans, Alameda de Leon 1-G, across from the cathedral. It's the Transportes Aeropuerto Oaxaca, and they're open Mon-Sat 9a-2p, 5p-8p.

Finally, if you don't know a tlayuda from a tostada, here's a little glossary of Oaxacan words and terms. Did you know that iguana means "full of gristle" in any language?

Saturday, February 16, 2008

[This originally appeared on my now-defunct site www.cour.to and was originally posted in 2004 so please, wash it down with a bit of sal de gusano.—Suzanne]

A bit about Mexican hotels: If you're tall—say, 5'10" (1.78m) or taller—just be ready to smack your head on doorjambs and light fixtures. On the flip side, you'll have no problem seeing over the tops of crowds.

Hot water ... well, if you're a person who requires hot water for showering, you're gonna want to stick to downtown Oaxaca and the fancier hotels around the state. I find that in most towns, while many hotels advertise hot water, sometimes it takes a long time for the water to get warm. Or the hot/cold taps are reversed (and unlabeled, so's who's to know?). You could just shower in the afternoon, when the cold water will be a relief from the heat outside.

You'll also need to bring your own washcloth. We never encountered one in our hotel room during any of our travels. (If you forgot to pack one you can pick one up at Gigante or other supermercado.)

And then there are Mexican beds. I don't know what the deal is. When I still lived in San Francisco and thought I might go visit my friend in Belize, he begged me to bring down a couple of sets of cotton sheets, which I thought a strange request. I don't any more. You can get good cotton sheets here if you look, but the standard cotton sheet in Oaxaca looks (and feels) like it has a threadcount of about 60—I'm not joking!—and is often a cotton/poly blend or entirely polyester. Eugh, just what you want on a sultry night. It's also possible to buy good mattresses, but the usual mattress is futon-thin and spring-loaded. Do you recall what it's like sleeping on springs? Pillows are generally of two types: either stuffed with polyester or cotton batting. As much as I prefer cotton, the pillows filled with cotton batting feel like bricks; I find them extremely uncomfortable. When a hotel has cotton pillows I usually end up using my clothes for my pillow. All in all, it's still better than sleeping on a piece of cardboard on the floor.

So without further ado, here're a couple of places around the state I've stayed in and recommend:

I continue to hear only good things about Youth Hostel Paulina, but I myself have never stayed there. Take a look at their website. They're close to the zocalo and mercados, too, perfect for when you want to see and hear all the action.

If you don't like hostels, Posada Chencho has nice rooms and an attractive courtyard. They also serve a full breakfast, too - a nice way to start off a day of touristy activity. They're a little out of the way, so if you don't like or feel comfortable walking around, or want a quieter neighborhood, this might not be for you. They also have a website, and you can easily reserve with them via e-mail.

Still a bit of a walk from the zocalo but the Hotel Las Mariposas seems quieter than Chenchos. It's near the Llano, on Pino Suarez. Very friendly. They serve a coffee and pan dulce breakfast, or you can cook your own in the in-room kitchenette. You can also reserve with them via e-mail.

For longer-term stays rent a small furnished apartment with kitchenette from Luis and Rosa at Casa de los Abuelos on Reforma near the corner of Constitucion, just two short blocks from Santo Domingo and Alcala, the main pedestrian and tourist walkway. [Update! Luis and Rosa now have a website that accepts reservations.] The building has an inviting patio for reading or hanging out, and a little orphan book and magazine rack in case you didn't bring a book of your own. Luis and Rosa don't speak English, but they're patient and muy amable, and they provide weekly maid service, and all your gas and drinking water are included in the price of the rental, about USD$500-$700 a month

Wanna splurge? I've been inside, but not stayed at, the Ex-convento Camino Real on 5 de Mayo, half a block from Santo Domingo. Very pretty grounds, and the rooms look way nice. But it'll cost you, though if you're used to big-city hotel prices you'll be pleasantly surprised.

