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djyee100

Oaxaca Day of the Dead

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I visited Oaxaca, Mexico during the Day of the Dead festivities this year. (Before you ask, yes, the city was calm.) These pictures were taken by a friend who was also part of our tour group, and reprinted here with her permission. She's a wonderful photographer.

A visit to a mezcal factory. Mezcal is made from the heart of the agave plant, which is roasted (giving the spirits a smoky flavor) and then fermented. I definitely developed a taste for mezcal while in Oaxaca.

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Our guide Nora got behind the counter and poured samples of mezcal for us. It was still mid-morning, but that didn't stop us from trying the different kinds of mezcal.

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Later, at a restaurant, we attended a demo of the traditional way to make chocolate on the metate. The cook ground the cacao beans to a paste, then added in cinnamon stick and finally, some sugar. A small fire beneath the metate helped the chocolate melt to a paste.

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This same cook also made tortillas. I loved to watch her make tortillas. Her tortillas came off the press like silk. Oh, to make tortillas like that!

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At the Zapotec village of Teotitlan, we visited a weaver who uses traditional methods for making her dyes ( http://www.eltonodelacochinilla.com/Index.html ) . For example, the reds are from the cochineal insect, and the blues from fermented indigo plant.

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Then we were invited to the weaver's home. Her family made delicious corn quesadillas for us.

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And also atole, a cornmeal drink. Ours was flavored with chocolate.

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[To be continued...]

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Meanwhile, all around us the city of Oaxaca was gearing up for the holiday. Skeletal visitors made an appearance, along with the tourists.

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People also made elaborate "paintings" of sand, sawdust, colored powders and flower petals to commemorate the holiday.

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The markets were filled with sellers and shoppers.

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Day of the Dead breads.

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Skulls made of sugar.

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Streets filled with flowers for sale to decorate the family altars. An amazing sight!

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Katrina dolls to decorate the altars, too.

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And, of course, foods to buy for the family feast. Dried shrimp and chiles...

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Fresh onions...

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Ripe papayas.

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[To be continued...]

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Wonderful account and photos ...

Would like, however, to point out that the photo of the marchanta offering the drink in the jicara, is offering an ancient, sacred beverage called tejate ... it is not atole. It is roasted cacao and masa based, but it is quite different than atole. It also contains roasted, ground canela and almonds (though these sabores are not alien to pre-Columbian Mexico, both cinnamon and almonds were Levantine items carried through Spain to the New World). The other ingredients are traditional del mero corazon: hueso de mamey, or the seed/pit of the mamey, and dried rosita de cacao flowers - the mamey is in the sapote family, looks like a small, flocked football, and has avocado-textured, Texas Longhorn orange flesh. The seed's structural composition is rather like that of the avocado (not in the same family), but is spindle-shaped, the the flower is from a small tree called the 'rosital.' It is not in the rose family (that originated in China). It's botanical name is Quaribea funebris, and it is also known as 'flor de orejona' or 'ear flower', due to its shape. All of these ingredients are toasted, ground, and mixed with the cacao an masa. Cold water is poured from the heighth of a raised arm, while the other hand rapidly, and madly, beats the dough-like mass. It becomes liquid, and raises a soapy, scummy foam. Sorry, folks, that's really what it looks like. The foam from cacao is considered, very anciently and traditionally, to be its very soul. The marchantas will serve you a jicara - a gourd bowl - of tejate, and they will scoop a handful of the foam from the cazuela, and place it on top of the tejate in the jicara just before offering it to you.

And, if you are lucky enough to be their first customer of the day, they will - holding your coins in payment in their hands - make the sign of the cross on their body, asking the god(s) that it be a good and financially enriching day.

Atole, though wonderful and meriting its own discussion, is a far more humble, workaday potion. Champurrado, or atole de chocolate, carries the body of the cacao - tejate is the bearer of its soul.

Regards,

Theabroma

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Our guide Nora, who is a well-known cook in Oaxaca, gave us a cooking class featuring a Day of the Dead feast. The menu: squash blossoms stuffed with requeson cheese; soup flavored with hierba santa, squash blossoms, and Oaxacan string cheese; Nora's grandmother's famous mole negro; rice flavored with mint; and a tomatillo salsa with gusanitos de maguey (worms from the maguey plant, a Oaxacan delicacy).

Nora is frying in batches the chiles, nuts, herbs, and spices for the mole negro.

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When this step of the cooking was done, we piled into a van to visit the neighborhood molino, or mill. The ingredients were poured into a large machine with stone wheels and ground into a fine paste. During holiday season, women line up outside the molino, each carrying a large container of ingredients to be made into the family's special recipe for mole paste.

Then back to the cooking class. Squash blossoms waiting to be stuffed.

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Grilling the worms for the salsa. Some people were a little squeamish about this step.

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Tomatillos and chiles cooking for the salsa.

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The stuffed squash blossoms and salsa. These were delicious. (And so was the rest of the feast.)

