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SIERRA NORTE DE PUEBLA

r
RST Dec 6, 2007 06:42 AM

[Note: This post was split from another thread at: http://chowhound.chow.com/topics/4664... -- The Chowhound Team].

Always a big fan of that blog, Cristina.

In rural areas, I find that it is generally not difficult to get information on dias de mercado (or dias de plaza). But do not rely on government offices or tourism bureaus of the biggest nearby towns, they will not know. Ask around instead: most people living in the vicinity would know. This was the case on my recent trip through the Sierra Norte de Puebla: I asked as I go. I had to backtrack here and there to hit every market on the way, but I would have had to anyway, even if I had known way ahead of time. For what it's worth, here are the dias de mercado of the main towns I visited in this area. (I am not including smaller towns like Xicolapa which are drippingly beautiful but have smaller and less significant markets

)

Each market is unique and stunning in its own way:

Tuesday - Chignahuapan
Wed - Zacapoaxtla
Thurs and Sun - Cuetzalan (the Thurs market is smaller, the Sun market is the truly spectacular one)
The permanent market at the gorgeous city of Zacatlan is small but breathtaking. The tiny row of Marias on one side of the market structure has some of the most beautiful produce anywhere.

Re: Michoacan

Maybe we should all plan a CH Mexico Board summit for 2008. You could host in Michoacan. I would love to host in the Sierra Norte or perhaps in Veracruz. There's a restaurant just outside Cuetzalan run by Nahua women that presents traditional local fare (things like xocoyol) that I think has the potential to attain the fame and the following of the Mendozas' Tlamanalli in Teotitlan. I would love to host an organzied dinner there!!!

On market day of course!

Richard

  1. x
    Xacinta Oct 1, 2008 10:32 AM

    I ve been in Cuetzalan during Día de Muertos, beautiful and magical town. Almost every house had an altar and the owners offered us food (venga a convidar con las ánimas) tamales with pork meat, manjar de almendra. The coffee had a distinct taste, i liked it, and there was this green liquoer which was suppose to cure everything, i thought it was going to taste like medicine but it was really good, what was the name? it started with "x" or "y"...

    13 Replies
    1. re: Xacinta
      kare_raisu Oct 1, 2008 11:14 AM

      xtabentun?

      1. re: kare_raisu
        x
        Xacinta Oct 1, 2008 11:43 AM

        Xtabentun? No, but thank you, i have to try it. is it also from Puebla? The name is yolishpan.

        1. re: Xacinta
          kare_raisu Oct 1, 2008 03:02 PM

          its from the Yucatan its a honey -anisette liqour

          1. re: kare_raisu
            r
            RST Oct 15, 2008 07:32 AM

            Yolispa is an herbal liqueur, related to the "verde" of Xico (which has a different composition of herbs). One place to enjoy yolispa is the very very old and charming cantina called El Calate which is located right on the central square, on the lowest portion of the marvellous multi-level plaza. This might or might not be the same "primitive" cantina that "anonimo" writes about (see below) visiting in 1980. El Calate today is not quite as scary as "primitive" sounds however. The place is a clean central meeting place, brightly flourescent-lit, family-run (the mother keeps a watchful eye behind the bar).
            There's quite a range of liqueus from local fruits inclg the local maracuja (passionfruit), higo, capulin, guayaba, mora, nuez, the local cafe, anis, fresh ciruela, raisined ciruela and torito (combination of coffee and leche Carnation) etc (a total of 30+ types I think). These are all served out of bottles stoppered with corncobs. I remember there were two versions of yolispa: one called dulce and another, fuerte, the latter drank to settle a bad stomach.

            1. re: RST
              Anonimo Oct 15, 2008 10:14 AM

              Sounds as if it might be the same place, but significantly upscaled. The place I visited was a hole in the wall, no observed decor, and a bad smell from the bucket in the corner. There was an old woman in charge at that time. I wish I'd known about those various liqueurs when we were there then.

