Tuesday, September 4, 2007

Oaxacan breads and sweets, part II

I take back everything I said about the bread being bad in Oaxaca.

Two Saturdays ago, I’d mainly perused modern bakeries, selling traditional breads in part, but very different from the bakers in markets with their goods on trays or in deep woven baskets. My experiences with the breads in the markets had been mixed—good pan de yema in hot chocolate making class, but sort of stale and dry at other times, and then other moments that were so lacking I can’t even remember what I ate.

But last week, I wandered up to Mercado Sanchez Pascuas to buy some fruit and decided it was time to take the plunge. There were several bread vendors there, on the white counters near the west end of the market. I chose the man furthest north, a few meters down from the vegetable seller. I would eat the bread with the pink sugar on top. And then for good measure, I asked for another plain, dark and wheatier looking roll. 4.5 pesos, total.

Well, let’s just say I’m not going to be wasting any more of my hard-saved money on “European artisanal bread” at Pan & Co. Mexican bread is good enough for me! The crust on both was hard but not tough, and the bread inside chewy yet soft and flavorful. The roll with the pink sugar on top had a sweet glaze all over the top that made my plastic bag sticky immediately, but it was a pleasant combination with the plain texture of the roll inside and more soothing for an early morning meal than something like a cinnamon roll or a muffin, which are both sweet and heavy with butter. The roll also had a big hollow inside, the tell-tale sign that yeast had been given time to do its thing.

The other roll, with its sprinkling of sesame seeds, was even better. It perhaps could have used a tad more salt, but it had no need to be embarrassed that it was otherwise unadorned. It didn’t rise to the level of a great French baguette, but then, very few breads do, even in New York. This flat little roll had more flavor than most of the bread in the U.S., and probably most of the bread in New York, too.

Two days later, I went back and got another flat, plain roll with sesame seeds and then something that looked like a brioche with its little topknot. This time, sadly, the roll was a tad stale, but with a strong enough flavor to stand up well to slices of avocado with salt and a bit of pepper, a simple and filling breakfast I learned from Erin. The brioche, though, blew my mind. There was whole wheat flour in it, but not enough to keep the crumb tender, and then surprising ribbons of cinnamon and dots of raisins.

This vendor is clearly something special. When Mimi and I went back to get a bag of bread, hoping to soothe Alex's stomach with something relatively bland, we bought a few rolls from the woman next to him and then a big brioche roll and a little flat roll with sugary sesame seeds and crushed nuts on top. The big bag of bread from the other baker was fine, but this guy's stuff just shined.

I’m so glad. I hated not liking a whole category of Mexican food.

1 comment:

Erin said...

Actually, I usually mash the avocado with the salt and pepper and some lime or lemon juice, then spread it on toasted bread, and if I'm feeling extra virtuous sprinkle some flax seeds on top. You are really indirectly responsible for the development of this as my default breakfast, however. It wasn't until that year we lived and cooked together in Bernal Heights that I really became a true Californian and embraced the avocado, largely because you were always doing something delicious with them.