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A Culinary Trip to Mexico


docsconz
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John, your trip looks like it was simply amazing.  Your photos are stunning.  I can't wait to see more.  Thank you so much for sharing it with us.  :smile:

Thanks, Lucy. That is a huge compliment coming from one of the original Master Photographers of eGullet and still one of the very best. I will post a little more shortlybefore taking a little break for the weekend. One of the beneficial things about chronicling something like this is that it is a way to record impressions and organize photos that I probably wouldn't take the time to do if it was just for myself. It helps to put everything about the trip in perspective.

John Sconzo, M.D. aka "docsconz"

"Remember that a very good sardine is always preferable to a not that good lobster."

- Ferran Adria on eGullet 12/16/2004.

Docsconz - Musings on Food and Life

Slow Food Saratoga Region - Co-Founder

Twitter - @docsconz

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Comida – Las Cazuelas, Tlaxcala

After El merced we got on the bus and headed out of Mexico City to go tour destination for the next five nights, The Hotel San Francisco in the City of Tlaxcala. Of course we had to eat by the time we got to Tlaxcala so we had our comida at the lovely restaurant Las Cazuelas

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We were started with jugos de Jamaica or pineapple and some antojitos, all delicious and interesting to a novice like me:

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A platter of Queso Asado with Nopales, Pellizcadas and quesadillas with flor de calabaza

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Plated with salsas.

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Soup with squash blossoms, mushrooms, chile poblanos,fresh corn and epazote.

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Rice with peas and carrots. Simple but good.

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Ovejo (lamb) a la Pasilla – Sauce of pasilla Chiles – delicious.

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Tortas de huazontle with cheese in the middle – marvelous.

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A michiote of Chicken tocatlan. This was perhaps my favorite dish of the day. The greens were amaranth and had a nice touch of tomatillo.

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Very tasty beans.

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Dessert: Bunuelo with Vanilla Ice Cream and piloncillo sauce.

Lunch was excellent. We were stuffed than went off to our hotel before even more food to come….

John Sconzo, M.D. aka "docsconz"

"Remember that a very good sardine is always preferable to a not that good lobster."

- Ferran Adria on eGullet 12/16/2004.

Docsconz - Musings on Food and Life

Slow Food Saratoga Region - Co-Founder

Twitter - @docsconz

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Doc,

Looks like a great trip, the market photos were fantastic! The quesadillas that you had first night look like the "Mexico City Quesadillas" that Bayless serves at Frontera. I order those every time I eat at Frontera or Topolobampo.

Molto E

Eliot Wexler aka "Molto E"

MoltoE@restaurantnoca.com

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Doc,

This has been an awesome post! Thanks for sharing. Going back to your comment on seafood and La Merced. Growing up in Mexico City, I just grew up with the assumption that seafood in markets/supermarkets was supposed to smell fishy. It completely threw me off when I visited markets in Europe and in the US where this smell was not present.

Arley Sasson

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Mmmmm, your almuerzo at Las cazuelas reminds me of one I had just outside of Talacapaque (?sp). It is the first and only time I ate so much for lunch that I couldn't eat dinner which was about 6 hours later! Fabulous documentation! Could you add some more English translation to the food names when possible? My Spanish sucks.

He, he, I know you were doing a lot of walking but did you gain any weight on your trip? I've never been to Italy but friends who have say that no matter how much walking they do, they always come back with an extra 5 pounds. That is me when I'm in Mexico!

Have you tried the nopales yet? If so, can you tell us what they tasted like and more about the experience? I saw a recent Bayless program that featured nopales that was basically used in place of a tortilla. I've never had them that way and am eager to try them. Now that you've reminded me of them, I'll have to go to the local Food City (that is the hispanic oriented market here) to see if I can find some.

Did you try anything on this trip that you found completely unpalatable?

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El Bajio

We had an early brunch at a wonderful restaurant, El Bajio. One of the downsides of traveling with a group and not having responsibility for locating places is that I don’t have as great a sense as to where certain places are in relation to others. As such, I can’t really say where this restaurant is within Mexico City. For what it is worth it is not all that far from the Merced market.

[snip]

This is a great description. El Bajio address is Av. Cuitlahuac 2709. To get there by car from Polanco, just go north on Mariano Escobedo which then becomes Cuitlahuac after Calzada Mexico-Tacuba. The Metro station Cuitlahuac is right at the intersection of Cuitlahuac & Calz Mexico-Tacuba. The Merced market is quite far from there.

