Favorite Foods … State by State

I saw a wonderful article in Buzzfeed, listing a typical dish for each of the 31 Mexican states… 32 after counting Mexico City, which is a separate federal district. I know many of the dishes, and have written about some on this website, but I clearly still have a lot to discover. The photos are from the Buzzfeed article.

Here are some examples:

Mexico City – Tacos al Pastor

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One of my favorite foods in the world. Marinated pork sliced from a vertical grill onto hot tortillas, served with a splash of guacamole, cilantro and onion. I especially love to have this at El Gordo in Tijuana and El Huequito in Mexico City.

Oaxaca – Mole Oaxaqueño

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Made with chile and chocolate, and up to 50 other ingredients, this is one of the richest, complex sauces anywhere. La Huasteca in Los Angeles is one of my go-to places for great moles.

Sonora – Chimichanga

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I was a bit surprised to learn that a chinchanga is a real thing. Basically a deep-fried burrito, I have only seen them in very Americanized restaurants in Arizona and California. I look forward to trying the rea thing next time I’m in Sonora.

Veracruz – Chilpachole de Jaiba

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This is a seafood stew that I have not had. I adore Jaibas, the small crabs that are such a delicacy in Veracruz, and I’ve had some of the best seafood of my life there, as well… I’m tempted to make a special trip just to try this wonderful dish.

Here is the link to the whole Buzzfeed article:  http://www.buzzfeed.com/bibibarud/32-estados-32-platillos?bffb&utm_term=4ldqpgp#.xcqmwYmdD

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Alambre – at Oaxaca On Wheels

The section of Santa Monica Boulevard between Barrington and Bundy in West Los Angeles has become a focal point for really good Mexican food trucks. I am usually distracted by one or the other of the two trucks that regularly park between my apartment and Oaxaca on Wheels, so it has taken me a while to get to it.

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I was impressed by the range of uniquely Oaxacan dishes, and finally had a chance to try the exotically and mysteriously named Alambre. I was fascinated for years by Vampiros, until I finally ordered them in Mazatlan one evening, and leaned they were just tacos. Good tacos, but just tacos. My fear was that I would be disappointed by Alambres, another dish I’ve seen on Mexican menus for years, but never tried. Instead, it brought back a couple of nice memories.

Some years ago, when I worked in the San Gabriel Valley in Southern California, we ate lunch at a favorite Chinese restaurant 2 or 3 times a week. It primarily catered to Chinese customers, and they were surprised but pleased that a group of young American men had become regulars. One reason we liked it of course, was that the pretty waitresses laughed at our jokes. Our favorite joke was giving American names to the distinctly Chinese menu items. If we ordered Chinese tacos, the knew exactly which dumplings we wanted. We also enjoyed the Chinese hamburgers and the Chinese spaghetti… You get the idea.

As I was digging in to my beautiful plate of thinly sliced beef tasajo, green peppers, onions and chorizo covered in melted Oaxacan string cheese, I found myself thinking about the cheese steaks at Pat’s in Philadelphia. As I wrapped this delicious combination in rich, warm tortillas, I realized I was eating a Mexican Hoagie.

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The truck typically parks about a block east of Bundy, and has a loyal following. I know I’ll be going back to try more of their distinctive regionalMexican dishes.

Clayuda – El Paladar Oaxaqueño food truck – West Los Angeles

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The timing was right when I passed the food truck that parks around the corner in the evenings, so I ordered a Clayuda to go. The truck is called El Paladar Oaxaqueño, and Clayudas (as they are spelled here in Los Angeles) are a distinctly Oaxacan dish… even though the spelling in Oaxaca is Tlayuda.

I’m certain I had a Tlayuda in the main square in Oaxaca several years ago, but my memory isn’t clear enough to make a proper comparison. I do remember it featured fresh guacamole and the Oaxacan string cheese, quesillo. This one had very earthy flavors, including black beans and cooked cabbage and tomato. I went with barbacoa as my meat choice, and that added another delicious earthy layer. Folded into a giant flour tortilla, it was so large that I didn’t even try to finish it – even in the privacy of home.

The real reason I didn’t finish it may be that I misjudged the power of the hot sauce that came with it. It was a cumulative effect, and by the end, I was balanced on that fine line between pleasure and pain.

Casa Oaxaca – Culver City – Barbacoa de Chivo

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There’s a serious new Mexican restaurant on the westside – Casa Oaxaca, the wonderful Santa Ana restaurant, has just opened a new location on Venice Boulevard in Culver City. It’s so new that the Grand Opening is later this week – on Friday, August 9.

I met Rogelio and his crew, and tasted their delicious food at the recent East LA Meets Napa fundraiser event, so I’ve been looking forward to this new opening ever since.

