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Feb 23, 2007 09:26 PM

Conaculta cookbooks

These are Mexican regional cookbooks, in Spanish, and sometimes available in US latin bookstores, one per state I think, first compiled and published in the eighties. My question is how do they stack up against your standards for regional cooking? Are they 'traditional' and 'authentic' or more a compilation of recipes from cooks who happen to live in a certain region?

The reason I ask is that in addition to manchamanteles and other moles, pozole, and tamales, I found recipes for salmon, for peach tart, and for croquettes, none of which I had ever thought of as particularly Mexican. I am trying to get a sense of what comes from where, and the salmon one threw me.

I really like the series (examples from the Aguascalientes book: Cauliflower cooked with anise and covered with guacamole, and Mole Casero with chicken and 25 other ingredients), but should I be at all skeptical at the recipes? I'm coming at this from a NOB perspective, and would like to hear from someone who is familiar with the series.

Cristina, in one post you cited book 41 as Chiapas, but I can't find any number on my books (Jalisco, Zacatecas, Aguascalientes, San Luis Potosi, Guanajuato, and Hidalgo so far). Is there a list of the volumes?

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  1. From what I understand there are 3 separate Conaculta culinary series. I have 10 or 12 volumes from the Concina Indigena y Popular series. Volume 55 - Recetario de Pescado, Aves y Otros Animales de la Region Lacustre de Patzcuaro, Michoacan - lists all volumes by number and name on the inside front and back covers. Volume 55 was published in 2005 and is not included in the list of other titles. This particular volume is also bilingual, Spanish and Purepecha. A while back I read somewhere that the other 2 Conaculta series have fewer volumes than Cocina Indigena y Popular, but I can't remember where I read it, possibly on the eGullet Mexico board. Perhaps you have volumes from one of the other series. All of my volumes have the title of the book, Cocina Indigena y Popular and the volume number printed (in large print) directly on the front cover, as well as on the spine of the book and the title page.

    All of them are more or less set up the same way; an introduction, a history of the region, information about the specific region which I've seen vary from agriculture to economics, traditions and regional specialties. Then the recipes. The original intent with the Conaculta series was to ferret out the regional and traditional to preserve the culinary tradition. A portion of the research dealt with collecting oral histories, or oral versions of recipes that had been passed down but not necessarily written down.

    IIRC, the original intent of all the Conaculta series books was to preserve traditional and regional ingredients and methods of preparation. You should be able to have a reasonable level of security about the bulk of the recipes since the recipe collection and oral histories were taken as something of an Antropology research project and not a project by a publishing house.

    I have a non-Conaculta cookbook called Cocina Jarocha that's about the cuisine of Veracruz. It's 20+ years, kinda funky and contains quite a surprising number of recipes for salmon. Most of the recipes are pretty easy and straightforward and assume that the reader/cook already knows how to cook. Method or directions are a little sparse in it, but if you do, indeed, know how to cook you can figure it out. And I think a lot of these recipes depend upon the cook's own personal "sazon" for their ultimate success.

    In contrast, Volume 1 of the Cocina Indigena y Popular series is about the nahua del norte del Veracruz, but lists only 2 recipes for fish - one for a "pescado regular" and the other for a "pescado grande". I suppose you could use salmon if you wanted, though snook or red snapper would probably be more common. In my head I can totally hear a local cook begin reciting a recipe by saying something like "well, you start with a big fish.............". The directions still assume one knows how to cook, but are a little more detailed than my other Veracruz cookbook.

    Further, contrast them both with Zarela Martinez's recipes from Veracruz, which will be more detailed than either Cocina Jarocha or the Conaculta book. But all 3 are still valid sources for (authentic <and I hate that designation, especially NOB>) recipes from Veracruz. I think this is one of the things that illustrates the sheer diversity of the Mexican kitchen, even within a specific region. You can have 3 different cookbooks about the region and all of them contribute something to the understanding of the cuisine in that area.

    Okay, I've rattled on to the point of TMI, so I'll stop ;-). If you're going to the event-that-can-not-be-mentioned in Escondido this Sunday, I'll try to remember to bring a couple of my Conaculta books for you to look at and compare to yours.

    1. Hi Leucadian,
      I think that you're thinking of a completely different series. The CONACULTA Cocina Indigena y Popular series is not organized according to state and as far as I know, there is not one volume of the 55 currently published in this series that is devoted exclusively to ANY aspect of the cooking of Aguascalientes.

      The complete list of the Cocina Indigena y Popular series is here:

      As DiningDiva mentioned, volume #55 on the cuisine around Lake Patzcuaro is a recent publication and this is not listed on the link. Note that the #1 listed is a second edition (the only volume to have been reissued).

