Thursday, November 5, 2009

Oaxaca Day 7

Today is the cooking class that inspired the entire Oaxaca trip. Seasons of My Heart is run and taught by one of the legends of Oaxacan cooking, Susana Trilling. This is a nine hour class going to one of the revolving markets in Etla, then to the cooking school in Rancho Auroro.

Once we arrived at Etla market, Susana explained the layout, what to expect, and of course, to limit our picture taking to those people she is communicating with, wide shots, and people you ask to take their pictures (probably for a small fee). With three freelance photographers in the group, she was going to have her hands full.

I ran out of time to have breakfast this morning, which was a good thing today because Susana knew essentially everyone in the food part of the market and was constantly explaining the different items sold and providing samples for us to experience them for ourselves.

On the way in, sat a lady peddling seeds and herbs. We got a brief introduction of the different types used in local cooking and those that would do good growing in other climates.

First, we had tamales. Not just one or two, but five different kinds. Luckily, I was second in line. We had comino (cumin), mole amarillo and pollo, flor de calabaza (squash blossom), black bean, and mole coloradito. What a great opportunity to taste such variety.

Nicuatole was being sold by someone also peddling chayotes and nopales (cactus palms). We were given a taste of this gelatinous dessert made from ground maize and sugar and flavoured with tuna (prickly pear fruit).

We made our way outside to where some ladies were selling cal (calcium hydroxide or slaked lime). Susana explained some of its many uses in this culture:
  • The preparation of masa fresca to help break down the unwanted skin on the corn kernels making it digestible
  • Increases the nutritional value of corn so peasants can survive on a diet of mainly corn tortillas and beans
  • Used to prepare the comal for cooking tortillas supplying a film that the corn tortillas will not stick to

We went back inside to try the three different cheeses of Oaxaca. First is quesillo (string cheese). This is unlike the string cheese we get in the U.S.. It is so fresh, soft, and falls apart into individual threads with a slight pull. The production process is complicated and involves stretching the cheese into long ribbons and rolling it up like a ball of yarn. It has an amazing taste like a soft textured, milky Mozzarella. They use it here as a melting cheese. I am planning on taking some of this home.

Next was a queso fresco. It starts with the same base as the quesillo with subtle differences. It is found in round, wood rings and resembles a feta. The taste is milder than quesillo with similar flavors. It is used here as a crumbling cheese on top of many dishes.

The last one is called requeson and is made from the whey of the other two. It resembles more of a dry cottage cheese but with a grey color. It wasn't as flavorful as the others and most other students were passing up on it.

The nieves (ice cream) stall was next. It was icier and less creamier than I am used to with some crazy flavors like burnt milk, tuna (prickly cactus fruit), and melon.

We wandered over to the juice stand to try some of the local flavors. The fruit is plentiful and ripe here making some wonderful concoctions.

Susana gave us some of the local breads to try next. They were sweeter than our variety and very tasty. She said is because the dough was worked by hand using corn flour and condensed milk. Even here, she explained, that this is a dying art. The next generation wants to use machinery instead of their hands.

Our next stop was at the atole stand. Atole is a drink made from water, chocolate, corn starch, cinnamon, and vanilla. You had me at water, I didn't try this one.

We made our way over to the carniceria (meat market). Susana told us about the different techniques for cutting and preparing meats. She also talked about chicharrones (pork rinds) and gave us a sample. I'm not a big fan of these greasy pieces of cooked fat.

Even the pigs here are afraid of getting swine flu. This one is shown with his trotters (feet).

That was a lot of food sampling throughout the morning. Now we sat down at some tables and Susana took on questions and accepted lunch orders. I was already full, but didn't want her to feel insulted, so I got the enchiladas with mole estofado. The sauce had a smokey, sweet flavor to it with a hint of raisins.

After lunch, we had thirty minutes to wander around the market to explore and make purchases. My limited Spanish skills have been good at purchasing gifts and simple items, but when it comes to buying spices, chiles, and other cooking items, it is great to have JP here to act as a mediator.

As I have finished the market portion of this class, I just received the worst news on this trip, the cooking class at Alma mi Tierra scheduled for tomorrow has been canceled. This is quite a disappointment because we were set to learn about sauces, salsas, and appetizers. The communication with this place has been terrible despite my persistent emails. Finally, JP phoned the instructor who said she wasn't even aware of a class tomorrow. Somehow, we will regroup, refocus, and move on.

At this point, I am exhausted from a long day. Since some time has freed up tomorrow, I will talk about the preparation of mole Chichilo Oaxaqueno (coincidentally the seventh mole of Oaxaca and my seventh mole to try) then. Hasta luego.

1 comment:

  1. oh my gosh, those pig trotters are super disgusting.
    the string cheese sounds fabulous though--i don't suppose they sell it in packs of 16, individually wrapped in plastic.
    "You had me at water"--funny stuff!