If you want to experience the Sierra Madre de Oaxaca, also called the Sierra Norte or Sierra Juarez, you can hike, bus, or drive to the small town of Benito Juarez and stay in the community yu'u. The last time I was in Benito Juarez, the yu'u was full so they community center found us lodging in someone's extra house, which seemed pretty yu'u-like. It was cold, cold, cold at night in October at about 9,500 feet, so dress accordingly. We went to bed fully clothed, and I swear the pillows were stuffed with earth they were so heavy. But it's a really beautiful town, so I urge you to check it out.

Way up in the Papaloapan, in the north of Oaxaca, the teeny town of San Pedro Ixcatlan has a posada, the Villa del Lago. To get there you drive down the main street most of the way through town; my receipt gives its address as "s/n frente a la escuela primaria," or "in front of the primary school." It was $140 a night for a big room with two queen beds, a ceiling fan, and tv. The wasps were no extra charge. And cotton-batting pillows, alas. But they have a swell rooftop patio where you can take in the view of the reservoir and town, very nice with a couple of beers, I must say.

If you head south on Hwy 175 to Puerto Angel, there's precious little in the way of services between Miahuatlan and Pochutla. Like, no gas. There are numerous roadside comedors, but San Jose del Pacifico has the only lodging, way up in the mountains. We stopped to get lunch at their restaurant (and got sick); their posted prices for the cabanas were $300-500 pesos, which seems expensive. Which is expensive, considering you could have your ass parked in a hammock on the beach for $200. If you want bracing mountain air, try Benito Juarez.

My guidebook recommended three hotels in Tehuantepec, but the day I was there the two inexpensive ones were full up. On my way out to the moderate hotel Guienxhoba on the highway I passed the Posada Colonial San Fernando and decided to give it a try. For $150 pesos a night I got a completely spic 'n' span room, ceiling fan, a tepid-water shower (which was fine; it's hot in Tehuantepec), and a queen-size bed with real pillows and sheets! Amazing. No off-street parking, but there's somebody on the desk 24/7 who can keep an eye on your car if you park out front. And they sell cold sodas and beers at the front desk. The only drawback is that it's on Av. 5 de Mayo, right off the highway, so it's noisy as all get-out. Suck it up and use earplugs, because it's a really nice place. Reserve by calling their cell phone, 044-971-719-2578.

(I have since gone back to Tehuantepec and tried the Hotel Oasis, slightly more expensive at 180 pesos, but clean, nice, and quiet. Plus, the windows were covered with a metal grill so we could leave the windows open without the cat getting out. Parking lot, restaurant, house toucan and parrots. For a kick-ass meal, go across the street to Comedor Perla. We had a top-notch comida for two for 54 pesos. For an early breakfast you're pretty much stuck with Restaurant Scaru, which is okay but pricey for what you get.)

Ah, Zipolite, with your nekkid pot-smokers and fine Italian cuisine! When I'm in Zipolite I stay at the Posada Marina Brisa, right on the beach, as practically everything in Zipolite is. No website as far as I know, but you can reserve a room with Dan via e-mail, brisamarinaca@yahoo.com, or by phone at 958-584-3193. If at all possible, don't stay in any of the ground-floor rooms, which are basically reinforced cement cells, but get one of the rooms on the upper floors facing the ocean. They're quite pleasant and have balconies strung with hamacas. Expect to pay around $200 pesos a night. Pets - well, cats - are okay, but children are usually not welcome. Note: Zipolite has quite a reputation in Oaxaca. If you don't want to give your Mexican coworkers or social circle the wrong idea about you (even if it's true), tell them you're going to Puerto Angel instead. They may suspect otherwise, but it helps maintain the illusion of respectability.

Since we drove back and forth between Oaxaca and the States a few times, we also like and recommend:

My husband swears he saw a comedor sign advertising dog tacos, but despite that Montemorelos is an okay little town with good places to stay and eat. We used the Hotel Mavira - watch for the signs 'cause I forgot to write down the address - and ate comida at Milton's, a taco and burger joint on the zocalo.