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Mmmmm, your almuerzo at Las cazuelas reminds me of one I had just outside of Talacapaque (?sp).  It is the first and only time I ate so much for lunch that I couldn't eat dinner which was about 6 hours later!  Fabulous documentation!  Could you add some more English translation to the food names when possible?  My Spanish sucks.

He, he, I know you were doing a lot of walking but did you gain any weight on your trip?  I've never been to Italy but friends who have say that no matter how much walking they do, they always come back with an extra 5 pounds.  That is me when I'm in Mexico!

Have you tried the nopales yet?  If so, can you tell us what they tasted like and more about the experience?  I saw a recent Bayless program that featured nopales that was basically used in place of a tortilla.  I've never had them that way and am eager to try them.  Now that you've reminded me of them, I'll have to go to the local Food City (that is the hispanic oriented market here) to see if I can find some. 

Did you try anything on this trip that you found completely unpalatable?

I have been away this weekend, but will be home later to post additional content. I will do my best to add English translations when appropriate and when I can, although for much of the food I am only aware of the Mexican names.

Believe it or not, I did not gain any weight. I was surprised. I didn't lose any either, though.

The nopales were great. I was fortunate to have them several times with different preparations. I loved them grilled and they were superb in soups as well. Grilled they reminded me of grilled bell peppers, perhaps a bit meatier and with a little more acidity to them. In soups they reminded me a little of green beans texturally.

As far as anything unpalatable - no. Clearly there were foods that provided me more pleasure than others, but we had nothing that was not at least good. I hope to provide a fairly complete inventory in the coming days.

Thank you for your interest.

John Sconzo, M.D. aka "docsconz"

"Remember that a very good sardine is always preferable to a not that good lobster."

- Ferran Adria on eGullet 12/16/2004.

Docsconz - Musings on Food and Life

Slow Food Saratoga Region - Co-Founder

Twitter - @docsconz

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Thanks for some wonderful photos. I have been going to the Fonda Del Refugio for over thirty years – It is wonderful to see it again. Still classic. It was unfortunate that I did not see the chili rellenos al nogalito on your menu. After trying them at La Fonda over many years, you simply can’t eat them anywhere else. Thanks again. Great thread, great photos. I will be following your adventure.

Deséele un buen appitito.

Jmahl

The Philip Mahl Community teaching kitchen is now open. Check it out. "Philip Mahl Memorial Kitchen" on Facebook. Website coming soon.

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Time for a little more...

Once we arrived at The Hotel san Francisco in Tlaxcala and settled in it was time to go over our spoils from El Merced. Each group displayed its trophies and then Rick got up and described the attributes of each item that he had us buy. In this we we got a good broad overview of Mexican produce. The timing was ideal as we were just starting the trip. We also got to taste or smell many of the items in their uncooked states when appropriate.

I will go through some of the presentations with photos:

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Rick describing a chayote, a squash-like vegetable.

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A chicozapote.

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Rick peeling a Platano Dominico, a very small sweet banana variety.

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Dark piloncillo, a version of the minimally refined mexican sugar used in so many wonderful ways. The dark piloncillo has a higher molasses content than the lighter piloncillo.

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Zapote negro or black sapote (no relation to mamey sapote so far as I can tell). I did not get to try this the one opportunity we had.

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Avocado Criollo or native avocado. This avocado is small with a fairly large pit. Though the yield is meager, it makes a mean and tasty guacamole (which literally means "avocado sauce").

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Huazontle greens. These were used at Las Cazuelas to make tortas with cheese in the middle that were served bathed in a red sauce.

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Guanabana or soursop. This fruit is often used in desserts and drinks.

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Epazote, a commonly used herb in Mexican cooking. Despite this I am not aware of ever having had it before this trip, although I am sure I have if nowhere other than Topolobampo. This herb was one that a lot of people on the trip weren't crazy about, especially in its raw form. It has a certain medicinal quality to it.

There were other items including all the individual chiles and various mango varieties amongst other things, but I didn't have decent pictures of them (not that these were the photographic highlights of the trip - at least I hope not).

Edited to correctly identify chicozapote. Thanks to ASM for pointing out my error.

Edited by docsconz (log)

John Sconzo, M.D. aka "docsconz"

"Remember that a very good sardine is always preferable to a not that good lobster."

- Ferran Adria on eGullet 12/16/2004.

Docsconz - Musings on Food and Life

Slow Food Saratoga Region - Co-Founder

Twitter - @docsconz

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Saturday night we were welcomed into the private home of a Tlaxcalan that would become our base for kitchen and cooking activities. That evening a lovely cena (dinner) was made fo us to enjoy. Upon entering the courtyard we were offered what may have been the tastiest Margarita I have ever had.