The menu is unusually interesting, filled with specialties from the southern Mexican state of Oaxaca. The number of fish and shrimp dishes reflects the long coastline of Oaxaca, and of course, some of the most famous moles are represented. I felt I should choose one of those, but I was just in the mood for barbacoa de chivo, and ordered that. It’s a favorite dish I’ve had in many places, and it usually tastes pretty much the same… delicious but the same. Rogelio’s version, to my surprise, was different, with a rich red broth, boldly spiced, but it’s the spicing that sets it apart from the others. Beautifully presented with black beans, a pyramid of rice, lime wedges and chopped onion and cilantro, I couldn’t have been happier. Even the hand-made tortillas were different, lighter and flakier than usual, reminding me of another Oaxaca specialty, tlayudas (which are also on the menu).

I’m really happy to have such a serious restaurant on the westside, and I know I’ll be stopping by regularly.

Here’s the address: 9609 Venice Boulevard, Culver City, CA 90232

Here’s the website: http://casaoaxacarestaurant.com/

Guelaguetza

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Guelaguetza starts on Monday. A major pre-hispanic festival in the southern state of Oaxaca, Wikipedia has quite a lot to say about it:

The Guelaguetza, or Los lunes del cerro (Mondays on the Hill) is an annual indigenous cultural event in Mexico that takes place in the city of Oaxaca, capital of the state of Oaxaca, as well as in nearby villages. The celebration centers on traditional dancing in costume in groups, often gender-separated groups, as is traditional, and includes parades complete with indigenous walking bands, native food, and statewide artisanal crafts such as prehispanic-style textiles. Each costume (traje) and dance usually has a local indigenous historical and cultural meaning. Although the celebration is now an important tourist attraction, it also retains deep cultural importance for the peoples of the state and is important for the continuing survival of these cultures.

Oaxaca has a large native indigenous population, well over 50 percent of the population, compared to 20 percent for Mexico as a whole (depending on systems of classification). Indigenous culture in Oaxaca remains strong, with over 300,000 people in the state who are monolingual in a wide variety of native indigenous languages and many others who are bilingual in Spanish, or follow a predominantly indigenous lifestyle. Unlike nearby Yucatán also located in the Mexican Southeast, where the indigenous culture consists of closely related groups of the same culture (Mayans), the indigenous people in Oaxaca are from many different cultures. Zapotec and Mixtec are the two biggest ethnic groups in terms of population and area, but there are also a great number of other groups, and all have their own unique traditions and speak diverse, mutually unintelligible languages. The Guelaguetza celebration dates back long before the arrival of the Spanish and remains a defining characteristic of Oaxacan culture.[1] Its origins and traditions come from prehispanic earth-based religious celebrations related to the worship of corn and the corn god.[2] In contemporary Oaxaca, indigenous communities from within the state gather at the Guelaguetza to present their native culture, mainly in the form of music, costumes, dances, and food. It is the most famous indigenous gathering of its kind in Mexico.[2]Like many indigenous traditions in Mexico, this festival was adapted to and mixed with Christian traditions after the Spanish conquest of the area. The human sacrifice of a virgin slave girl[citation needed] was eliminated from the event, and the Guelaguetza instead became mixed into a celebration honoring Our Lady of Mount Carmel (Virgen del Carmen), emphasizing marianism combined with the surviving beliefs. In the early part of the 20th century, after a severe earthquake in the 1920s that destroyed most of the city, the festival was re-organized as a statewide cultural event to rebuild the morale of the peoples of Oaxaca “La Guelaguetza de la Raza”.[2] It began to take on a more modern form as a display of each peoples/region’s unique dance, and also started to become more of a show than a spontaneous festival. In the 1970s a stadium dedicated to the Guelaguetza was built on a prominent place on Fortin Hill in the center of the city. National and international tourism became increasingly popular when the ancient city of Oaxaca became a UNESCO world heritage city in 1987 and when a modern limited access highway was built to the city in November 1994. Before the highway, transportation was so slow that it was virtually impossible to journey through the rugged, often remote, mountainous high-altitude terrain to reach Oaxaca City from other cities such as Mexico City for a weekend trip to the Guelaguetza.

The celebration takes place on consecutive Mondays at the end of July in towns around the state and in the capital city’s open-air amphitheater built into the “Cerro del Fortín”, a hill that overlooks central Oaxaca City. The word Guelaguetza comes from the Zapotec language and is usually interpreted as the “reciprocal exchanges of gifts and services” in keeping with the importance in indigenous cultures of sharing, reciprocity, and extended community.[1] The Guelaguetza celebration also includes many other side events, including a performance of “Princess Donaji”, an epic prehispanic theatrical presentation performed the day before the Guelaguetza itself begins.