I plan to do a lot of writing about food here in Oaxaca. It's not that the food is so fantastic (though much of it is), or so awful (though some of it is that, too) but rather that I am very interested in food in general. Anyone who knows me can attest that I like to eat - in fact you don't have to know me, you just have to look at me. I also love to cook, and I am fascinated by edible and medicinal plants that I haven't seen before.
There are a zillion such plants here. A short walk through the market turns up several varieties of fruit for which I have no names. My children sometimes come up with cool names: they call this the "Cat Brain Fruit."
In actual fact it is a Maracuya, known in English as the passionfruit. I'd never seen one before. The Maracuya might just take the prize for having the widest discrepancy between deliciousness and hideousness. It's gelatinous insides do indeed look very much like a brain, and the texture is slimy and bouncy at the same time. It completely does NOT look like anything you would want to eat. But it tastes amazing. It is citrusy and refreshing, tart and bracing. The seeds are light and crunchy and have a delicate taste of their own. You can eat these out of hand, but the nicest thing to do with them as far as I am concerned is to scoop the insides of six or eight of these into a blender, seeds and all, add sugar to taste, and blend. Pour a few ounces into a tall glass with ice, add a jigger of rum, and top with seltzer.
The children making tamales with their abuelita. Making tamales from scratch is a labor of love, and an art form ( see How to Make Real Tamales from my old blog). Not only are my kids having a great time getting their hands all sticky and spending time with their abuelita, they are, whether they know it or not, being indoctrinated in an ancient tradition of Mexican feminine kitchen witchery. When, someday, they learn to make kosher dills from me, or sourdough rye, I will be teaching them my European kitchen magic, such as it is. It makes me happy to know that they also will learn how to make nixtamal from their Native American ancestors.
As far as I am concerned, the delicious treat pictured above is reason enough to come to Oaxaca. This is a cup of Vuelve a la Vida, or "return to life," the famous Mexican hangover cure. You do not, however, need to overindulge to enjoy this amazing restorative. Anyone with six bucks in their pocket who happens to be lounging around the parque de los tortolos in lovely downtown Oaxaca would be well advised to stop into the seafood joint on the south side of the plaza and ask for one of these (with the cold Corona pictured alongside).
Vuelve a la Vida is a a mixture of fresh, quick boiled shrimp, raw shucked oysters, calamari, baby octopus, and marinated conch smothered in a sweetish, spicy tomato based broth and topped with cubed avocado. It is served with lime wedges, stingingly hot red salsa, tostadas, and saltine crackers. In my opinion, it is the quintessential Mexican snack, and one of my favorite things to eat in the whole world. The only thing that could improve this experience would be to transport the whole restaurant to the beach at Mazatlan, but we can't have everything, now can we?