      2. re: Xacinta
        r
        RST Oct 13, 2008 12:31 PM

        The whole of the Sierra Norte is very rich in lore. Several towns and villages-Hueytlalpan, Olintla, San Pablito of Pahuatlan, sublime Cuetzalan too of course have mythical status in the world of Mexican ethnography. There were splendid pictures taken by early anthropologists of many of these villages during the earlier decades of the past century-I think that most of them are now probably in the national photography collection in Pachuca (an archive very well worth visiting BTW: if anyone's going to Pachuca, let me know-I have the location of the vendor of a spectacular zacahuil that is brought down from the mountains and sold on Mondays only at the market//well worth planning a Monday in Pachuca just for this). Despite government efforts to promote tourism in this area, and despite the opening of the excellent highway reaching up up up the clouds to Cuetzalan, the whole area is still pretty much off the beaten track. Last year, I had a room with bath right on the plaza with a breathtaking view of entire plaza for something like $12 a night. When I stood on my tiny little balcony (which I use to dry my little collection of extraordinary and rare beans for transport home-October is the season when the delicious new beans of the Sierra Norte come to market!!!) I could see the splendid cathedral and the town hall and pretend that I am perorating to all Cuetzalan like some big bad dictator (yikes). When I look down on market day, I can see the Indian women, all wrapped in their fine quechquemitl spread out on the ground below selling their one or two mounds of new beans or vegetables. When I was studying wine in the early 2000s, I lived in Tain l'Hermitage for a while and took a room in the sole boarding house in town, above the bar. As I lay my head down to bed every night, I could see through my balcony the little cross on top of the famous chapel atop magical Hermitage Hill. Well, I couldn't quite do the same in my room at Cuetzalan, but if I shifted my pillow a bit, I could actually see the top of the tall pole where the Totonac voladores perform. The most wonderful single period to visit is the week leading up to the celebration of the day of patron saint of town San Francisco de Asis which is Oct 4. I "SO" wanted to go this year but could not make it at all-which put me in a depression all of last week. Zacapoaxtla is arguably even more beautiful than Cuetzalan, with its stunning Wednesday market full of the most astonishing rare items (unusual mushrooms, the chinicuile fruit, etc etc) Zacapoaxtla can also claim bragging rights for being one of the few fairly big towns in Mexico today where EVERY single taqueria and eatery features not just fresh-griddled tortillas, but in fact tortillas made from fresh GROUND masa-ground right on a metate in front of your eyes (the nixtamal is not ground from scratch for hours-it is first taken to a molino to be broken up; and is then fine ground to the exact texture by each individual shop//everyone I spoke to in Zacapoaxtla insisted that there is a big difference in quality of texture//to those who claim that a call to the return of the use of metate represents a call to re-enslavement of women//let me point out that there is this "reasoned" middle ground: masa pre-broken on a machine and then fine-ground the traditional way). On this trip last October, I was doing research on tlacoyos throughout the Sierra Norte (each village had a distinct form and often also a diff spelling); Zacapoaxtla had one of the most delicious versions (which they call "tayoyo") which has a green-colored filling fragrant with ground toasted avocado leaves. And then there's Zacatlan. Sigh!!!! Another town so gorgeous one wonders why all the tourists are going to Oaxaca and not coming here. The fondas in the tiny market have been run by the same families for decades and are distinguished by the fact that they all offer fresh-handmade blue-corn tortillas on a routine basis. When I am in Zacatlan, I stop to talk to all the marias (Indian vendors) who sit on the periphery of the market and then bring the goodies to the fonda of my friend Oti (for Otilia) so that they could cook these up in delicious dishes. Oh when am I going to be able to go back to the Sierra Norte again?;0(