      (Another very worthwhile series from CONACULTA is the Recetarios antiguos series, contemporary editions of 19th and 18th century Mexican recipe collections. Some of these titles, such as the volumes from Mascota and Celaya, are also listed on this page.)

      You can read about the history of the series in this article on Jose Iturriaga:

      The article gives a very clear idea of the limits of the task, starting with time pressure given the fact that the government (i.e. the president) changes every six years. It is amazing how much was accomplished in such a short period through what the article called "the power to empower". As it is, we have an extraordinary series ranging so broadly over such astonishing topics as Mennonite cooking (#27), iguana recipes from Colima (#25), Veracruzan afromestizo recipes (#13), xoconostle recipes from Guanajuato (#5), recipes of different ethnic/language groups (pame, mixe, purepecha, tarahumara etc), recipes from specific subregions (Sierra Norte de Puebla, Zongolica in Veracruz, the desert-like areas of Queretaro) and so on. It's an inexhaustible resource and I suspect that it will take years for it all to really sink in.

      This said, I have to warn you that there is bec of the speed with which these were put out and the fact that there was hardly any chance for careful editorial work, there is an inevitable inconsistency to the work. Several of these volumes are spectacular pieces of scholarship (the two volumes on purepecha for instance, specially the one revalorizing/rethinking atapakuas), but many others are rather thin and insubstantial-rather slapdash scholarship. A few might not have passed a more rigorous muster. For insatnce, I have caught a few volumes that have taken recipes from preexisting cookbooks without proper credit. Although several volumes exhibit painstaking field work, many others seemed to have simply casted a net for any recipe "out there" and have published these without proper contextualization so that we do not have a sense of who ate these dishes, which social class, in what situation, under what conditions etc. Some of the volumes also seem to have been rushed into publication before work could be completed on glossaries which may still lack exact definitions, scientific names etc

      This is nitpicking really, in the face of the immensity of this achievement.

      A comparable achievement to this-not quite as far-reaching in scope as the CONACULTA series, but certainly no less revolutionary, or wanting in visionary power is the work of Diane Kennedy put together in the book My Mexico. This is one of the greatest cookbook published in the 20th century. I have been surprised again and again by the sheer richness of detail, the great cornucopia that could be found in here. I usually consult the volume before a trip to Mexico-to harvest tips on where to go, who to look for, what rareties to look out for, how to conceptualize a certain landscape. On this last trip to Veracruz, I was so rushed I did not have time to check the book. On my return, crammed full of rare finds, I checked everywhere (the relevant CONACULTA volumes, the internet) only to find these sources wanting and the information I wanted already explored to the utmost (often with precise scientific information: scientific names, regional variations in nomenclature etc) in Diane Kennedy. The book is not simply a collection of rare recipes such as those that one can find everywhere in the CONACULTA series (and I have described elsewhere on this board the recipe for one of these rareties: the tamales de espiga, tamales made with anthers/corn tassels, possibly the greatest recipe notated in the 20th century). Each recipe, each dish is not just recorded but has already been THOUGHT THROUGH by her piercing mind so that its context, its essence, its significance come shining through. And this is the fundamental difference between a recipe dryly recorded by an anthropologist or a field researcher and those in My Mexico. Don't look down on it just bec it is "in English". This work holds its head up very high-even compared to the extraordinary achievement of the CONACULTA series.


      2 Replies
      1. re: RST

        Richard, great response, better than mine :-).

        I agree with you that some of the volumes are a little thin on background material in the front part of the book and I remember being somewhat surprised by that. Knowing that these were the result of field research I naively (and wrongly) assumed that the scholarship would be equal in all the volumes. It wasn't and I learned my lesson :-).

        I don't have the entire series but it seemed to me, based on the volumes I do have, that if the region was already established culinary profile (i.e. like Oaxaca or Veracruz for instance) that the front material was fairly extensive, but if it was an area where the culinary traditions were not as strong neither was the front material. As in anthropological field studies, some regions are going to be richer than others, which is kind of what I chalked the difference up to. Or perhaps I should say some researchers are going to be more thorough than others too.

        1. re: RST

          Thank you, Richard. I had no idea.

          The Conaculta series that I found in Escondido is called 'La Cocina Familiar en el Estado de ...' and was a project of Banco Nacional del Credito Rural in the 80's. It was apparently picked up by a publisher called Oceana, and funded by Conaculta for the edition of 2001. In the forward, it says that there is one volume for every state. The ones I have are credited to BNCR in 1988, before Jose Iturriaga, and are relatively small but very nicely produced volumes of about 60 pages. I've attached a photo of the cover of the Aguascalientes volume.

