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Ay Steve it is all so beautiful. A while ago I asked a PBN how to tell Chinese grown quajillos from Mexican grown but the PBN said it was nearly impossible to tell, except to watch out for those that are very long. Do you have a clue?

It's been a long time since I had time to check in on Mouthfuls, but if you still need this information, here's what the chile vendors at Mercado de la Merced in the DF tell me: dried chiles from China, no matter what the variety, will have two things in common. First, they either will not have stems or will have very few stems compared to the quantity of chiles. The Chinese remove the stems to save on shipping weight. Second, they will be flat from being packed and compacted. This is a dead giveaway.

 

Look for rounded chiles with stems and you can be about 95% sure they are from Mexico.

 

Also beware of dried jamaica blossoms, which can be from Mexico but are more and more often imported from the Sudan. The Mexican ones are a slightly lighter color and are more expensive. The agua de jamaica made from Mexican blossoms is better, IMHO.

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NYTimes has a guide to the city...     Travel section  

And I want to thank you for getting back with us and letting us know how it went.   All too often, folks give advice and recommendations and suggestions...   And then never hear nuttin'.   Fr

I'm not surprised. I think the whole Rancho Gordo thing is a scam. Mexico has pinto beans, black beans, and green beans. All these other things Rancho is selling are synthetic. Just wait.

It's been a long time since I had time to check in on Mouthfuls, but if you still need this information, here's what the chile vendors at Mercado de la Merced in the DF tell me: dried chiles from China, no matter what the variety, will have two things in common. First, they either will not have stems or will have very few stems compared to the quantity of chiles. The Chinese remove the stems to save on shipping weight. Second, they will be flat from being packed and compacted. This is a dead giveaway.

 

Look for rounded chiles with stems and you can be about 95% sure they are from Mexico.

Great advice.

Now let's make sure you don't stay away so long. Can you start a thread telling us what's what in DF these days?

 

 

Also beware of dried jamaica blossoms, which can be from Mexico but are more and more often imported from the Sudan. The Mexican ones are a slightly lighter color and are more expensive. The agua de jamaica made from Mexican blossoms is better, IMHO.

 

I was shown how the bad jamaica is actually full of red dye!

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  • 4 months later...

New York Times takes the opposite end of a two week trip with a "36 Hours in Oaxaca" feature.

 

Friday

 

3 p.m.

1. SMOKE AND MEATS

 

Start at the culinary heart of the city, the Mercado 20 de Noviembre, which occupies an entire city block south of Aldama (between 20 de Noviembre and Cabrera), where family-run fondas — food stalls with colorful signs, long counters and short stools — sell Oaxacan staples like chicken with mole (40 pesos, or $2.90 at 13.50 pesos to the dollar) to campesinos, office workers and backpackers. Alongside the main building, a smoke-filled covered alley is lined with carne asada (grilled meat) vendors, each selling a selection of fresh cuts — thin-sliced beef or links of spicy chorizo (100 pesos per kilo). Your choice is tossed on the grill with accompaniments from the nearby vegetable stalls, where you’ll find onions and chilies to add to the fire, as well as prepared sides (12 pesos per small plate) like sliced radishes, guacamole, strips of nopal (cactus) or homemade corn tortillas.

 

5 p.m.

2. CULTURE HOUR

 

Named for Mexico’s revolutionary hero, Espacio Zapata (Porfirio Díaz 509; espaciozapata.blogspot.com) brings Oaxaca’s radical street art indoors with prints of stencil designs and graffiti on canvas. It also hosts workshops, readings and music. Around the corner, in a series of high-ceilinged rooms set around a courtyard pool, the Centro Fotográfico Manuel Álvarez Bravo (M. Bravo 116; 52-951-516-9800; cfmab.blogspot.com) hosts photo exhibitions and screenings. Founded by the painter Francisco Toledo, the Instituto de Artes Gráficas de Oaxaca (Alcalá 507; institutodeartesgraficasdeoaxaca.blogspot.com; 52-951-516-6980) has a library devoted to graphic arts. The institute’s exhibition space shows the work of influential designers like the artist and activist Rini Templeton.

 

7 p.m.

3. SLOW FOOD

 

In a country where leisurely meals are the rule, La Biznaga (García Vigil 512; 52-951-516-1800; labiznaga.com.mx) goes further, billing itself a “very slow food” establishment and issuing a warning that dishes take time. But with Biznaga’s relaxed, multicolored courtyard, eclectic soundtrack and extensive list of wines by the glass, the wait is a pleasure. The menu, scrawled on large green chalkboards, includes a selection of unusual soups, like the one called La Silvestre, with mushrooms, bacon and cambray onions (36 pesos) — served with all the fixings (chopped onion, cilantro, avocado, jalapeño and lime); fried squash blossoms in poblano chili sauce (63 pesos); and shrimp with garlic, chilies and tamarind mole (206 pesos).

 

10 p.m.

4. BOHO NIGHT LIFE

 

Across the street, La Zandunga (García Virgil and J. Carranza; 52-951-516-2265) is a little place painted in red and aqua and decorated with dangling light bulbs. It serves food that’s best suited to soaking up mescal and sharing among friends — doughy deep-fried empanadas (55 pesos) and molotes de plátano (fried plantain and cheese croquettes, 55 pesos). The bright, oilcloth-covered tables are perfect for lingering over an open bottle before hitting a dance floor. For that, head to Café Central (Hidalgo 302; 52-951-516-8505; cafecentraloaxaca.blogspot.com), a late-night spot with a stylized old Havana aesthetic — a stuffed marlin above the door, black-and-white tiled bar, red stage curtains — and live music or D.J.’d dance parties on weekends.