        1. re: RST
          x
          Xacinta Oct 14, 2008 09:45 AM

          qué bonito! i´ve been to Cuetzalan twice, we stayed at Posada Cuetzalan but i want to try the Casa de Madera (or Piedra?) next time. i want to go back and visit other towns from la sierra de Puebla, maybe we could find tamales without lard, the real prehispanic thing. When we were there i loved the town´s climate, foggy, it rains every afternoon "los trece meses del año" but they have a good drainage system, even before colonization. It´s quite humid, i remember going to a tourists´store and finding every item there had some kind of fungus or mold, it was white and so delicate that it looked like lace. We went to mass, everyone was so clean, the women wearing a beautifull head piece, nice dress and barefoot, and the men with their calzón de manta and huaraches, men on the right side and women on the left side benches, or was it the other way? anyway, there was no mixing. I guess dead relative and friends are very important for them because the cementery is in the center of the town, with the Capilla de los Jarritos, it has even a more gothic look with the fog all around. I went to the Sunday´s tianguis and people were buying alcatraces to bring to the cementery. There was a globos de cantoya contest and my kids participated...the view of these lighted paper baloons floating over the town at dusk...magical. We visited an archeological site, don´t remeber the name but it was architecturally similar to Tajín. We also went to a waterfall, and we found out our dog is a very good swimmer......maybe i shouldn´t talk to much about my secret town...

          1. re: Xacinta
            r
            RST Oct 15, 2008 08:07 AM

            There are two different eateries ('restaurants") in the Cuetzalan area that are run by (Nahuatl) women's collectives. The one I referred to on the original post is located about 8 kms outside town just steps from the main entrance to the archaeological site of Yohualichan (which Xacinta referred to above). This extremely simple eatery is called Ticoteno (or "El Fogon", "The Hearth" in nahuatl) and I highly recommend a meal here. I have mixed feelings about the second place, called Taselotzin and located right in town. Both places also sell handicrafts and examples of the fine local weaving. The restaurant Taselotzin is part of a complex that includes a "hotel ecoturistico". The business card for Ticoteno advertises "comida indigena de la region, venta de artesanias, creacion de telar de cintura, and hospedaje" although in fact the very simple rooms to let were just being constructed when I was there.

            To get to Yohualichan, you take a converted open-side truck that makes a run to and back oh say every half hour. The ride itself takes about 1/2 hr and is heart-stoppingly beautiful. In October, the road was lined on both sides with the headily fragrant white "ginger" (Hedychium coronarium Koenig) in full flower. But there were also the scarlet turk's caps, epiphytes and orchids of all sorts, the first "flor de colorin" of the season, dozens of other flowers. Each passenger embarking or disembarking was an Event: greetings were exchanged to each and all (special courtesies given to the mestizo with a fierce-looking bigote who addressed everyone in fluent nahuatl). On the ride over, I sat right by the driver who turned out to have relatives who have immigrated to Chicago. In fact he pointed out the cabanas in the mountains owned by a cousin who lives right here. Jordan refused to take my fare when I got off at Yohualichan.

            When I got into Ticoteno (OK, talk about "primitive" (see post below), this place is clean but very very simple), the first thing I wanted to know of course is if I could have tlacuache ;0) Well, no of course, even if I made arrangements ahead of time: most hunters keep their kill (armadillo too, mazacuate, viboras of various sorts to be stewed in a sauce of ajonjoli) for their own family. I did find out (a detail of tlacuache connoisseurship!) that there are two types: the blanco is quite delicious, but the negro likes to eat (chicken) eggs and has an unpleasant flavor as a result.

            Ticoteno is not a restaurant in our sense of it. There isn't any menu. A revolving staff of 5 or so cooks (from the collective of women) take turns to prepare the three or four items they feature each day. When I was there for lunch on my birthday one year ago, I was the only customer around, although apparently it gets busier in the evenings. Nevertheless, I had a spectacular birthday meal composed of the following

            Agua de maracuya (made fresh passionfruit from the area) served out of a stoneware pitcher
            Xocoyol con frijoles
            Mole de pollo de rancho a nuestro estilo

            More details on this meal, on "xocoyol", on the typical "salsa seca" of the region, etc in the next post (maybe later this afternoon).