          So it is a different series. I am astonished at the depth of the publications in the Cocina Indigena y Popular series, and feel like a kid on his first visit to a big city library. Overwhelming.

          I have looked at DK's 'My Mexico' but not in depth. I will now. I have been looking for something to help me understand the different cuisines of Mexico, and that seems to be the volume. I have her first book, 'the Cuisines of Mexico' and enjoy it, but it didn't give me the understanding of the different geographies that I was after.

          After reading your post, and the article on J Iturriaga, I can better understand Eat Nopal's passion for Mexican cuisine as a world class form.

        2. DiningDiva,

          I am not sure but I think work for some of the volumes have been accumulating for years before CONACULTA took them under the umbrella of the series. The research for some of these volumes is so rich and extensive that it could not possibly have been done in a period of months. On a quick survey, I would say at least 1/4 of the volumes represent field work of the highest order. Another 1/4 are very very good indeed. The next 3/8 are OK: thank you, glad to have the information, it still adds to the knowledge-base, but can you provide a bit more. The last 1/8 is kinda wanting. Let me give an example: flowers in Mexican cooking seems like a compelling topic for the series; and perhaps to a novice the recipes for flor de izote, or gasparitos, or thanks to Ms Esquivel (roll eyes), the obligatory recipes with petalos de rosa (roll eyes again) in the resulting volume might seem like exotic novelties. But in fact, this work can be much improved. If you culled all the flower recipes from all the other volumes combined (for instance for the use of flor de suchipal to make tamales nejos etc), stuff completely unknown to the compiler of the flowers volume, you come up cumulatively with a far richer understanding of the subject. This is the same case with the hongos volume: there's far more interesting treatment of hongos and far more interesting recipes for honogs in several of the other volumes.

          It was storming last night and I was in a hurry to get home. Want to add this thought: in Diane Kennedy, you also always understand the aesthetic or the sazon behind the dish. There is always a specific individual providing the recipe and in the end, you always understand not just the world of that individual, or the culinary (or folk) logic (or illogic) of the process but the specificity-the sazon-of the cooking hand. Why is soupy preferred for this dish. Why must the chiles be put in in a certain order. Why does one make the sign of the cross before adding this or that. A recipe becomes humanized-more than just an abstract listing on a piece of paper.


          1. Dear Leucadian,

            I have two of the books of the series for nahua cooking from Veracruz. My wife grew up next door to the the county of Zongolica, in Tezonapa. Both were once the same county. Many of these recipes are similar to what she grew up with. These recipes are reflections of the area. This area has been traditionally one of the poorest in all of Mexico lacking roads, electricity and more importantly good soil. But, in the past 15 years the government has been helping this area out a lot. Anyway, this book has recipes for cooking squirrels, Atole made with ashes for sick people, and used some plants that even my wife hasn't heard of. We bought another before we left for Hawaii that is from the Nahuas of the Huasteca. And those recipes are even given in Nahuatl. And a Nahuatl quite different from that spoken in Zongolica. So, I can't attest to all the books but these two are authentic. And I am looking forward to ordering some more from the series. David

            13 Replies
            1. re: Xelhuan

              Hi David,

              You must have the books from the the 'Cocina Indigena y Popular' series (with volume numbers) as opposed to the 'Cocina Familiar' series which I have. I'd love to be able to look through some of the Indigena books. Where did you order them from? The one you quoted certainly sounds authentic. Is this it?

              Recetario nahua de Zongolica, Veracruz, No. 31,
              Valdés García, Alejandrina y Héctor Hernández Ruiz (invest. y comp.),
              Col. Cocina Indígena y Popular, 2000, 144 pp.

              Have you cooked from either of them, or are they more sociological/background reading? I would certainly like to hear your experiences ('first, catch a squirrel'). It would also be an interesting project for your wife to record the foods that she herself grew up with, not just the indigenous ones, but everything. I think it would be a valuable family document.

              BTW, congratulations on the new baby (presuming he/she is here by now).

              1. re: Leucadian

                To BTW or Leucadian,
                Hi, yes I bought two books from the Cocina Indigena y Popular, the #31 and Recetario nahua del norte de Veracruz (the #1) 2nd edition Marina Ramirez Mar. which was mentioned by the DiningDiva and is basically Nahua food from the Huasteca Veracruzana. I read a book about a certain group of Nahua in the Huasteco who are very traditional and still practice their native religion and do paper cutting ceremonies. So, I thought I might buy this book.

