August 1997

Oaxacan gastronomy...

Pottery and food are as one here, and food is a very big deal here. It was fortunate that when I first came down here and was trying to impress myself upon potters I was young, growing and with a healthy appetite. I soon realized that the way to a potters heart didn't have nearly as much to do with my interest in her pottery as with the amount of her food that I ate and praised. Given the richness of the cuisine, the praising came naturally. Eating the third plate of mole with chicken and tortillas took a little more exertion. But the gained trust and affection where worth it. I won't bore you with stories of the acrobatics and fountain works that my bowels went through as they made the not-so-gentle transition from lovely clean U.S. supermarket fare to the very rich in flora and fauna village grub heaped upon me by very hospitable potters. The good news is it only took a year to break in the digestive system. Now I can confidently eat anything, anywhere. It is returning to the clean food of the U.S. that gets my belly rolling these days.

One of the Oaxacan gastronomical delicacies are grasshoppers roasted on a clay platter over a fire. They sell them by the mound full in the markets, sorted by size, and they are eaten like popcorn. There is a saying that one who eats grasshoppers will always return to Oaxaca. Feeling adventurous, in my first days here I downed a fat handful. And it would seem that the saying is true. But I haven't taken to eating grasshoppers like popcorn. I guess it's because, while I'm accustomed to popcorn shells getting stuck in my teeth, I still haven't gotten used to the grasshopper legs.

Then there was the time when I went out to the little Zapotec foothill town of Yojuela (yo-Way-la) to spend a few days with the potters. I stayed at Fidencios house by the creek, and by chance they had slaughtered a goat the morning of my arrival. We feasted on juicy haunch baked in a huge clay pot that Fidencio's mom had made, lined with avocado leaves and set in fire heated pit. And we continued to eat the goat three times a day. Each time the cut became less identifiable until one evening while eating my goat stew it licked me. There floated the tongue and some bits of what I think was stomach lining.

It is quite possible that these pieces where saved for last as the best and proudly given to me as the honored guest. However, I am shamefully ignorant of such delicacies for I was raised on quite a different, though arguably equally exotic diet, with such unusual foods as Kraft macaroni and cheese, peanut butter and jelly and sweet potatoes with marshmallows. And I am quite sure that if these potters ever come and visit my home and I honor them with a hot and shiny plate of mac and cheese, their reaction will be just as mine was. They will politely eat their food, chewing in that special way along the edge of their mouth that most inhibits tasting, and then thankme kindly for the meal.

And then there was the time when I was fed boiled turkey blood with herba santa for breakfast with the potters up in the Sierra Mixe. This blood had been saved from the religious sacrafices made the night before to ease a young woman's proud transition from middle school to high school. No common feat. But I will save that food story for another time.

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