I usually avoid Mexico City traffic by taking secondary roads around the capitol. About dead center between D.F., Puebla, and Pachuca is a little town called Ciudad Sahagun. And just outside town to the north is the Hotel Plaza Motel and Restaurante Santa Lucia. I really like the hotel, which has big rooms and bathrooms, and lots of off-street parking, but I most especially like the Santa Lucia, which serves a terrific dinner, really first-rate. Their specialities are seafood and venison (venado). The was good, but their steaks are really good - everything we've had there has been really good, and the folks running it are super nice. Well worth a stop for breakfast, lunch, or dinner. It's also a convenient jumping-off point for a day or two of exploring Teotihuacan.

If you find yourself up in the Huasteca, Tamazunchale is worth checking out. The eponymous hotel is nice, if expensive at $650 a night, but it's got functioning A/C, plentiful hot water, and off-street parking. There are other hotels in town, but they appear very budget - though it might be funny to stay at the Hotel OK on the zocalo. As for restaurants, the only one we found was the hotel restaurant in the Hotel Tamazunchale, and it made the best chilaquiles I have ever had, bar none.

Maybe it's all the well-stocked pet stores and aquariums, but I really like Tehuacan, in Puebla state, which seems to have a bunch of nice hotels for such an un-touristy town. The Hotel Monroy is on Reforma, across the street from the regional archeological museum. Rooms are around $260, but are large, spotlessly clean, and come with fluffy white cotton towels and cable tv. The Monroy doesn't have parking, but its sister hotel around the corner, the Hotel Moniett, does, and is also a very nice place to stay for about the same price as the Monroy. Both are a short walk to the zocalo. (Hotel Monroy, 211 Reforma Norte, phone 238-382-0491; Hotel Moniett, around the corner at 129 2 Poniente, phone 238-382-8462.)

Friday, February 15, 2008

Spanish words, Zapotec or Mixtec words, Spanglish, slang...sometimes it's hard to know what the heck people are talking about. Because even half a dozen dictionaries don't always help. For instance:

All my books give ¿que? as what?, but here that's considered informal and possibly rude. People use ¿mande? instead. Or this example—my perennial favorite—all my dictionaries list torta (a sandwich), flan (a custard), and/or postre (dessert) for pie. Pie. What are they thinking? Spanish for pie is pay, pronounced "pie." As in "pay de queso," cheese pie, which is actually cheese cake...

My latest puzzler is gravy. My half-dozen dictionaries say the Spanish word is salsa, but I just don't buy that. I suspect the Spanish word for gravy is likely gravy. Aha! It's jugito, little juice. At least it is in Oaxaca.

Here, in any case, are some of the unusual words you're likely to hear in Oaxaca that I do know about:

Abastos Sometimes called "Central" on city buses, the Abastos is both the second-class bus terminal, the site of Oax-town's big Friday/Saturday tianguis, and a big slice-of-life look at Oaxaca.
Abarrotes The corner grocery. You can buy a cup of dog/cat food at a time, or a single bottle of beer, too--and when you bring the bottle back you'll get your 3-peso (or so) deposit back. Great neighborhood resource.
aciento Pig oil, often with bits of pork rind floating around; not to be confused with pig lard, which is manteca. I suspect aciento is in a lot of Oaxacan cuisine; I know for sure tlayudas and memelas have it unless you ask for them "sin aciento."
ADO Pronounced ah-day-oh. It's the first-class bus station on Chapultepec, aka Hwy 190 on the divide between Col. Centro and Col. Reforma. See TAPA.
afuera A popular name for dogs.
aguacate An avocado. These used to be called alligator pears in the States before someone got smart and changed the name. Kinda like what they're trying to do with prunes nowadays.
aguardiente White lightning made from sugarcane juice.
ahuehuete That might be the Nahuatl name; in Spanish it's a sabino, a cypress. The Tule tree is supposed to be the biggest example of an ahuehuete in Latin America.
amarilla A yellow sauce, even though sometimes it's red; I see it a lot in empanadas and in stewed chicken dishes.
antojitos It took me awhile to figure this one out: antojitos and botanas are both snacks, but antojitos are more like finger-foods - your tacos, tlayudas, and empanadas.
Arbol del Pirol The pepper tree; they're all over Oaxaca. Weavers use the tree's cambrium to dye wool pink.
avocado Everybody in Oaxaca calls 'em aguacates, not avocados.
Bimbo Bimbo is Snuggle the Fabric Softener bear's cousin, and he's an ad whore for a brand of fluffy white bread and these nasty hot dogs that smell a lot like Oscar Mayer wieners. His hot dog carts are all over Oax-town.
botana, botanas Yes, it means "snack," but botanas are more like bar snacks - chips and peanuts and cheetos - while antojitos are more your finger-foods category of snack.
buñuelo It looks like fry-bread that got fried too long, and it's coated with cinnamon and sugar. Like an ovoid churro.
caguama What we at home would call a forty, or a 40-oz bottle of beer. Since Mexico is metric, they're actually nine-forties, which doesn't have as nice a ring, so everybody calls 'em caguamas.
camion, camiones A pick-up truck; down here, they're usually used to haul loads and/or people up and down roads too narrow for buses. If you catch a ride in a camion, get the price before you get in.
carnitas Slow-cooked pork, and a speciality of Michoacan. Widely available in Oaxaca. If you're outside Oax-town be mindful that the carnitas can come with (sometimes a lot) of pork skin mixed in.
Casahuate The white-flowered tree found all over Oaxaca; I'll try to get a picture.
cempasuchil Marigolds; you'll see lots in the countryside starting in late September. They're the main decoration flower used for Day of the Dead.
Chalma Town of miracle cures; they say that if you can't get it fixed in Chalma, you're screwed.
chamoy a popular flavoring in candy, nieves, and as a sauce on macro paletas. It's red, it's tart, and I have no idea what it's made from.
chicharron, chicharrones Pork rinds, and a hugely popular snack in Oaxaca. You can even buy extruded corn starch facsimiles instead of the real thing–but why? Always served with salsa.
chilaquiles They look like eggless migas to me; if that doesn't help, chilaquiles are yesterday's tortillas cut into pieces and cooked in salsa, sometimes red, sometimes green, sometimes negro. Some places garnish them with sliced raw onions, queso fresco, crema, and/or shredded chicken. A big plate of these and you will be good to go all day.
churro I'd call it a Mexican donut, except they have donuts here, so ... it's like a donut, except it's long and fluted and coated with cinnamon and sugar. Only buy them fresh, 'cause when they're old they're awful.
clayuda A variant spelling of tlayuda.
comal A round, slightly concave red clay griddle, a basic kitchen item along with a brazier, over which many Oaxaqueñas cook. The white stuff is cal, or lime, used as the original non-stick surface.
dulces regionales Strange Oaxacan candies, and a great gift idea for the folks back home. Lots of nut brittles, and candied pumpkin rind, and tamarind balls or little clay pots with tamarind and chili powder, and other things that taste like Tootsie Rolls. And so on. Too much fun not to try. Just be aware that the little pots are likely a source of lead contamination. Enjoy!
elote Corn on the cob, either boiled or roasted, and stuck on a stick. Eaten either with lime juice and chili powder, or "con todo," with lime juice, mayonnaise, queso fresco, and chili powder. Better tasting than it sounds. Oh, and no one refrigerates mayo here, so don't worry when you see it sitting out.
empanada Looks a lot like a quesadilla to me, but with salsa inside.
eskitas See esquitas.
esquitas Everything you'd get if you bought an elote except the cob and wood stick, all served up in a little styrofoam cup with a plastic spoon and a napkin. Less messy than an elote, too. Yum!
