I have no idea where the time has gone, but here I am getting my seventh season in the kitchen underway. It has been exciting having cooks from all over the planet drop by to cook up traditional Mexican foods that have wound up in kitchens from Thailand to Sweden!
I spent my summer as always in South Central Mexico traveling with Manuel, and recently we were invited to a very old and authentic Oaxacan restaurant in Mexico City’s beautiful Estrella district for supper. Being close to Day of the Dead, we enjoyed looking over the ornate Oaxacan altars, replete with favorite foods prepared to welcome the spirit friends of the owners and workers of Tanguyu- – meaning “clay doll” in the Zapotec language. All dishes are prepared at the moment they are served, and my enmoladas — like enchiladas but prepared with mole instead of a chile sauce — were memorable indeed. I wound up with a kilo of the mole colorado paste to take home, the best way to teach yourself to recreate a mole you particularly enjoy.
After supper, Manuel’s brother-in-law Pepe insisted we needed to “drop by” mass at the Basilica of the Virgin of Guadalupe, conveniently located near Tanguyu. We walked into the enormous courtyard of the Basilica, packed with faithful Guadalupanos from all over Mexico and other parts of Latin America and the world in general, many of whom were settling in for the night on tarps with all their luggage serving as backrests. Surely some folks don’t have the resources for a hotel, while others just as surely spend the night in vigil as an act of faith. Everyone seemed right at home in the front yard of our local Goddess, swapping homemade tamales and other foods while watching professional groups of grandly outfitted Aztec dancers with animal head and three foot long quetzal feather headdresses and full body and face paint pound out the traditional Danza, a physical meditation performed within clouds of copal incense to the deep thrum of ceremonial drums you can feel inside your chest like a universal heartbeat. They dance while holding the standard of the Virgin aloft, solid proof of the successful grafting of indigenous and European faiths in Guadalupe, the Mother of Us All.
Pepe’s intuition turned out to be pretty magical indeed. As mass ended, the courtyard exploded in tower after tower of world class fireworks, spinning and gyrating images of different areas of Southern Mexico that specialize in the creation of these surreal, splendid creations, as well as animals, flowers, birds, and of course many images of the Virgin Herself outlined in glorious fire. Rocket after rocket shot into the night sky, erupting in multi-colored displays of flowers, gigantic bubbles and even white shimmering rain falling down on the ecstatic crowd below for over two hours, accompanied by whizzes, whistles, snap-crackle-pops, and deep booms. None of us had ever seen a display of this magnitude, and it turns out the mass was a special one for the fireworks makers of Mexico, who do this only once a year… and we just happened to be present!
I never cease to be amazed by the surreal quality and the endless variety of life in this fantastic country. In my kitchen I always encourage people to come to South Central Mexico for lunch! You will never look at Mexican food the same way.