Friday is a good day for the Mercado de Abastos, Oaxaca city’s wholesale market. On Fridays and Tuesdays the señoras come from different parts of Oaxaca to the market to sell their crops. They’re sitting on stacks of newspapers, shelling peas or peeling nopales. Pulling tightly wound plastic bags of roasted ground corn that smell like crispy tortillas. Hustling piles of coral snap dragon-like flor de frijol.
I’m with Rodolfo Castellanos, cook and owner of Origen in Oaxaca city, and my boyfriend Josh Gil, who’s helping to cook a special anniversary dinner at Origen. Julio Aguilera, a chef who recently moved from San Francisco to Oaxaca, is in on it as well, and they’re calling it Oaxacalifornia.
While Julio seems to know what he’s cooking, Josh and Rodolfo are planning on figuring it out. After a night of heavy mezcal drinking, late night lechon tostadas on the street and drunkingly optimistic plans to meet at 9 a.m., I’m pretty impressed that we’re sitting in Rodolfo’s car at 10:30 and we’ve figured out the morning.
The outside of the market is lined by stalls, mostly with fresh goods although there is the occasional blender and watch stand, tamarind candies, and people walking the market coming up close to ask if I’d like to sample from their handmade cardboard box carrying carts of mezcal.
A man opens an ear of corn to show us the kernals consumed by gray huitlacoche, the corn truffle delicacy. Rodolfo hands us a passion fruit, the sweetest I’ve ever had, then a mamey, and almost the whole time I’m spilling coconut horchata on my dress. Josh and I try all the herbs, things we don’t see at home like fragrant chepiche, earthy chepil and moringa. In between the banda music blaring out from the fish guys, there’s lots of hawking.
Inside the market the stalls get a little narrow, and the yellow chickens splayed on the tables stand out even brighter against the floors covered in hairy gray garlic roots. Herbs and piñatas hang overhead. There are hamsters and chickens, and a toddler in a pink toy car is stuck behind a blockade of about seven turkeys.
We eat at a stall with a Jackie Chan movie playing on a small TV, and a stuffed skunk that looks like it died very scared sits next to it. The cook, who has about ten pots on the counter, looks like she might be partially blind, but I’m so overwhelmed that I assume I’m the one seeing things. Rodolfo orders higadito, an egg and chicken liver scramble poached in broth. Never has a hangover food made more sense than combining broth and eggs. The menudo is dark and flecked with herbs.
They walk away with several bags of produce, a plastic bottle of pulque, and a vague idea of what to cook.
At dinner, among many great flavors, I tasted a pulque granita in the salad, the herbs and flowers in the tortellini, the guajillos with the quail, and the huitlacoche next to the coconut foam (there had to be some foam, didn’t there?)
Beef tongue taco
Shrimp tortellini in avocado seed broth
Salad of foie, beets, támala
Huachilango, coconut and huitlacoche
Quail with nixtamaled vegetables
Rodolfo offers market tours and cooking classes by appointment, contact the restaurant for details.