Monday, November 2, 2009

Oaxaca Day 4

The dead are among us! Last night, Halloween, was when it happened. Families have been going to cemeteries to clean and decorate the graves of departed loved ones for the past few days. On Halloween evening, the family arrives to the cemetery with the favorite food and drink of the deceased and prepare for an all night vigil. A little later, the dead arrive and take the nourishment out of the food to provide energy needed after their long journey back to the living. After midnight, the family is able to eat the remains of the food and party the rest of the night with the returned members of their family.

You see alters all around town including in the hotels, restaurants, homes, markets, and zocolo. It appears to be for the spirits as they wander around on their journey. They are beautiful to witness and interesting to see what they contain. The top one is from Cocina Oaxaquena and actually has the mole negro that we cooked there.

We were going to nourish ourselves if we were going to be able to keep up with the living and undead. We followed one of the parades that are always springing up around the zocolo. A marching band leads the parade through the streets for hours picking up celebrants along the way. Now my camera does a terrible job at night of anything that isn't exactly five feet away. I have done my best to edit the pictures, but the quality isn't that great.

Finding a restaurant in this town that is open when you are hungry isn't the easiest thing. I should explain this concept. We are hanging out in the town center that is roughly fifteen blocks square. The weird thing is that ALL the buildings are two stories tall in height and go straight up from the sidewalk. Sometimes the sidewalk is five feet wide, sometimes one foot wide. It is like you are always walking through a tunnel. The buildings are brightly colored, most with a large set of decorative wood doors in the middle. Everything basically looks the same. You can't just peer down a block and figure out what lies ahead.

Eventually we found a restaurant and settled in to eat. I have been anxious to try a mole verde since I make one at home. Sadly, it was a little bland for my taste. Mine has a little more punch to it. I did like the smooth texture though. Shane got some tacos de res (steak tacos) that were pretty tasty.

There were a lot of tours to the large cemetery outside of town, but Shane and I opted to go to the smaller, older local cemetery, Penelon General y San Miguel, that we could walk to and be on our own schedule. Here, there was a sprinkling of graves that were decorated and families waiting. My thought is that these graves are very old and family members didn't have the connections to those passed generations ago. There were still a lot of people wandering around and looking at the different offerings. Out of respect, I only took one picture here. The marigold display was stunning and fragrant.

Something amazing was that right outside the graveyard, was a huge carnival. There were regular amusement park rides (on a small scale), layers of loud music (musicians, cd vendors, mariachis, boom boxes), and probably the funniest carnival game I have ever seen. I call it the mariachi shooting game. First off, mariachi music is blaring from speakers within the whole structure. When the targets are hit, like those behind the girl in the yellow shirt, different things happen. The music style changes, the puppets start dancing, and what got the biggest laugh, was a life size skeleton holding a rifle started shooting streams of water right at Shane and I. Everyone around got a good laugh at that.

Another thing that was discovered at the carnival were the street vendors. There were some around the zocolo, but they mostly sold elotes (corn ears slathered in lime juice, butter, and chili powder - yum) and hot dogs wrapped in bacon. Probably not to be in competition with the restaurants there. Just to not contradict myself, the restaurants around the zololo we found to be a little pricey, busy, and bland. We were always searching for a hidden treasure.

Street vendors, this is a difficult one to figure out, but I have been looking for the pattern. Looks like they are mostly around the local markets. In the morning you see them around selling coffee and pastries. Don't try looking for tacos before noon here. Around lunch time, they start getting their comals and grills warmed up. The best way to find them is to go to the many local markets. Mercado Benito Juarez and Mercado Veinte de Novembre are my favorites right now. They are an entire block in size and are actually across the street from each other.

These places have just about anything that the area provides. I am always interested in ingredients and am going to have to find out what I can legally bring home in my luggage. Here, I am ordering some chapulines (grasshoppers). They are a little spicy, a little crunchy, with a soft center. You can order them in different sizes, chopped like grains of sand to the size of a quarter. They aren't that great, but for ten pesos, it is a good novelty.

We made it all the way to the market, that means taco time. The first were taco de res (steak tacos). The meat was mixed with beans in a corn tortilla. They were excellent.

A little while later, we saddled up for some pig head tacos, why not, there were a lot of other people there eating. They chopped all of the skull meat together, threw them in a tortilla with cilantro and salsa, and gave us the plate. It wasn't as good as I had hoped. It was a mixture of meat, gristle, and chunks of fat. If you look hard, you can see some pig heads on the far end.

Needing to get another taste in our mouths, we ventured into the market to one of the stands inside and ordered Oaxacan chorizo tacos and a Oaxacan hot chocolate. I quickly ate the tacos without snapping a picture, but the hot chocolate was definitely the best I have ever had.

That is it for today. Tomorrow we are off to the ruins of Monte Alban. Hasta luego.

1 comment:

  1. your pictures are awesome, pablo! and if i were a life-sized skeleton, i'd shoot water right at you and shante too!