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As part of our tour, Nora and her family allowed us to share in their celebration of the Day of the Dead. On October 31, Nora and her family prepared the family altar. They set a trail of marigold petals from their front door to the altar, and also burned a special incense of copal (the aromatic resin of the copal tree), so the spirits could find their way back to visit their family.

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Nora constructing her family's altar. The altar is decorated with flowers, fruit, katrina dolls, mementos of special significance to the dead, photos, and foods. Nora's mother brought in a steaming plate of mole negro and set it on the altar.

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The finished altar.

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Altars are set up all over the city, in businesses as well as in homes. All loved ones are remembered.

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[To be continued...]

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Meanwhile, all around us the city of Oaxaca was gearing up for the holiday. Skeletal visitors made an appearance, along with the tourists.

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I want this Catrina!

Thanks for posting, this is bringing back wonderful memories of Oaxaca for me :smile:

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What a great blog & super photographs! Was this a special food-related tour? How did you find out about it?

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What a great blog & super photographs! Was this a special food-related tour? How did you find out about it?

I found out about Nora thru a friend who has brought tour groups to Oaxaca. This Day of the Dead tour included a market tour and cooking class, and also focused on Oaxacan arts and crafts and sightseeing. There was probably more emphasis on food than the average tour because Nora is a cook! The Oaxaca B&B tour in March 2008 will focus even more on food (Nora will be one of the featured cooking teachers).

Nora's tours: http://www.almademitierra.net/

Culinary tour sponsored by Oaxaca B&B Assn in March 2008: http://www.oaxacabedandbreakfast.org/gastronomictour.htm


Edited by djyee100 (log)

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Fantastic report so far! Oaxaca is a place that I am dieing to get to nd it looks like there could be no better time than the day of the dead!

The photo of the woman dying the wool reminded me of my trip to Peru. They used the very same dye sources and methods. I wonder where they arose first?

I'm looking forward to the rest.

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On the evening of October 31, we visited the cemetery. The cemetery was filled with people, as families gathered by the graves. The graves were lavishly decorated with flowers, candles, and keepsakes. Some people kept vigil all night by the graves of their loved ones.

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Up to then the Day of the Dead was a solemn occasion. People sometimes felt the grief of their loss again, but also felt happy to be reunited with the spirits of those who have passed away. But on the last evening of this holiday, the day after the cemetery vigil, the raucous comparsa take over in the streets.

These are masked players, complete with a marching brass band, who roam the neighborhoods and visit various houses. Their job is to help send the dead back to their realm. Apparently some of the dead prefer to stay in Oaxaca and have fun. After my visit to Oaxaca, I could totally relate to this.

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"Bye 'til next year!"

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While I think I know the answer, I will ask the question anyway. Do you get a sense that this holiday has become a show for tourists or is it still true to its roots?

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People have asked me about the cooking classes I took in Oaxaca. In addition to Nora's cooking class, I took a cooking class with her cousin Pilar Cabrera, who is the chef-owner of the popular La Olla Restaurant. I thought the classes were excellent. Both women learned to cook from their grandmother, who was a prominent cook in Oaxaca. They are fluent in English and teach in English. The classes are part-demo, part-hands-on. Both teachers will be featured in an upcoming culinary tour in March 2008, sponsored by the Oaxaca B&B Association. (Sounds good; wish I could go.)

Nora's classes: http://www.misrecuerdos.net/Cooking%20Class.htm

Pilar's classes: http://www.mexonline.com/oaxaca/sabores1.htm

Culinary tour sponsored by Oaxaca B&B Assn: http://www.oaxacabedandbreakfast.org/gastronomictour.htm

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Do you get a sense that this holiday has become a show for tourists or is it still true to its roots?

There's no doubt that the Day of the Dead is a big deal for Oaxaca's tourism. But it's still a valid holiday, and the locals would celebrate whether or not any tourists came. This is a time for remembrance. People really do believe that the spirits of the dead return to visit them--literally.

The bustle at the markets, the construction of the altars, and the cemetery visits felt sincere to me. Perhaps some of the displays in the center of the city are more oriented to tourists. I would compare it to Christmas in the U.S. Sure, there's plenty of retailing going on, but the people who live there are celebrating their holiday too.


Edited by djyee100 (log)

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Do you get a sense that this holiday has become a show for tourists or is it still true to its roots?

There's no doubt that the Day of the Dead is a big deal for Oaxaca's tourism. But it's still a valid holiday, and the locals would celebrate whether or not any tourists came. This is a time for remembrance. People really do believe that the spirits of the dead return to visit them--literally.

The bustle at the markets, the construction of the altars, and the cemetery visits felt sincere to me. Perhaps some of the displays in the center of the city are more oriented to tourists. I would compare it to Christmas in the U.S. Sure, there's plenty of retailing going on, but the people who live there are celebrating their holiday too.

Thank you. That was what I suspected.

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