Sunday, July 1, 2012

Tlyuda, open faced

Mi Estómago Está en los Cielos

One of the things that Suzanne and I really miss around here is Oaxacan food. Nearly every state in Mexico has some sort of regional cuisine, and it’s likely unknown in other states. For instance, when I was teaching down there my students insisted that a burrito was American food, like hot dogs. I asked them, “Where do you get burritos in Oaxaca?” They all had the same answer: “MacDonalds breakfast burrito.” And they were right! 
   It is said that the last words of Porfirio Diaz, the dictator “president” who was finally tossed out by the Revolution and died in Paris (I have seen his tomb!), were lamenting for Oaxacan food.  I’m a bit surprised that he didn’t take any decent cooks with him into exile, but am not surprised that he died because he didn’t get any.
   Our favorite food Oaxacan food is Tlayudas. Memelitas and Chiliquilles are close behind. We have a “Oaxacan” restaurant in Eureka nearby, but they don’t serve those—they only have several moles, which is something else Oaxaca is famous for. It is impossible to find Oaxacan food anywhere except two places: Oaxaca and Los Angeles.
   Los Angeles has a huge Oaxacan population. It’s so large that they celebrate Guelaguetza (pronounced Gway-la-gates-a) there, which is a strictly Oaxacan fiesta. Eight indigenous groups live in Oaxaca, and on Guelaguetza representatives from all of them come into the city for a mutual dance fiesta. The government has a huge formal presentation of a favorite “foundation story,” a love story which ends with the Oaxacan heroine being beheaded. It’s in a stadium and is a huge production with lights and a band and all. We never saw it, but we always attended the more casual one in one of the city squares. Even without understanding Spanish we loved it. And Los Angeles has one!
   I went to Los Angeles with my friend Don to translate and be his “stand behind” while visiting a curandero (healer) from Guatemala. Don got a nerve nicked in a surgery, and none of the neurologists are able to do anything for him. However, Tata, the curandero, did help. Lots. In fact, one of the neurologists told him he was better off getting results from the healer than with further modern procedures. So off we went. The healing went fine, but for me the really high point was that we visited el restaurant Guelagetza. Don was a bit worried at first since it was in east LA, reputedly a dangerous place. Not so, we went with some friends from down there.
   And it was scrumptious.
   And the next day we went again for lunch, as we had some time to kill. The waiter was from Puebla, and when he realized I’d actually been there—I mentioned admiring the statue of General Zaragosa, the victor of the Battle of Cinco de Mayo—he was quite pleased. (Puebla is just about the only place in Mexico that celebrates Cinco de Mayo. No one is sure why it became the American Mexican holiday.) I had chilaquiles this time.
   And it was scrumptious.
   Mi estomacha 

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