Last month, I visited Oaxaca City for a week-long, much-needed vacation. It may sound silly, but I came back a changed person. There is something magical about Oaxaca-- the food, the people, the colors, the phenomenal art and dedication to culture. The Cathedrals were magnificent (I am such a sucker for Roman Catholicism, bloody Jesus, perverts, et al.).
Within Mexico, people recognize that Oaxaca is a special place-- which is why I imagine my dear friends Claire and Jaime decided to get married there. One word that comes to mind when I think back on Oaxaca is... Opulent.
And the food. THE FOOD. I was astounded by the depth of flavors in each dish-- so layered and complex, yet straightforward from first bite to last. The high level of sophistication and instinct for spices really, truly, blew me away.
I hope to write on all the various foods I had during my visit (mole, Oaxacan breakfast, mezcal), and the first and dearest to my heart would be the tlayuda. A food native to Oaxaca, we had this the very first night we arrived. Then twice again thereafter throughout week. I craved it at all hours of the day, and funny enough, the nights I had a tlayuda for dinner were the only nights I actually slept well. This is no coincidence.
Jaime's parents took us to Tlayudas Doña Martha as soon as they got into town, from Mexico City. Clearly it is a well-known spot for locals, as well as out-of-towners. They open around 10pm and don't close until the wee hours of the morning.
The tlayuda (prounounced tlayuda) is an extremely simple food consisting of refried beans, lettuce, Oaxacan cheese, your choice of meat, and salsa, spread on a huge corn tortilla. The most important factor in the tlayuda, I will say, is a smear of asiento, which is pork lard. [UPDATED: Jaime just emailed me this correction: Asiento has some pork lard, but it is not pork lard. Asiento translates into something like "sediment", and in this context, it is what remains and falls to the bottom of the big pots where pork rind ("chicharron")].
We walked up, and fresh meat sat on a bed of coals in their makeshift kitchen out front. You could only imagine my freakish excitement.
Behold the tlayuda.
Tlayuda with cerdo (pork).
Jaime with my favorite, the cecina (salted aged beef).
Open tlayuda and douse with salsa.
I couldn't get enough of this. It's so simple, yet seriously one of the best meals. The combination of the asiento, the beans, the bits of cheese, along with the smokiness from the coals really make this complete.
The aftermath. Many people shared a tlayuda, but I finished all of mine. As I get older, "sharing" is becoming more of a foreign concept.
There's seating in the back too. We sat here when I came back a few days later.
Next up, mezcal tasting!