frijoles refritos Like guacamole, Oaxacans like their refried beans soupy. And they're always black beans. And often flavored with epazote, an herb. If you mix your frijoles in with your sopa de arroz it's easier to eat with a fork.
Fud Remember the Gary Larson cartoon? The one where the dog is trying to lure the cat into the clothes dryer with a trail of kibble and a hand-lettered sign reading "cat fud"? Here it is! Fud is a brand of bright-pink snack sausages, like Slim Jims only somehow worse. I didn't think that was possible.
garnacha, garnachas An Istmo speciality; little corn tortillas topped with ground meat, onions, a parmesan-like cheese, salsa and pickled cabbage, carrot, and jalapeno, heated by frying on a griddle. Very, very, tasty.
guacamole What, you've never had guacamole at a Super Bowl party?! It's smashed-up avocado, with diced onion and tomato and a splash of lime juice if you're lucky. Served soupy here, and without the tomato and onion, much to my dismay. Guaca means "icky" so it's my guess that this is "that icky mole," though folks here deny it.
guajolote A turkey or, in Spanish, a pavo. Yeah, the Spanish thought turkeys looked like peacocks.
guanabana A fruit I'd call a cherimoya back home in California, though they're super-big here in Oaxaca. Popular as a juice and in nieves.
gusano, sal de Very popular with mezcal, or sprinkled on sliced fruit. It's, ah, worm salt: ground up worms - grubs, really - mixed with chili powder. It makes a good gift, as you can't really taste the worms but it will surely freak out your friends and relatives.
helado American-style ice cream, but check out the insane flavors!
limon It looks like a lime but tastes like a sweetish lemon. And I never see lemons for sale in the markets. And they put it on everything here.
Llano, the Officially, it's the Parque Benito Juarez, next to the Church of the Virgin of Guadalupe and between Avs. Benito Juarez and Pino Suarez. A nice little park, with several fountains that the city sometimes turns on, families and kids out enjoying the days and evenings, elote and Bimbo vendors, and usually a vendor selling dulces regionales. It's also across from some government building, so it sees a lot of use as the staging area for protests, too.
macro paleta A Oaxacan Big Stick, that speciality popsicle beloved of kids. Here I usually only see it during fairs, which is a shame, because like other treats, the Oaxacans really know how to do this one right: it comes in a bazillion fruit and savory flavors and is served on a styrofoam tray in order to hold the chamoy sauce and a liberal coating of chili powder. Mmm, mouth-watering.
maguey The local name for agave, the wonder plant of Oaxaca. Magueys provide alcoholic beverages (tequila, mezcal, pulque), food, tools (sisal fibers and spines), and ask for hardly anything in return. What a deal!
mamey It's a fruit and a popular flavoring for nieves; it's also a color, similar to our salmon.
mapache That garbage-can party animal, the raccoon.
mercado A market, sometimes open-air, sometimes in a big warehouse-like building. The city's mercados are just south of the zocalo: the Juarez Mercado and the 20th de Noviembre Mercado. Which incidentially is where the tianguis used to be held until it got too big and the city too crowded with auto traffic.
mezcal An appellation-controlled alcoholic beverage made from the roasted, ground, and distilled hearts of magueys. It's readily available in anything from fancy bottles to home brew sold on the street out of plastic gas cans.
mole, moles A set of regional sauces (they make moles in Puebla, too: mole poblano), the most famous of which is mole negro, which has chocolate in it, among a host of other ingredients. Like any good sauce, every family has its own recipe. You can buy it in the stores and mercados and speciality shops around town. Turkey in mole is a traditional favorite, and mighty damn good.
nieve, nieves Oaxacan ice cream. It's like gelato. And it's made from drinking water, not the crap from the taps, so go ahead, try some.
nopal The prickly pear cactus; it's the cactus the eagle is sitting on as depicted on the Mexican flag. Folks here eat the paddles and the fruits. The fruits, called tunas, are great eating; the paddles are pretty bland but are good if cooked right, which mostly means not overcooked.
papalotl Nahuatl for butterfly, locally spelled papalote.
"Por el dios del osito Bimbo!"
pulque An alcoholic beverage made, like tequila and mezcal, from agaves; I've never seen it sold out of anything other than plastic gas cans and rickety-looking shacks. Bring your own bottle.
quesadilla Where I come from, a quesadilla is a tortilla with cheese and vegetables and maybe meat, heated over a griddle or open flame and served either open-face or folded in half. Kinda like a tlayuda, except it's not. Kinda like an empanada, too, except not. If you don't know you're just going to have to have one of each and decide for yourself how to describe it.
rajas As far as I can tell, it's sliced pickled jalapenos and onions and maybe carrots. A popular filling for tamales.
raspado A Oaxacan snow cone, with fruit in syrup ladled over the shaved ice and served in a plastic cup. Really, really yummy treat, especially when it's hot out.
reganada A crispy flatbread coated with sugar and cinnamon.
ride A ride, as in, hey I'm heading out: quiere un ride?