                We haven't actually cooked from either book, but I definitely plan to, or at least compare their recipes to the ones my wife makes. Actually we have plans to open up a business selling tamales in Hawaii. My wife who studied teaching really wanted to study gastronomy. But, the only scholarship she could get was for teaching so that's what she studied. However, she did get to live in an isolated village in Zongolica for a year teaching nursery school and got to eat Iguana and lots of unusal dishes. I bought a book entitled "Que Vivan los tamales!" by Jeffrey Pilcher about Food and the Making of Mexican Identity. And he mentioned that Diana Kennedy, was the foremost authority on Mexico's cusines. So, I think I need to buy that book. We bought the two books from the Cocina Indigena y Popular Series at the Veracruz Museam of Anthropology in Xalapa, Veracruz. I hope to also get more of these. Especially the ones on Tamales and the Afromestizo cooking. (My wife's rancho or town is alittle over an hour from Yanga which was the first liberated slave pueblo in the Americas. And a number of the inhabitants including a sister-in-law of my wife have family coming from there.)

                In Hawaii or at least Honolulu, the Mexican food is pretty gringoized. No restaurant that we have been to makes tamales (let alone tortillas) from scratch, that is cooking the corn in Calcium hydroxide or Cal. And most places sell Burritos and Chimichangas which uses flour tortillas. My wife didn't know what a Burrito was until she met me. So, we plan on selling various types of tamales at the flea market or swap meet as they call it in Hawaii and the various festivals during the year. And if we get a good response we will expand and open a restaurant selling food from the sierra of Veracruz like Tezmole (which you can find 8 recipes in the Zongolica recipe book, but you can't at least with that name in the other book of Huasteca cooking. We I came back from Mexico, I thought that Tezmole was normal cooking cause we ate it all the time. But, now I think its something unique to the Sierra of Veracruz, Oaxaca and Puebla. Because, I've talked to alot of other Mexicans and most are familiar with it. It's a soup with masa and chile and lots of vegetables.) maybe some traditional Jarocha seafood. In her rancho the normal tamales they make are called ranchero's and use banana leaves and hoja santa which they call Tlanepa or Acuyo. And the primary chile is the chile serrano seco. This chile is native to this area. And they don't sell either here in Hawaii. The hoja santa is an invasive species in Hawaii so you can't grow it. We have found suppliers in Texas and Florida. The guy from Florida actually sent us a sample for free. And while we have ordered Chile serrano seco over hte internet, the chiles were a lot hotter than the serrano grow there. Its not the heat that counts its the flavor. So, we now have to have someone send some on a regular basis.

                My wife was hanai as we say in Hawaii or informally adopted by her godparents. And unfortunately her hanai mom died just after we were married. She was actually from Ojitlan Oaxaca (which is known for the embroidery). And when my wife was around 9 or 10, she helped her mom run a seafood restaurant in their house for the sugarcane workers. And so my wife knows how to cook seafood a la Veracruzana, besides the normal foods like tamales, but she never learned to cook Pipian, which is one of my favorite dishes. However, she learned from ourland lord in Xalapa who is from the Huasteca.

                My wife collected some recipes from her sister and friends in Xalapa before we left for Hawaii. She plans on getting some more recipes from her family. Her sister-in-law makes an excellent Pozole and her oldest sister who lives in North Carolina knows her mom's pipian recipe.

                What I really want to do is get some recipes from Rosy's biological mom and grandma (who barely speaks Spanish) when I go back to Veracruz. Hopefully next year. And also find out about some of the plants that were listed in the recipe book on Zongolica that Rosy didn't know. Her biological parents are actually from the mountains of Puebla. But, culturally they are the same people as those of Zongolica and speak the same dialect of Nahuatl. Rosy's mom didn't have a birth certificate, and had trouble getting one in her town (Not sure why), but she was able to get one in Zongolica. (That's Mexico for you.) Sometimes, Mexico feels alot like the good ole USA until they take you to a witchdoctor or something like that. Anyway, I hope you find what your looking for. It sounds like your attending some kind of event (cooking?) in Escondido (Pues Puerto Escondido I take it. We went there for our honey moon some 7 years ago. Great place especially for surfing. Take care, David
                P.S. The picture is of our son Xelhuan Kawika. In the picture he is almost 4 months. Now he is 6 and 1/2 and is 20 lbs. and well over 2 feet tall. And the mother is not even 5 foot tall. But, of course I'm 6' 3''.

                1. re: Xelhuan

                  Hi Xelhuan/David,

                  What a wealth of information. I am sure that your story has gotten the attention of several here on CH. I'm very interested in your and your wife's experiences, and would like to hear how the Tamale business goes.

                  It's interesting that from a distance (space, or time, or culture), things look so simple and understandable, but as you get closer you start to see the texture and complexity, and when you live in it the distinctions that at first seemed so subtle become glaring markers.