            Richard

            1. re: RST
              x
              Xacinta Oct 15, 2008 10:41 AM

              ok

              1. re: RST
                r
                RST Oct 18, 2008 08:04 AM

                (Continued from above)

                Diana Kennedy wrote about Cuetzalan in My Mexico (see the section starting from p261). For the most part, the travel-related bits of information in this section are not outdated; this is a ten-year old book, and since her reminiscences in this book of her travels often go back several decades, it doesn't surprise me when I travel down the same road and find some pine-clad mountainside she describes rapturously no longer exists. However, I don't think that nowadays it takes as long as five hours to get from Mexico City to Cuetzalan (of course, you might be stuck in Mexico City traffic for two hours just trying to get out of the city, but that's another issue). I myself would start from Puebla (city) either on the comfortable direct coaches with regular daily departures, or in stages, breaking the trip perhaps in one of the attractive lower-lying towns of Puebla or Tlaxcala, and then perhaps again in Zacapoaxtla.

                Diana wrote about xocoyol in the Cuetzalan section of this book. As far as I know, she was the first person to present xocoyol to a wider public-not in this book, but in an article in Mexico Desconocido which I have not been able to track down but which she mentions in the chapter. She gives the scientific name for xocoyol as Begonia plebeja, although from a quick search through botanical materials, I have found that there might be as many as six, seven different varieties of wild begonias eaten throughout the Sierra Norte so the identification might use some tweaking. Having read about xocoyol in the book, of course I immediately started hatching elaborate schemes to sample it when I got to Cuetzalan, The usual RST modus operandi is to take an unusual vegetable or foraged item found at the market to be cooked up at a local fonda; a method incidentally that has yielded some of the best meals I have ever had in Mexico (chayotextle, battered and fried for me in Cordoba or a "monton"of flor de izote bought for P10 at the spectacular Monday market of Coscomatepec and taken to a local restaurant to be dropped into a bowl of tesmole de res; the izote petals turn silky and diaphanous and add an incomparable texture to the tesmole) So when I found out that xocoyol con frijoles would be available for lunch that Monday, which means that I would not have to go out of my way to make arrangements, I was very pleased indeed.

                Diana gives two recipes for xocoyol (the first one, frijoles gordos con xocoyol very similar to the dish I had), where she suggested using nopales as a substitute. If anything, the short segments of xocoyol in the bean stew reminded me not so much of nopales as of crunchy (slightly undercooked) green beans. At the market, they are sold in bundles that make them look a little bit like Vietnamese lotus stems (goi ngo sen or lotus stem salad is a common item in US Vietnamese restaurants and I am wondering if lotus stems might be a better substitute than nopales). To quote Diana, the begonia petioles have to be stripped first of "leaves and stringy outside layer" ("se quitan los pellitos" according to my cook, then it is cooked in "agua de ceniza" which is consistent with what Kennedy says about cooked in a lye-type solution (however she says that it is to remove some of the acidity, while my cook said "para que se le quite lo agrio".

                Quite apart from the novelty value in tasting an unusual vegetable, tasting xocoyol con frijoles that day was also a wonderful way to sample the unusual bean cookery of the region because if you took the xocoyol away, the remaining dish would still be like one of the basic bean dishes, e.g. like a pascal de frijoles tiernos (pascal is the basic word for a stew in the Sierra Norte; I heard the word most often in the area around Xicotepec; it is used in the same way tesmole is used in Central Veracruz). Frijoles tiernos (fresh beans) of various kinds have been coming into market (this was October) but dried beans could also be used. Kennedy wrote about eating xocoyol with the ayacote (also called "frijoles gordos" in this area) of the region. I also had the dish with this large meaty purple/brown bean which is related to the ayocotes/ayacotes to be found elsewhere throughout Central Mexico. In this area, even more revered as a frijol tierno is the so-called yepatlaxque, a word which has been transcribed formally elsewhere as patlaxtle, but that is how I heard it again and again and so I have decided to keep my own transcription.