 

Saturday

 

8 a.m.

5. WHOLESOME DAY TRIP

 

For a quick breakfast, return to the market for pan de yema (sweet egg bread) and Oaxaca’s famous hot chocolate. Then, get a glimpse of the countryside with Fundación En Vía (Instituto Cultural Oaxaca; Avenida Juarez 909; 52-951-515-2424; envia.org), a local micro-finance nonprofit organization that helps rural women develop small-scale businesses. The tour functions as a cultural exchange between travelers and borrowers — often indigenous Zapotec craftspeople. The tour (650 pesos, or $50, including lunch) finances the program. For another kind of cultural immersion, try a four-hour cooking class (10 a.m.; $65) at Casa Crespo (Allende 107; 52-951-516-0918; casacrespo.com), in a converted colonial home, where you’ll learn to cook such local specialties as 17-ingredient mole de fiesta, incorporating chilies, spices and chocolate, and rose petal ice cream.

 

 

more:

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  • 2 years later...

When I arrived last night, I couldn't understand why I felt so light-headed, and so physically depleted.

 

It was only after I got into bed -- uncharacteristically early at 11:30 (12:30 NY Time -- but still) -- that I remembered: the altitude. Duh.

 

When I went out today, I remembered about high altitudes. It felt like the sun, beading down through the thin air, was about three inches away. So first thing was, over to the market to buy a hat.

 

Gotta give the stall proprietress her props: she immediately picked out some things that were becoming even on my malformed fathead. You're supposed to bargain, so I did so, halfheartedly. But once I got it down to US$7.50, I thought, this is crazy: I donate money to support people outside the first world -- I'm not going to expend energy keeping money away from this very nice woman.

 

My hat came with a card saying it was made "by hand" by "Mexican artisans". If this hat wasn't factory-made, I'll eat it. But it's fetching: can't wait till summer in New York.

 

Of course, once I got my millinerial shopping needs out of the way, I drifted over to the food section. Anyone who tells me we get first-rate produce and other raw materials in New York City can just bite me. Looking around at the cornucopia of wonderful stuff available in this very poor area, I thought that if I could only get such ingredients, I'd probably prove a pretty decent cook. (Always with the excuses.)

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Oaxaca is like a perfect travel destination for me: a sophisticated and fascinating local cuisine, a potent and delicous local liquor, ancient culture, thriving contemporary arts scene. So it should be no surprise that this isn't the first time I've been here.

 

The last vacation I took with my wife before she died was to Oaxaca. We'd both always wanted to go. But (I don't know how to say this without sounding disgusting) seeing a place with a dying person in constant intense pain is not the best way to experience it. Looking back, it's miraculous how much ground we covered -- but nevertheless, we were hampered. And I was concentrating so much on making my wife comfortable that the place itself barely registered: before I got here for this repeat visit, I had almost no concrete memories of Oaxaca. There are places I went in the '80s that I had more vivid memories of than here.

 

So it was, not surprising, really, but piquant, as I walked around this morning, to have everything come back.

 

Now the danger to this was that it would just bring back a lot of painful memories. But it hasn't been an onslaught. It's more like this: the first time I see someplace and remember it, I get a sort of twinge, remembering my wife there, in extreme discomfort if not outright pain. But it passes. I don't know if that means I'm maturing, or a bad person.

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Oaxaca's being -- despite its international reknown -- something of a provincial Mexican backwater, one spends a lot of time sitting in the Zocalo watching the passing scene.

 

And here's something I don't remember from my last visit: along with the balloon sellers and the marimba players, there is now this squad of ladies who circulate around the Zocalo selling (relatively) freshly fried things. They mainly hawk their potato chips -- which, to tell the truth, look ambrosial. But I had to go for the chicharrones. They serve them -- and all their bags of fried things -- with a hefty squirt of this celestial hot sauce that comes out of a plastic Gatorade bottle.

 

This was fantastic. I know I'm on vacation -- and prone to hyperbole in any event -- but I can't remember a better snack.

 

Although, I have to say, I also saw bags of something that looked very much like deep-fried chitterlings. Those are in my future.

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Of course, eating fried chicharrones with hot sauce makes you thirsty.

 

So over to this inviting mezcaleria I'd passed earlier in the day. It was called El Cortijo (on Cinco de Mayo), and it turns out to be a fairly newly established -- within the last year or so -- in-town outlet for a country distiller.

 

This stuff was beyond praise. I had a Pulquero, which was powerful but subtle in flavor. I followed it what has to be the best Pechuga I've ever had. Surprisingly, the dominant flavor was citrus: they use a lot of orange in it.

 

Raul, the scion of the distillery business and the proprietor of this in-town mezcaleria, was great company -- and extremely informative.

 

They don't yet import into the United States. I told Raul they'd better hurry, before the current Mezcal craze runs its course.*

 

I think this is going to become a regular stop.

________________________________________________________

* Raul said he'd never been to New York (or anywhere in the U.S.). I told him that some friends of mine ran a very successful Mezcal bar in Manhattan. "What's it called?" he asked. "M ... m ... m ....," my altitude-and-Mezcal-addled mouth followed my altitude-and-Mezcal-addled brain in struggling to say. "Mayahuel," he finished for me. The world is not large.

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It sounds like you're having a great trip, Sneak. Sometimes the best plan is to have no plan, just see what looks or smells interesting and then check it out. New and different vegetables, spices, and colors.

 

I'm looking forward to hearing more adventures.

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