                  Trying to make sense of a region as big and old as Mexico is probably a hopeless task, but it sure is fun trying. Thanks for the insights. Here's a thread I started a while back on that topic:

                  Your wife seems to be the perfect person to write about her culinary culture. The two of you sound like quite a combo. BTW, my Escondido is a city near where I work, just north of San Diego. There's a large hispanic population here, and some of us enjoy finding the treats that these neighbors bring with them. On Saturday an Oaxacan restaurant opened up nearby, and we tried to get a group together to try it out. It's a treat to find a restaurant that has not been gringoized. My problem is that I don't have a good understanding of the different regions, so I don't know how these foods are typically eaten.

                  Diana Kennedy (DK) has written several books; I have the first one, Cuisines of Mexico, and have been shopping for one of her later ones. My Mexico seems to be the one that suits me best, but I haven't decided yet.

                  Here's a story I found on texmole, by the same J. Iturriaga as mentioned earlier in this thread:

                  Good luck with the Hawaiian Tamales. Sounds like an adventure. Do you think your wife would share a recipe?

                  1. re: Leucadian

                    Aloha Leucadian,
                    I'm sure my wife would share a recipe. Actually my wife got a recipe from the mother of a player who played on my football team. It may not be so traditional, but I loved it. It is like shredded chicken with chile poblano and corn. I'll see if she has it here in Hawaii. But, if you want a recipe for tamales, tesmole, or anything else I can ask her.
                    One thing about salsa. Most Salsas for dipping chips in the Mexican restaurants here are made from fresh green chile with tomatoes and onions. But, much of the salsa in Xalapa and the sierra is cooked first. My favorite salsa is made from chile serrano seco, tomatoes and garlic. You probable know this but just in case you don't.

                    Grab a bunch of chile serrano seco and place in a frying pan (or comal) with a little bit of oil to toast or roast them. (The oil is so they don't stick, they aren't fried normally.) Don't let them turn black. I recommend a low heat. Remove the chiles. Then, roast the tomatoes until they become like tomato paste, but orangish in color. Then, traditionally you would put the chiles in a (mortar con pestle) molcajete and grind them with a fresh clove of garlic (You can toast it also if you like.) Then place the tomato "paste" in with the chiles and mash it some more to mix it together with the chiles and the garlic. You can also use a mixer and mix it all at the same time, but people say that it doesn't taste quite the same.

                    The amount of chile versus tomatoes that you use is up to you. Often we don't use tomatoes only chile. But, its hotter. And the chile serrano seco (like I mentioned seems to hotter than most (but, not all) from the sierra, but that just might depend on the season here. My wife says you can also use chile ancho or a combination of chiles. Chile ancho (dried poblanos) isn't as hot. But, you need to remove the seeds and only toast them on the outside, not the side with the veins. I hope I have explained myself well (I'm not the cook, except for some Hawaiian style food.) and didn't bore you with something you already knew.

                    Have you gone to the Oaxacan restaurant? If so, did it serve Tlayudas, large tortillas unique to Oaxaca. Hasta luego David

                    1. re: Xelhuan

                      Hi Xelhuan,
                      Great description of cooked salsa. I'd never heard of only toasting chiles on the outside, although that's easiest because you get more skin contact. But is there another reason? Do the veins burn easier or turn bitter?

                      I enjoy hearing about the casual food habits such as making a simple salsa or toasting pepitas, that people in the culture don't even consider mentioning because it's so simple and universal (to them).

                      There are lots of tamales for sale here in San Diego, and I'd like to see your wife's recipe to compare with our local product. I don't think there are many Veracruzenos (?) here, so the tamales are probably a different style. And I had never heard of tesmole till you mentioned it, so naturally I'm curious about that. Thanks for your generous offer to share recipes and experiences. We're having a good time romping through Zongolica with you.

                      As far as describing the cooking process, you do a great job. I think it's sometimes better to have a non-expert writing because you notice things that the expert just takes for granted.

                      Alas, I stopped by for a Tlayuda at the Oaxacan restaurant (Ortiz #2 San Marcos), but I have to admit I wasn't too impressed. I really shouldn't complain since I had never had one before, so I don't have any basis for comparison. They used several ordinary (6" diameter) tortillas, folded in half, instead of the big one you described. So I'll keep looking.

