Oaxaca is both a state that encompasses several beach areas and the city that is the state’s capital. I spent the last two weeks of February in the city of Oaxaca, (technically Oaxaca de Juárez, population just over 300,000.) The place is filled with color and music, wonderful food, museums and art galleries. Although I’ve been to this delightful city several times before, this was my first time going to Xochimilco (“Sosheemilco”) and Jalatlaco (“Halalatco”), two of the oldest neighborhoods or barrios. Both are pretty easy walks from the central area.
Xochimilto is marked by the arches of the San Felipe Aqueduct, built during the mid eighteenth century when it began bringing water to the city.
This ended in 1940; today tankers marked Aqua Purificado (clean water) are periodically hooked up to cisterns in homes, hotels and restaurants to provide water that’s safe to drink. (In two weeks of eating, we enjoyed all kinds of food including salads and neither of us got sick. However, no one—even a local– drinks water from the tap.)
With Rodolpho, a Guru Guide, (read free walking tour guide, tip generously at the end), we explored the barrio, i.e., a neighborhood. This barrio has old-world cobbled streets and many textile workshops including one where we watched a man weaving a bedspread on a big loom. It takes great strength as the loom is heavy.
The aqueduct arches are more than just historic; entrances to homes are built under them; per Rodolpho, some of the living spaces are pretty grand.
Jatlalaco, originally a Zapotec village, also has cobbled streets, many with walls bursting with street art. Between the wall murals and the paper cutouts hung overhead the whole area is wildly colorful. There are many coffee shops, cafes, and small boutiques selling art, clothing and other goodies including ice cream. Oaxacans, (and other Mexicans), take their ice cream seriously whether it’s helados, much like American ice cream, or nieves which means snow and is something like our sorbet but icier.
We ate esquitos from a street vendor –it can be served as a sort of Mexican corn salad — and is a snap to make using corn cut off the cob or defrosted corn kernels (of which the Oaxacans would not approve.)
Elotes as Salad for six or so
2 Tbls neutral oil (veg or safflower or canola)
6 cups fresh corn kernels (from 6 to 7 ears fresh corn)
Kosher salt and black pepper
6 tablespoons mayonnaise
6 tablespoons sour cream
2 tablespoons chopped fresh cilantro, plus more for garnish (I don’t like cilantro so I omit this)
1 tablespoon fresh lime juice, plus wedges for serving
1 cup Cotija cheese (I use feta which is pretty similar)
Ancho chile powder (or chipotle or cayenne), for sprinkling
In a large heavy skillet, heat oil over medium-high. Add corn, season with salt and pepper, and cook, stirring occasionally, until corn is nicely charred and softened, 8 to 10 minutes. Turn off the heat and let stand for 2 minutes. (This helps the corn pick up more char and smoky flavor.)
Meanwhile, in a large bowl, combine mayonnaise, crema, cilantro and lime juice; season with salt and pepper. Reserve ¼ cup sauce in a small bowl for drizzling.
Add seared corn to the large bowl, season with salt and pepper and toss to coat. Transfer to a large serving platter, spreading corn mixture in an even layer. Drizzle with the reserved sauce, and sprinkle generously with cheese and chile powder.
Wear something colorful. Serve with margaritas or beer. Laugh at this photo of me eating elotes walking along the street. Ole!