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It consisted of Cuervo blanco, a little bit of sweetener and lime juice with a salt rim. Maybe it was the lime juice, maybe it was the sweetener or maybe it was just the context, but it was delicious.

We were started with taquitos de requezon con epazote and a litle salsa verde.

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Requeson is similar to ricotta cheese. Epazote is an herb that was shown in the post above. This was light and tasty.

The soup was a dry fava bean "caldo" with little nopale cactus bits.

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This was hearty and delicious. The nopale gave it a nice citrus-like zing.

A separate course was rice with epazote and strips of poblano chiles.

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The principle course was a michiote al vapor or steamedchicken in parchment.

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Although the course was similar to one we had had in the afternoon the flavors were substantially different to remain interesting. In addition we had a salad with a mustard vinaigrette.

Also like in the afternoon the dessert was another bunuelo, this time without ice cream.

The relatively light cena hit the spot after a day of heavy eating.

By the end of dinner we were all pretty exhausted. The next day was going to be an interesting one.

John Sconzo, M.D. aka "docsconz"

"Remember that a very good sardine is always preferable to a not that good lobster."

- Ferran Adria on eGullet 12/16/2004.

Docsconz - Musings on Food and Life

Slow Food Saratoga Region - Co-Founder

Twitter - @docsconz

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Making Masa

The next day began with a demonstartion of making masa that commenced at our base of operations. Yolanda Ramos, a local anthropolgist and cook, and her assistant Nati led us through the process of taking dried corn, soaking it with lime overnight, removing it from the liquid and grinding it at the nearby town molino (millhouse). They already had a batch soaking overnight.

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Rick and Yolanda with presoaked corn. Nati is in the background. She and another assistant, Consuela were invaluable during the time we spent in Tlaxcala as their background work enabled the rest of us to concentrate on the fun stuff.

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Pre-soaked field corn in the container. This had soaked in a lime solution to become nixtamal and then the nixtamal was soaked overnight in fresh water.

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Yolanda showing the caustic lime solution used to make nixtamal.

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Adding the lime solution to the dried field-corn in a watery bath.

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The leftover lime slurry is also used to season the clay comal.

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The now vibrant yellow nixtamal is taken from the water and rinsed.

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The nixtamal was brought to the nearby town mill for grinding into masa.

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I am amazed that this woman still had all of her fingers as she would push the nixtamal right down on top of the grinding mechanism. Do not try this at home. She is a trained professional.

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Masa from the mill.

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A photo op. :smile:

John Sconzo, M.D. aka "docsconz"

"Remember that a very good sardine is always preferable to a not that good lobster."

- Ferran Adria on eGullet 12/16/2004.

Docsconz - Musings on Food and Life

Slow Food Saratoga Region - Co-Founder

Twitter - @docsconz

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Doc, you are absolutely killing me. Salsa negra. Tamal Ranchero with banana leaf wrapper. Mounds of moles and Mulatos. Piles of Pasillas. Rice with rajas of Poblanos (never mind, I can make that). Lamb a la Pasilla. I’m torturing myself looking at the pictures. Not to mention learning from Mr. Bayless. IT'S. JUST. NOT. FAIR.

But please don’t stop.

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Doc, you are absolutely killing me. Salsa negra. Tamal Ranchero with banana leaf wrapper. Mounds of moles and Mulatos. Piles of Pasillas. Rice with rajas of Poblanos (never mind, I can make that). Lamb a la Pasilla. I’m torturing myself looking at the pictures. Not to mention learning from Mr. Bayless. IT'S. JUST. NOT. FAIR.

But please don’t stop.

I have only just started the second full day. :wink:

John Sconzo, M.D. aka "docsconz"

"Remember that a very good sardine is always preferable to a not that good lobster."

- Ferran Adria on eGullet 12/16/2004.

Docsconz - Musings on Food and Life

Slow Food Saratoga Region - Co-Founder

Twitter - @docsconz

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Almuerzo: A Celebration of Local Corn with Amado Ramirez Leyva

After we returned from la molina , it was time for almuerzo. Corn is the basic staple of Mexico and few people have come to know more about it and its many varieties than Amado Ramirez. He is also a dedicated preservationist. Although trained as an engineer he has devoted his life to preserving the biodiversity of corn, especially in Mexico. Here is a link to a BBC article about him and what he is up against. If anyone should be a candidate for a Slow food Award in the Defense of Biodiversity it should be Sr. Ramirez Leyva.