                      1. re: Leucadian

                        I asked my wife why you toast the chiles only on the outside and she told me is that if you toast the inside the chiles turn amargo, that is bitter. Don't know if it's true, but that's what she said. Tesmole is a fairly basic recipe, I'll get one from her. As for tamales well the most common ones in her ranchos are called there tamales rancheros. Outside of Veracruz they call them tamales costenos with a squiggly mark over the n. You probably have seen them in cook books. I can get an exact recipe, but for now a basic overview. They prepare the masa like in regular tamales, but then they cook it before steaming it. (Later I'll get more details, as I'm usually off playing soccer when they cook tamales.) Anyhow, they put the cooked masa in a banana leaf. Then they add chicken, pork or beans in a Salsa of chiles, I believe she uses chile ancho, chile mulato, chile seco (serrano), and chile guajillo (I believe). Then, they add of leaf of Tlanepa (otherwise known as acuyo or hoja santa.) finish wrapping the tamale in the banana, then steam them for a hour or so. There you have it. But, like I say I'll get more details. However, they also have corn tamales and sweet tamales. As for the Tlayuda. I think the ones you get in Oaxaca are at least a foot in diameter. I suppose you can find flour tortillas that big, but these are of course from corn. David

                  2. re: Xelhuan

                    So this is where the thread went to! I thought that it had disappeared forever!

                    David, check your botanical garden and see if they have Chamaedorea tepejilote or pacaya palm. The inflorescences of this palm were in season and everywhere in all the markets in this area when I was there a couple of weeks ago. There is a recipe for it in the Zongolica volume (as well as a discussion: apparently they distinguish between male/female/gay tepejilote in Zongolica!!!) The tepejilote is typically dredged in egg batter (capeado) and fried in a torta (like torta de huauzoncle or torta de camaron). Several fondas in the area had this delicacy available among their daily offerings.

                    I would also imagine that chayote would do very well in Hawaii. This whole area of Veracruz (Cordoba/Orizaba etc) is also famous for its connoisseurship of chayotes-I saw at least a half-dozen varieites: brown, light green, dark green, spiny etc Even the roots (chayotextle) are eaten.

                    Another item listed in the Zongolica volume is the papa extranjera. I saw piles and piles of these beautiful red tubers in the wonderful market of Cordoba (the lady selling them proudly claimed that they were washed in the pure waters of the streams coming down the Orizaba!) I managed to smuggle in a bag of these. Annieb, a chow-buddy from the old Chicago Board, suggested at once that they might be related to jerusalem artichokes. I agreed since sunflowers are native to the continent. A few days later, Annie wrote back and stated authoritatively that they're not Helianthus at all, but ocas. Ocas??!!! I said, how would ocas get from South America to the Orizaba highlands!!! Pictures on the web (which probably show other varieties) did not convince me-until I looked at Elizabeth Schneider's reference to vegetables and lo and behold! there's a full page on oca plus an intriguing recipe for a salad plus a picture showing almost the same red coloration on the tubers. Ocas are Oxalis so the foliage would probably be ornamental; I am waiting for spring and am going to try planting. I doubt that they would do well here in Chicago as they seem to need a long season for tuber-formation. If you have a backyard, I'd be glad to send you a couple of tuber if you want to try planting...

                    I meant to post on Cordoba on kare-raisu's thread on fondas and comedores in markets but I'll just do it quickly here. This is a great market-one of the most fascinating if not the most fascinating in Veracruz-I'm really surprised that it's often neglected in discussions of food towns of Veracruz. The excellent barbacoa of this area (inclg the corvos!) is distinctive-the skin of the borrego is flayed in strips in alternating patterns of skin/flesh/skin/flesh (think jailbird's uniform). Why I don't know-as I didn't have time to investigate. There are several barbacoa specialists right in the market and in fact you can have your barbacoa in a tesmole from any one of the comedores on the second level of the market. Piles of Veracruzan chiles (inclg the chile seco) are on display as are breads that are stamped with the seal of the city's bakeries. Stalls offer quesadillas de flor de calabaza or tacos de torta de tepejilote. Apart from the chayote, the vendors outside the market sell an amazing array of gorgeous things: tiny aguacatillos, zapote negro etc etc etc

                    Orizaba also has a wonderful market-but much smaller than Cordoba's. But Orizaba is the gateway to Zongolica. If anyone is interested I'd be glad to post info on the terminal for the buses going up to Zongolica, which run mostly in the morning (up to 1 p.m.) every hour on the hour going.


                    1. re: RST

                      David and Richard, these have been 2 wonderful posts.

                      David, good luck on the tamale biz. While you and your wife are collecting the recipes and refining the product don't forget to check with the state/local health department(s) for the regulations regarding vended food. It's the U.S. there will almost certainly be regulation and/or licensing of some sort required.

                      Richard, Veracruz has been the target of my next culinary exploration. I read your descriptions with a great amount of admiration, awe and jealousy ;-). Please do post the bus info.

