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OAX 2010: Tlayudas Doña Martha

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.

OAX 2010: Tlayudas Doña Martha

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")].

OAX 2010: Tlayudas Doña Martha

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.

OAX 2010: Tlayudas Doña Martha

OAX 2010: Tlayudas Doña Martha

Tlayudamama.

OAX 2010: Tlayudas Doña Martha

Beans.

OAX 2010: Tlayudas Doña Martha

OAX 2010: Tlayudas Doña Martha

OAX 2010: Tlayudas Doña Martha

Behold the tlayuda.

OAX 2010: Tlayudas Doña Martha

Tlayuda with cerdo (pork).

OAX 2010: Tlayudas Doña Martha

With chorizo.

OAX 2010: Tlayudas Doña Martha

Jaime with my favorite, the cecina (salted aged beef).

OAX 2010: Tlayudas Doña Martha

Open tlayuda and douse with salsa.

OAX 2010: Tlayudas Doña Martha

Chorizo!!!

OAX 2010: Tlayudas Doña Martha

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.

OAX 2010: Tlayudas Doña Martha

OAX 2010: Tlayudas Doña Martha

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.

OAX 2010: Tlayudas Doña Martha

There's seating in the back too. We sat here when I came back a few days later.

OAX 2010: Tlayudas Doña Martha

OAX 2010: Tlayudas Doña Martha

OAX 2010: Tlayudas Doña Martha

Next up, mezcal tasting!
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4 comments

  • My grammar is bad, I saw a few things wrong there and missing but, heh, I’m a crazy cat.

    OP on

  • Outdoors, in the middle of a street, on some random road, day and night, people are making delicious authentic local food! That’s the kind of cooking about talking about!!! This reminds me so much of Bangkok, Thailand, where I grew up. There’s no need for a 4-star atmosphere if you want to experience amazing cultural food. Imagine walking down that random dirty looking street, but for some odd reason your taste buds just can’t resist drooling for something fantastically tasty in the air. You follow that taste and there’s music in the air, you wonder around the corner and there are people dancing and mingling, eating everywhere, and living it up in some dark corner of the planet! It’s like a mini festival every day and night. Western dining culture can be pretty boring compared the rest of the world in my humble experience.

    The last time I was in Thailand my cousins and I went fishing off a rocky pier, caught some fresh fish and cooked it on the spot over a portable ceramic stove, topped with local lemon flavored spiced and sweet jasmine rice; it was the sweetest most flavorful fish I’ve ever had in that warm afternoon of a tropical blue winter day. The next time I go I’m bringing the entire family!

    Don’t let simple ‘ideas’ of fine dinning ruin your chance to experience something fun and out of the ordinary. The world is more exciting than that!

    OP on

  • Wow, I want to taste this, I’m sure I would love the coal-taste you talk about.

    Just a pity that these fab meals are served in such a bleak environment with surgery room lighting, evil flat screen TV flashing and plastic camping chairs. Where’s the coziness, intimacy and, as we call it in Danish: “hygge”? Not that it needs to be a candle light French 4-star atmosphere, but it just seems very unsettling to me…

    The lack of these things usually has a very bad effect on me and I don’t enjoy the food.
    Does a restaurent climate ever have any effect on your culinary experience, or is it usually something you don’t really think about?

    Anders on

  • Oaxaca is such a magical place. The culture of this town practically revolves around food, which is probably why the ambiance of a restaurant is forgotten about. Also, the food culture at night is about street-food, so seating is a bonus, florescent lighting and all.

    @Anders, if you do make it to Oaxaca, you will be captivated by the color of the homes, the smells of the taco trucks, and the sweetness of smokey Mezcal to even acknowledge where you’re sitting. It’s all part of the experience, homie.

    MellyG on

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