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When NAFTA was passed there was a lot of concern in the US about its potential adverse effects on the US economy. It is therrefore somewhat ironic that Mexico is being effecte by very cheap prices of US corn and beans, so much so that the indigenous varieties are having a very difficult time competing on an economic basis. Black beans from Michigan were about half the price of those from the various areas of Mexico. This is putting a huge strain on the continued existence of those varieties. Corn is much the same.

Sr. Ramirez came up from Oaxaca where he owns several restaurants by the name of Itanoni specializing in the variety of corn. Ramirez and Itanoni were also mentioned in the book 1491, that I mentioned elsewhere. He had prepared a degustation of toasted tortillas for us made from various types of corn.

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These were served with beans, several styles of cheese including my first taste of the wonderful chiappas, chicken "tinga" with chile chipotle sauce and crema, the Mexican creme fraiche. In addition several types of antojitos including "titelas" and one with hoja santa that was translated as "this one" were made on the comal.

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Chicken "Tinga" with chile chipotle sauce.

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Rolling up "this one" to cut and serve.

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After our Almuerzo we explored the surrounding area of Tlaxcala with a guide. Up next are photos of same amazing murals with an emphasis on indigenous food and Rick makes a mole poblano.

John Sconzo, M.D. aka "docsconz"

"Remember that a very good sardine is always preferable to a not that good lobster."

- Ferran Adria on eGullet 12/16/2004.

Docsconz - Musings on Food and Life

Slow Food Saratoga Region - Co-Founder

Twitter - @docsconz

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I just found this thread. Thank you! I know nothing more about Mexican food than what I've learned from my little local restaurant that caters to the migrant population, so you are opening up a new world for me.

~ Lori in PA

My blog: http://inmykitcheninmylife.blogspot.com/

My egullet blog: http://forums.egullet.org/index.php?showtopic=89647&hl=

"Cooking is not a chore, it is a joy."

- Julia Child

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Food in the Art of Tlaxcala

Food apparwently has always been an important component of Mexican culture, especially corn. In the government palace thee is a beautiful large Riveraesque mural called Mural of the conquest of Tlaxcala by Desiderio Hernandez. Xochitiotzin. It is a rather large compositon that is still not completely finished even though the artist is now in his 80's. here are a few pictures of some of the food related detail:

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And here is an ancient food related mural from the archealogical site of the Pyramid of Cacaxtla:

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In lieu of corn arising from the stalks are human heads. Corn was considered the lifegiver. The murals at cacaxtla date back to around 650 AD.

John Sconzo, M.D. aka "docsconz"

"Remember that a very good sardine is always preferable to a not that good lobster."

- Ferran Adria on eGullet 12/16/2004.

Docsconz - Musings on Food and Life

Slow Food Saratoga Region - Co-Founder

Twitter - @docsconz

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John - you are my hero. :wub: These photos and descriptions are positively mouth watering and are opening up whole new worlds to me.

Having just had the pleasure of breaking bread with you, someday I hope we can share another meal that is as rustic and satisfying as the ones you describe here.

All I can say is WOW!

Katie M. Loeb
Booze Muse, Spiritual Advisor

Author: Shake, Stir, Pour:Fresh Homegrown Cocktails

Cheers!
Bartendrix,Intoxicologist, Beverage Consultant, Philadelphia, PA
Captain Liberty of the Good Varietals, Aphrodite of Alcohol

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Oh my!

Could you taste differences in the tortillas due to the different breeds of corn used? If so, what sort of differences in flavour were there?

"You dont know everything in the world! You just know how to read!" -an ah-hah! moment for 6-yr old Miss O.

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Katie, it would be my pleasure!

Kouign, The differences were perceptible, but subtle and hard to describe. I think the situation would be like wine in that the more experience one has the easier it is to differntiate and describe. To be honest I'm not sure that most people would be able to discern much of a difference let alone a preference. The idea though is that again like wine, some varieties are better suited for different purposes and accompaniments. I could not begin to go into these, however, as you discovered the extent of my knowledge of this area a couple of weeks after the encounter! :blink:

John Sconzo, M.D. aka "docsconz"

"Remember that a very good sardine is always preferable to a not that good lobster."

- Ferran Adria on eGullet 12/16/2004.

Docsconz - Musings on Food and Life

Slow Food Saratoga Region - Co-Founder

Twitter - @docsconz

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John, the masa post just made me think I just have to go to Mexico. I Just have to go. That's all. And it was cruel to put the table of tortillas just after that. Not fair at all. :laugh: I imagine as you watched and learned how all of these basics are done, your appreciation of everything you saw and ate must have exponentially shot up with each passing day. Like mine is with this thread. I didn't think it possible.

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