rustica Remember Busvan For Bargains? Or plank-and-block bookshelves? Oaxaca does, too, only down here they call that style of decoration rustica, not dorm-room chic (or worse).
salsa In Calfornia, salsa is a chunky, tomato-based condiment; the fresh stuff is often called pico de gallo, although I don't know why. And well-blended, chile-based sauces are called hot sauce. In Oaxaca, I never see pico de gallo unless I make it, and hot sauces are called salsas. So there you go.
sanitario A public, for-pay bathroom, usually 2 or 3 pesos. They'll hand you a wad of paper when you pay, too. Cleanliness levels vary tremendously.
sitio A taxi stand.
sopa Soup, but if you see "sopa de arroz" or "sopa de pasta" on a menu or sandwich board, it doesn't mean what you'd think. It's just regular cooked rice and pasta. I don't know why they call it sopa.
taco Forget Taco Bell, my friend. A real Mexican taco is a little drop of heaven served with a wedge of lime. Small, hand-sized corn tortillas filled with chopped meat-n-onions. Maybe a little salso or guacamole. Maybe a radish or grilled onion on the side. Pig-head tacos are popular in Oaxaca, so scrutinize the stand carefully before ordering or you'll be sorry.
taquito Aka the roll taco for those inSane Diegans in the house, a taquito is usually a corn tortilla filled with meat - beef or chicken, most often - rolled up and fried, then topped with guacamole, beans, cheese, and cabbage or lettuce. Yum-yum-yummy. But sometimes people here call tacos taquitos, little tacos. Well, tacos are always little, so I don't know what the deal is.
tamal, tamales A tamal—not a tamale as we Americans like to say— is a blob of corn meal with a chunk of meat in the middle, all wrapped up in a corn husk and steamed. There's some pig grease in there somewhere, too, which just adds to the tastiness. Unless you're a vegetarian, in which case it just adds to the list of off-limits Oaxacan delicacies.
tamarindo It's a pod that grows on trees, and a flavor they just love down here. I've had tamarind agua frescas in California, and you can get 'em here, too. But they also use tamarind as a flavoring for nieves and raspados, as well as a candy. Only the candy is more like tamarind chutney, seeds and all, and usually topped with a liberal coating of chili powder. Whoa!
TAPA The first-class bus station in Mexico City with buses that go to Oaxaca's ADO station. Mexico City has several first-class bus stations, so ask your cabbie specifically for TAPA.
tejate It looks like a Oaxacan Yoo-hoo. Maybe it tastes like a Yoo-hoo, too; I've never had a Yoo-hoo. Tejate is good, a drink that tastes faintly of chocolate and earthy flavors (but not like dirt), with a fun, chocolate whipped cream foam on top. I like tejate, but I just can't drink it if I see the ladies preparing it in their gigantic green-glazed bowls: those little ladies have their whole arms in there, mixing up the ingredients and somehow getting the stuff to foam up like whipped cream even though there's no milk or other dairy products in it. Ugh, yet yum. A conundrum.
temescal The local take on the sauna or sweat lodge. Wonderful.
tianguis It means awnings, but refers to the big, once-a-week (usually) market where all the country folks come in to buy and sell. It's a lot like a swap meet, with people selling everything from Made in Taiwan plastic housewares and toys to locally-produced pottery, wooden utensils, tin braziers, clay griddles, dinnerware, clothes both traditional and Western, tools, animals, lots and lots of produce, and hot lunches: tacos, empanadas, and tlayudas, mostly. And on and on and on. All being sold in crates and on tables but mostly in piles on the ground, with tarps of ever color haphazardly stung overhead, their multi-colored and low-strung guy lines going every which way. Tall people really need to watch their heads and feet.
tlacuache Local name for the possum.
tlayudas A Oaxacan speciality: a plate-sized corn tortilla cooked either open-face or folded in half on either a comal or on coals, and filled with Oaxaca-style beans, quesillo (usually), onion, tomato, and avocado, and usually topped with chorizo, tasajo, or cecina enchilada, but of course you can get it plain if you want. And if you don't want it with pig grease, ask for it "sin aciento."
tope A speed bump; they come in many interesting shapes and sizes, but all are designed to ruin your car's undercarriage if you speed through town. They are usually marked, but not always, or clearly. Watch for braking cars in front of you, and when you drive through any little pueblocito just expect to find a couple of topes on the highway.
tuna Not Chicken of the Sea; it's the scrumptious fruit of the nopal, or prickly pear cactus. Eaten fresh - peeled! the fruit has spines - or in nieves.
yu'u Some of the communities around the state have built guest houses specifically for tourists. They're cheap, and basic, and right in the middle of some really neat pueblitos. Well worth checking out.
vibrador A kind of tope, but instead of ripping the bottom off your car should you choose not to slow down, a vibrador will shake the teeth out of your head. A super rumble strip, that's it!
ximantecoso ó retama The Palo Verde tree. There's lots of it in the Cañada and Tehuacan Valley.
xopilote Mixteco for vulture.
zócalo The local name for a town square.

