If you take the pit of the Mamey fruit, toasted Maize, fermented cocoa beans, flor de cacao (a fragrant flower unrelated to cacao) and pound them into a paste then stir by hand in a big glazed earthenware bowl while slowly adding water, you’ll end up with Tejate. This is a delicious cold chocolate drink with a cocoa buttery foam that settles on the top. This drink was the nucleus of the festival we had detoured to on our way to Tlocalula. The central aisle of stalls in this huge cross shaped marquee by the cathedral in San Andres Huayapam was lined with seemingly hundreds of Donnas claiming to be the most bad ass Tejate makers in the state of Oaxaca. What a fine detour it was.
There were other tasty beverages on offer too. Tepache, a quickly fermented drink made out of pineapple skins and sugar water, it had a deep fruitiness to it that reminded me of roast plantains and roasted agave pina, and the delicious Pulque. Pulque is simply fermented agave sap. It’s frothy and viscous with a lovely tartness to it. I could drink a lot of that. The variety I had was not particularly strong which hinted at a quick fermentation period.
In a beautiful rotunda by the cathedral 3 men played a large Marimba. It was quite a piece of craftsmanship, every inch festooned in with inlay. Their delicate coordination was eventually swamped by a brass band that came out of nowhere filling the square with manic vibrato and seismic sousaphone blasts.
After ignoring the police who were trying to run a scam coordinating taxis for commission on the fringe of the festival, we grabbed a ride onward to Tlocolula. This town has a famous market where Fabio’s boss Enrique Olivera had found inspiration for his suckling lamb taco, one of his famous dishes at his restaurant Pujol.
The inspiration is worthy in my opinion. The barbacoa ladies stand on little platforms presiding over there huge pots of braised lamb. These are cooked in holes in the ground and then kept warm in big pots wrapped in cling-film. You can get it plain or flavoured with guajillo chillies. We squeezed into the long narrow tiled booths behind the barbacoa ladies and ordered both kinds. A table salad of sliced cabbage and cilantro, fresh limes, sliced radish and a bowl of very liquid and tart guacamole is laid out and the girls walking up and down the tables provide the warm tortillas. They carry large shopping bags crammed full of tea towels with the hot tortillas buried somewhere within. A tortilla with a healthy line of soft braised lamb is laid before you and you add your salad and salsa and roll it up. Delicious and unctuous. They also provide consommé which is the collected juices of the slowly braised meat converted into soup. You add some salad and lime to it and get going. Simple strong flavours enlivened with the acid from the lime.
After lunch we strolled through the market trying various wild herbs piled in front of small Indian women who make a living foraging for these local delicacies. All sorts of edible flowers with strong earthy flavours. This is what makes Mexican food near impossible to reproduce beyond its borders. These intriguing notes of camphor, menthol and diesel are baffling on their own but in context pull it all together. Case in point being the pumpkin blossom quesadilla we had just before leaving the market. Soft corn tortilla, black bean purée redolent of anise and vanilla from avocado leaf it was cooked with, pumpkin blossom, salty and tangy queso Oaxaca and the camphorous knockout punch of Hoja santa leaf. I would have no idea how to approximate those flavours at home and I'm not gonna try.