Wednesday, July 25, 2007

The best street food in Oaxaca, possibly the world

I believe God or the fates have impressed upon me the great responsibility of declaring and describing with exactitude how riquíssima are the empanadas and tacos in one corner of Oaxaca City.

Lina had told me about this little stand of empanadas and tacos near the church on Garcia Vigil. “You’ll know it because of all the cars double-parked around it every morning.” But it took me over a month to finally get there.

The fateful day was Thursday, July 12th, the day after my cooking class at Seasons of My Heart. After my enormous day of eating, I had gone to my Spanish teacher’s apartment to watch the Mexico-Argentina Copa America game with her. I was already so full, but Lety had prepared all this food, and when I woke up the next day, I felt the food equivalent to a hangover. I didn’t even want to get out of bed, but I realized I had to call my mother before I got on the bus to Mexico City that night, and I dragged myself out with the intention of going to an Internet place with Skype and having a light breakfast of fruit at a wireless café.

But my usual Skype place was closed, and I had to trudge my way to the other one on Garcia Vigil. As expected, the connection was painfully slow, and I barely managed to communicate to my mother that I was alive and well. I left frustrated and tired, but then, there it was, the famous food stand outside of Iglesia Carmen de Arriba.

I wasn’t expecting much. I knew the empanadas de amarillo were famous here, but I had tried mole amarillo at Patty’s and not liked it much. But when I took a bite into this empanada, what we would probably call a quesadilla, I swear the heavens opened and angels sang. It was so toasty, just off the comal, and hot enough to satisfy the most scaredy-cat street food eater, but so good I had to ignore the burning of my tongue. The amarillo sauce was enlightening, the perfect example of the maxim my friend Mimi and I firmly believe, “If you don’t like a food, you just haven’t tried a good version.” Spicy, saucy, assertive, thinner than the sauce Patty had made, and a perfect complement to the shredded chicken. Mexicans know how to cook chicken breast. Every once in awhile, I’d find a bite of bright cilantro. Oh God, it was so good.

I took a bunch of pictures of the church around it, so that any of you, should you find yourself in Oaxaca, will be able to find it. I particularly love this picture of their grill, with the fat sausages roasting underneath the comal.

Like every other empanada and taco stand I’ve seen, they make their tortilla base right there. There’s a big mass of masa, with a giant press for making the giant tortillas. The tortillas, either for empanadas or tacos, are first cooked separately on the grill. When they have the telltale dark spots showing that they are crispy and ready, they’re filled with amarillo and chicken, or squash blossoms and string cheese and folded over to become empanadas, or they’re rolled up with various meaty fillings and salsa.

I hadn’t even been hungry, but the empanada just whet my appetite for more. I considered my options and finally chose a taco wrapped around a chile relleno and had my second revelation. And to think I didn’t like chiles rellenos! The chile relleno was small and skinny and packed with ground meat, and so juicy and flavorful I was sad when there was no taco left, but there was no one to blame but myself.

So once again, the stand is tucked next to the gates of Iglesia de Carmen Arriba that are facing the street of Garcia Vigil, near the corner of Carranza, south of Quetzalcoatl. There are other street vendors nearby, selling fruit or some such, but only one stand selling empanadas and tacos, unless of course, it’s Lunes del Cerro, but that’s another blog post.

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