Thursday, December 14, 2006

Still haven't made it back to Oaxaca. And, no, the jones for some real Oaxacan food never went away so we just flew down to Los Angeles for two and a half days to eat at some of the Oaxaqueno ex-pat restaurants there.

First, we are totally stuffed because they exceeded our wildest expectations—especially after I went online and checked out some restaurant reviews. People were curious and on the whole enthusiastic, but pretty uninformed. Most mentioned only mole, some tlayudas, chilaquiles, and "crickets" so we thought we'd get something familiar, but nothing like we did. At all three restaurants the beans—black, smashed, and runny, just the way they should be—tasted of epazote and asiento. Mmm. On the other hand, the LA Oaxacans have adapted their guacamole to Californian tastes: all the guac we saw was thick and chunky.

Another Oaxacan adaptation to local tastes was the chips. US-based Mexican restaurants always serve a basket of chips before the meal, but never in Oaxaca unless it's a gringo-popular restaurant. But at the restaurants in LA we tried, the waiters and waitresses brought out a basket of chips—covered with a yummy red mole and crumbled queso fresco! Really good, and a very nice touch, we thought.

3337 1/2 W. Olympic Blvd at Irolo in Koreatown
Los Angeles
Parking on the street and in back

Well, we never got any crickets, but we did start out with tlayudas at Guelaguetza. We went to the Olympic Blvd location (the other is on 8th St), which was comfortably full of mostly Latino diners. We each got a tlayuda con cecina enchilada y quesillo. The waitress stopped to clarify, "Both?" which we took to mean, you both want the same thing but what really meant, you both want one of these enormous things yourselves?

We ate here twice more, the next time splitting a tamal Oaxaqueno, wrapped in a banana leaf and hiding a generous chunk of chicken and slathered in black mole, and a large taco de barbacoa de chivo. The third time we split a plate of enmoladas con cecina enchilada and another tamal Oaxaqueno. All three meals were in the $20-$25 range, and included drinks (Jarritos for Greg, really good iced tea with free refills for me). Highly recommended. They also have a little counter up front where you can buy their moles and some other products.

(As a side note, G-man said he got a hard look from one of the other diners at our second outing there, until he bid the man a genial "Buon provecho!" as we left, which changed his outlook entirely.)