                      Wow, thank you both for some great Friday night reading

                      1. re: DiningDiva

                        Dear DiningDiva,

                        Don't remind me. Starting a restaurant business in Hawaii is nightmarish, even if you have a lot of money. And the majority of them fail. I have the whole booklet from the Hawaii Department of Health downloaded. To legally sale food you have to cook it in a certified kitchen which can not be your home kitchen, unless you have two kitchen's in your home. Which we don't. It would be much easier to open a Hawaiian style restaurant in Veracruz. Which I plan to have some where in the future. And we do plan on selling legally. Although, I know and have known people who sell food without permits.

                      2. re: RST

                        Richard. Sounds like you know Veracruz well.

                        Well I have definitely eaten Tepejilotes. My wifes biological family gather them in season when they go up to the sierra to tend the cafe. It's definitely a delicacy. They have them in Xalapa in season. Heck, they might have them at the University of Hawaii's Lyon Arboretum. I might have to check them out. They do have Chico Zapote here. Are neighbor's have a small tree and they sale them in the market. I guess the Filipinos who brought them in, but it must be native to Mexico.

                        In Xalapa we ate Chayotes all the time especially in Tesmole. Most of them that they sell in the market are spineless variety. When we went to visit my wife's biological family in Tlacotepec, Puebla, from her rancho in Tezonapa. The family gave us some spiny Chayotes that were pure white. We planted them and they grew well. Afterwards, I found a similar plant in the neighborhood, so they must not be rare. If you take the highway between Cordoba and Xalapa for the first twenty miles or so you will pass thousands of acres or hectares of Chayotes. That is until you near Huastuco where they grow more cafe. And really good cafe it is. There the elevation I guess is about 3000 meters but, my wife tells me they grown it on her rancho 200 meters (above sealevel) but only in the shade. They grow cafe for nescafe (not exactly the best stuff) But, our neighbors from Xalapa liked it. And the Senor of the house at one time worked for the coffee growers in Coatepec so he must know what good coffee tastes like. I don't drink coffee, but I spent several months near Huatusco and I really liked their coffee. I drank it ice cold with sugar. So, anyway I'm sure Chayote grows here. You can buy in most markets here. I haven't though seen it growing.

                        I'm not sure about Oca's but, then again I have a lot to learn.

                        As for eating in the market in Veracruz. I have done it for fish a few times. But, generally, I'm wary of eating in these types of places. Especially if the place doesn't have a lot of business or lacks a refrig. Generally, I didn't eat on the street or even in many restaurants. And how you suffer. Because the tacos and food on the streets are usually excellent. But, I have gotten so sick from eating in the street that I try to avoid it.

                        And that includes the markets. My wife got sick eating in the market in Xalapa. Of course her resistence is not much greater than mine. At home in her rancho the food is fresh and her mom was a stickler for hygiene. However, she studied in Tehuacan Puebla, and didn't have much time or money so I think she often ate on the street. Anyway, Tehuacan has a wonderful market. You've probably been there. Much of the produce sold in the state of Veracruz actually comes from Puebla. You can usually here the indigenous speaking in their languages there. As for the Ocas, I;m not sure. I think I know what you're talking about. Well, I'm sure Cacao actually comes from South America too. And just through trade and what not it made its way up north. Vainilla definitely was domesticated in Veracruz, I surmise. Talking about Ocas, you know that the Hawaiians and Polynesians have Sweet Potatoes. And these come from South Amercia too.

                        And now they have been paving the roads in Zongolica as well as most of the Sierra Negra in Puebla on the other side of the Sierra of Zongolica so it doesn't take so long to visit. Although, I'm not so sure its a good thing. But it is if you are a tourist. The next time I return I plan on either buying a truck or renting one to drive through the Sierra. Aloha David

                        1. re: Xelhuan

                          This whole thread is wonderful, wonderful. What fascinating insights into the cultures and kitchens of Veracruz. Xelhuan, your posts make me realize that there's so much I don't know about so many parts of Mexico. I've concentrated on the Central Highlands for the last 26 years; maybe it's time to branch out.

                          RST, all of your posts expand my horizons and teach me so much. Thank you.

                          Leucadian, I believe that I will be going to the States in May. If you'd like me to pick up a few of the Conaculta books for you here in Guadalajara, PM me ( and we can figure out the logistics of money and mailing.

                          Xelhuan, that is an adorable little boy. Congratulations!

