Wednesday, September 19, 2007
Zandunga, or, How Rebecca Saved Me from Loneliness and Boredom
In one week, I am leaving Oaxaca. It’s just as well, as I am running out of things to blog about. I’ve been lonely and bored, and the fact that I am getting tired of Mexican food has seriously affected my number one way of combating loneliness and boredom. Thankfully, my friend Rebecca is in town for a last-minute visit, and her enthusiastic and happy food-loving personality has reignited my enthusiasm for Mexican food. And of course, I am just thrilled to have her here. One of the things I have realized most during my four months here is how much I love my friends and how lucky I am to have them.
With Rebecca’s open mind and stomach, I’ve even been able to try things that I wouldn’t have been able to eat on my own, like the appetizer sampler plate for two at Zandunga, a restaurant on Garcia Vigil near the corner of Carranza that specializes in food from the Isthmus of Tehuantepec in Oaxaca state. Even I could not have handled that bountiful platter of food alone.
Anthropologists are fascinated by the Isthmus because of its matriarchal society; folklorists are interested in the colorful huipiles or traditional clothes worn by these powerful women (often worn by Frida Kahlo) and its festive atmosphere and music. But for me, not surprisingly, the most powerful attraction is from its delicious and unique food. One day, I would love to go on a tour with Susana Trilling , eat more of the food I tried at Zandunga, and dance with the zandungas themselves, women “who radiate beauty, enthusiasm and pride.”
We had actually only come to Zandunga because La Biznaga was closed for the week for renovations, and I was apprehensive, worried that I was going to waste one of Rebecca’s meals in Oaxaca on something not-so-good. But soon after we sat down, we knew everything was going to be just fine. They immediately brought out a small plate of perfectly fried tortilla chips, a little bowl of dark, intense salsa, and another small plate of meltingly tender, crumbled ground beef. It doesn’t sound like much, but when we had eaten all the chips, I started just spooning the ground beef up with my salsa-laden spoon. (Rebecca is a very good friend—I have no shame around her.)
We quickly decided on the appetizer sampler, which included the following:
1) 3 garnachas, small fried tortillas with a mound of tender meat, fresh cheese, and a tomato sauce, served with pickled cabbage, our favorite. So good we carefully split the third one in half, neither of us able to pretend we didn’t want it;
2) 1 tamal de cambray, made of a masa that seemed sweeter, almost as sweet as American cornbread, and stuffed with a picadillo of shredded meat with cinnamon and raisins;
3) 2 molotes de platano, little torpedos of mashed plantains with a dark, fried crust;
4) 2 empanadas, darling little fried turnovers stuffed with meat and served with a garnish of cabbage, crema and salsa;
5) 1 generous bowl of ensalada de pica de gallo, which was the tomato-onion-cilantro mixture we’re used to seeing as pica de gallo, but with dried shrimp that made it deliciously fishy; and
6) 1 generous bowl of carne horneada, which were big hunks of beef that seemed to have been cooked very very slowly in a red, spicy rub.
It was accompanied with a stack of totopos, the tortillas made with corn unique to the Isthmus, flat and crunchy like a cracker.
The garnachas, the tamal de cambray, the carne horneada and the ensalada de pica de gallo were superb. Everything else was very good. Rebecca was happy, I was no longer bored nor lonely. It's universally known, there's little in life that can make you as content as sharing a plate of riquissimos antojitos, appetizers, antipasti, whatever you want to call it, with an old friend.