                Ooops have to go, more on beans etc later

                1. re: RST
                  r
                  RST Oct 18, 2008 12:28 PM

                  Continued:

                  And there there is the yepatzima (my transcription) which is also delicious but considered inferior to the yepatlaxque. And the frijoles nacual which is harvested earlier, around August. By the time I got to Teziutlan, I started seeing acaletes which seem to be related to the ayacotes but have beautiful veins on them. But all of this is stuff for another post. What I want to point out here however is that all throughout the region, beans are not cooked with epazote as we do, but with the succulent heart-shaped leaf of a plant called tequelite AKA cilantro del monte which Diana Kennedy lists as a Piper, but which is strictly a Peperomia. I came to the Sierra Norte in search of very specific things; and I'll write some other time about the main themes on this trip of "tamales de papatla" (the zacahuil in Pachuca I mentioned above is all stuffed into papatla leaves, with banana leaves used only for structural support//I would see papatla each step of the trip, way into Veracruz//at a tiny restaurant in Xalapa I found that specializes in the cuisine of Chicontepec, I also had zacahuil made in papatla//I have come to the conclusion that it is the third most important tamales wrapper in Mexico) and "tlacoyos/tayoyos/tacates de alberjon (i.e arvejon)". But other "subthemes" insinuated themselves: the rich variety of frijoles tiernos for instance or the tequelites, which I would recognize at each town I visited-often slightly different-the leaves in certain towns only an inch or so wide, the leaf in the next one as big as my outstretched hand. They are also called by different names in each town: oreja de burro, oreja de tejon, causasa in Xicotepec area, something that sounds like nalcabio (nacalio?) in Teziutlan, in Altotonga (Veracruz). In every case, this is the classic herb used in bean cookery of the Sierra Norte.

                  R

                  (to be continued)

            2. re: RST
              g
              gomexico Oct 14, 2008 01:10 PM

              I've uploaded a couple of hundred photos of Cuetzalan to several online albums, for persons reading this discussion who'd like an idea of the location - and those albums can be accessed when you follow this link/url: http://tinyurl.com/7tt2s

              1. re: RST
                r
                rcashdan Mar 28, 2009 11:21 AM

                I hope you remember the name of the hotel where you stayed in Cuetzalan and can send it to me. I'm also a fan of Zacatlan where I stayed right along the market. Your report will get me looking for what I might otherwise have missed. Many thanks.

            3. Anonimo Oct 15, 2008 05:16 AM

              C uetzalan was the first indigenous destination we visited on our first trip to Mexico, in March, 1980. It was there that I had my first pozole, in the now defunct Hotel y Restaurante Las Garzas, enjoying it under the baleful gaze of the numerous cork garzas (storks) in the room.

              It was there that I had my first tacos al pastor, in a hole in the wall taquería, on market Sunday. We bought our cervezas across the street and stuffed our selves on tacos.

              Also a place where I sampled, bocoles and other masa antojitos, fresh from the fryer. And "caña verde", a distilled cane spirit sweetened with a green syrup, (we didn't know its name) sampled in a truly primitive cantina, complete with a "convenience bucket" in one corner.

              I also had my first exposure to Mexican carnicerías. I went to one to buy beef to make a Carbonnades a la Flamande in our rented house, and waited for the butcher to finish serving another customer while hacking away at a furry shin of cow.

              We returned in 1994 for a couple of days' visit, but, somehow, it just didn't feel the same to me.

              1. Eat_Nopal Oct 15, 2008 12:34 PM

                As always... painfully beautiful posts. Makes me want to quit my job and find something to do in Southern Mexico. I wonder if Marcos has any open positions for Finance / IT guys?

                1. g
                  gomexico Nov 8, 2008 07:44 AM

                  I was thinking of Cuetzalan today, as I frequently do, and I re-read this discussion thread to satisify my desire to return there soon. Thanks again.

                   
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