                          1. re: cristina

                            FYI, The area between Tehuacan Puebla, the northern tip of Oaxaca, the Sierra of Zongolica, and the sierra Negra of Puebla are home to Nonoualca a nahua speaking people. I think now a nonooualcan man would call himself a Mexicanero (not sure about spelling) (to distinguish between them and Mexicans, and that they speak the language of the Mexica.) Apparently they were a tribe associated with the Toltecs. They were like some kind of mercenaries for the Toltecs. They were responsible for destroying the city of Tula/Tullan (now in Hildalgo) in the 1168, after having problems with the Toltecs problable caused by a famine. Then lead by their leader Xelhua(n) (who apparently died along the way), they travelled towards Tehuacan were they settled. A subtribe called the Chalchiuhcalca-Tzoncoliuhque (people of the green jade house-those with (curly) folded hair continued east towards the mountains and founded what is now call the sierra of Zongolica, parcially displacing the original inhabitants the Mazatecas and Popolocas. In Tezonapa my wife's county, these other groups still exist in small numbers. Many live by the dammed river there and sell fish. And some were apparently overtaken by the Nahuas and now speak Nahua. There are some 100,000 people that speak this Nahuatl language. The county of Tehuipango was once considered the poorest in Mexico. But, now the government has been pumping money into the region, building roads and what not. I don't think this place has received alot of recognition outside the area. Anyway, I learned this reading Gonzalo Aguirre Beltran's Zongolica, Encuentro de Dioses y Santos Patronos published by the University of Veracruz.

                            1. re: cristina

                              Hey thanks, Cristina! Mexico Board is such a great little board isn't it?

                              To get to Zongolica (the town, which itself is the anchor of the region called Zongolica) from Orizaba, head to the terminal on 3 Oriente near the corner of either 8 Norte or 10 Norte. It's a few blocks from the main plaza (on the left as you walk out on 3 Oriente). Look for a kind of courtyard/parking lo; the ticket booth and the waiting room are at the back. The buses going up are all clustered in the morning and end around 1 p.m. (? there might be one or two later buses)-this perhaps suggesting the balance of trade-more goods going to than coming from (?) Zongolica is also renowned for its weaving. The direct buses run every hour around the exact hour and take 1 1/2 hr. There are several other slower buses (every 1/2 hr?) that take 2 (?) hrs.

                              Note that no one in Mexico knows it by the name oca. It's called with the vague name "papas extranjeras".

                              I just want to point out to those following the thread who are unfamiliar with Mexican geography, that the area David is discussing is a rather obscure micro-region in one tiny corner of the state of Veracruz-quite different culturally from the DOZENS of other culinary regions within the state (certainly universes away from the delicacies of the port city of Veracruz). For historical reasons David detailed below, the cooking in this microregion seems to have many similarities with the cooking of Tehuacan and the corner of rural Puebla called the Sierra Negra. (For instance you can also find around this the mole de chito, dried stringey rib section of goat typically associated with the famous yearly matanzas of Tehuacan for which there is a compelling account in Kennedy's My Mexico; see also online article from Mexico Desconocido-available in English I think). By the time, you get to say Xalapa or Xico, you are already encountering a completely different set of dishes; in Xico, for instance there are all those dishes made with that extraordinary herb called with that lovely name xonequi, an herb which is apparently eaten nowhere else, not even in nearby Coatepec and which evoke such intense Proustian memories among Xiquen~os. All this is just the small tip of that immense iceberg (or perhaps icebergs) called Gastronomic Mexico!!!


                  3. !Aieee, que thread (fil?) fantastico! (visualize upside down exclam pts.)

                    This is one of the most interesting set of posts I've seen in a long time. Gracias!

                    4 Replies
                    1. re: oakjoan

                      Yeah, this is fun. Does anyone have a stateside source for either of the Conaculta series?

                      1. re: Leucadian

                        Dear Leucadian,
                        I sent an email to Conaculta to see about ordering those books from Mexico on line. There were a three of the series posted for sale on line in Mexico. But, I asked them if they would send to the USA and if they have others from the series. When I get a responce I will let you know. All is well in Hawaii despite it being our rainy season. David

                        1. re: Xelhuan

                          Dear Leucadian,

                          I contacted Conaculta, and they sent me an email saying that they indeed can sell books via the internet from Mexico to the USA. I will try to do it and see how it goes. I am not sure about the prices. You have to pay through a bank card ( I guess Visa will do, but I'll check it out) and they will send you whatever copy you want. The copies are in Spanish mind you. They have a list of the copies at http://culturapopularesindigenas.cona....

                          The contact person is Omar Soto. You can contact him at:

                          I don't know if he speaks English. Probably someone there in the office certainly does. David

                          1. re: Xelhuan

                            Thanks very much. I'll email him (I speak Spanish).