Monte Alban
11927 Santa Monica Blvd at Armacost
Los Angeles
Street parking

The little strip mall that houses Monte Alban also has restaurants featuring Greek, Thai, Persian, Japanese, and generic Mexican. How LA is that? We liked this place, too, but Guelaguetza was closer to our B&B, and I thought the food was a little better at Guelaguetza—I had a couple of cold spots in the masa of my memela which says "microwave!" to me. But G-man rated the taco de barbacoa de chivo at Monte Alban as superior. The meat was better spiced, he said, and I agree with him, though the goat at Guelaguetza tasted more like goat, which I also like. We were still grossly full from our double-tlayuda lunch earlier in the day, so we only got the goat taco (also very large for a taco), a very good sopa azteca, a mediocre sandia agua fresca, a latte mug of atole champurrado, a memela with quesillo, and a tuna nieve which gave me a brain freeze but was yummy. $18.

Juquila is only a couple of blocks east of Monte Alban, and although the storefront is unimpressive we decided to go back the following day and try it.

11619 Santa Monica Blvd at Federal
Los Angeles
A tiny lot in back; we parked on the street

The inside's nicer than you'd expect from the outside. As this was to be our last evening meal on our Oax-Tour LA, I ordered a Corona michelada while G-man got a plain Corona, plus enfrijoladas con cecina, a tlayuda con quesillo, and another atole champurrado, this time in a regular coffee cup. It was all good, though I like the tlayudas at Guelaguetza a bit better: it had the brown marks I associate with cooking on a comal which the tortilla at Juquila did not have. Dinner was a shade over $24, including our beers.

We also picked up the Oaxacan ex-pat paper and scoured it for more restaurants. It'd take us a month to work our way though it all, but I list them here for your benefit, in no particular order:

Guelaguetza Palms
11127 Palms Blvd
LA, 310-837-1153

El Sazon Oaxaueno
12131 Washington Pl
LA, 310-391-4721

El Texate Oaxacan
316 Pico Blvd
Santa Monica, 310-399-1115

Restaurant Antequerade Oaxaca
5200 Melrose at Wilton

El Meson del Taco
"Los Mejores Tacos" "con sabor a Oaxaca"
12326 1/2 Venice Blvd at Centinela
LA, 310-482-3739

Oaxacalifornia Cafe Juice Bar
3655 Grand Ave at 37th
LA, 213-747-8622

El Chapulin
featuring "la torta sexy"
3303 W. Pico Blvd between Wilton and Arlington
LA, 323-766-0757

Manolys Pasteleria y Cafeteria
11771 Santa Monica Blvd
LA, 310-473-0622

El Torito Oaxaqueno
they say they have tejate and
"authentico caldo de costilla estilo Yalalag"
2005 W. 8th St
LA, 213-483-3640

Mieto's Ice Cream y Fruit Bars
1250 S. Vermont - 105
LA, 213-738-7288
and four other locations

La Morenita Oaxaquena
"autentica comida casera"
3550 W. 3rd St at New Hampshire
LA, 213-365-9201

Thursday, November 03, 2005

Got a lot of water under the bridge since my last post to this blog. We're now in Berkeley, California. G-man is still writing -- gainfully! -- and I'm working at a bakery. We're gearing up for a trip back; we seriously need some Oaxacan food, as there is none in the Bay Area*, and G still has some stuff to research for his Oaxaca book.

I'll keep you posted.

*When we moved back to the Bay Area, we heard that there was a restaurant in the Marina District in The City that had Oaxacan food, so we kept organizing expeditions there to check it out. Oh, they're not open Mondays. Oh, they've closed for the day. Oh, now they're on vacation for the holidays. The menu posted in the window didn't look very Oaxacan -- well, not at all, really -- but then we ran into one of the chefs at Mi Lindo Yucatan in the Mission. He told us that if we came by they'd make us any Oaxacan food we wanted. Tlayudas? Yes. Garnachas? Yes. Okay, we are so there.
But next time we went by, the restaurant had closed...permanently!
And that was that. We have toyed with flying to LA and getting tlayudas there...maybe soon.