Monthly Archives: April 2010

Tlayudas in Atlanta

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This summer, I will be going to Oaxaca. I am excited about all of the new and different things I might eat.  Last time I was there – 7 years ago – I sampled huitlacoche (corn fungus) and chapulines (roasted grasshoppers).  They were okay…  The chapulines were served with tortillas and guacamole.  Alas, my guacamole ran out before I finished my grasshoppers and I am afraid I left some in my bowl.  I don’t remember exactly how the huitlacoche was served, but I think it might have been canned – it was pretty much black liquid…  One thing I DO remember is that my father and my husband did not try them.

Since then, I have learned of tlayudasTlayudas, (from Wikipedia) sometimes erroneously spelled Clayudas, are a part of Mexican cuisine, consisting of a big, crunchy tortilla  covered with a spread of refried beans, asiento (unrefined pork lard), lettuce or cabbage, chapulines (grasshoppers), meat (usually shredded chicken, beef tenderloin or pork), Oaxaca cheese or other cheese, and salsa. They are a popular antojito  (snack food) originating in Oaxaca, particularly around Oaxaca City, and are also available throughout larger Mexican cities, such as Mexico City, Puebla, or Guadalajara.

The restaurant I have been eyeing to try the tlayuda is about a 50 minute drive south of the airport in Jonesboro.  It’s called Taqueria La Oaxaquena. There are all sorts of rave reviews on it.  The second location I had read about was Cafeteria La Oaxaquena, which is much closer – in Smyrna.  It didn’t have the outstanding press of TLO, however.

When I mentioned these places to my husband, he said that he felt like he could wait until we got to Oaxaca to try Oaxacan food.  Well, that’s no fun!!!!  I also stressed to him that the tlayuda, also called a Oaxacan pizza, was made on a huge gluten-free crust of corn masa. (my husband is intolerant of wheat gluten and rarely eats real pizzas any more, unless they are made by a woman named Amy…)

On my way home last night I took the Buford Highway route.  Buford Highway is the “corridor of diversity” in our part of Atlanta, and foods of all nations can be found there.  As I was moving along slowly in traffic, the sign for Don Cabrito caught my eye.  Below the title it said “taqueria oaxaquena”.  I stopped and looked at it and decided to try it out.  Anyplace that served barbequed goat is my kind of place.

Tonight, while my husband was at choir practice, I decided to give it a try.  I was kind of skeptical, because in my earlier drive-by, the restaurant windows were decorated with the words “taqueria estilo guerrero y michoacan”.  Where was the Oaxaca?

My answer came when I walked in – posters everywhere of Oaxaca: the Guelaguetza, panoramic view of the zocalo, the whole thing was decorated Oaxaca-style.  And, sure enough, right there on the menu, were tlayudas.  The place is pretty good-sized, but I was the only customer, and there was only one waitress and one cook.  I ordered my tlayuda with goat – which is not traditional, but I had to have goat…

When it came out, it did not look like the tlayudas in pictures I had seen, which were served open-faced.  This one was folded over like a gigantic crepe – I mean GIGANTIC.  It must have been about 18 inches in diameter and was cut in half and served with a variety of sauces.  I tried a bite of the tortilla, and it was tough as leather.  I really did give it a good try, but ended up asking for some fresh corn tortillas to scoop up the big glops of melted cheese and goat (mixed with a little bit of beans and cabbage).  Then I ate that bit taco-style.

I packed up the rest to take home and when I got there, I peeled off the perishables (onion, avocado, and tomato) and stuffed the filling only in a storage container.  I fed a bit of the tortilla to my puppydog, then threw the rest away.

When I sat down to write this post, I did a little bit of research on the structure of the tlayuda and see that it can also be served folded over, so it’s not like they were doing it “wrong”.  I think that the masa dough was just overcooked or tough.  One of the articles I read said that some tlayuda stands make the tortillas ahead of time and then reheat them.  Maybe that was it.

I am willing to give it another chance.  At least the goat was good!

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NEH Grant to Oaxaca Summer Institute

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At the beginning of this month, I found out that I was chosen to participate in a National Endowment for the Humanities Summer Institute. The National Endowment for the Humanities is an independent grant-making agency of the Federal Government. Each year the NEH’s Division of Education Programs offers teachers opportunities to study humanities topics in a variety of Summer Seminars and Institutes.  It seems that the seminars are allowed fewer participants than the Institutes, but the topics of all are fascinating and inspiring.

I first caught sight of these offerings last year and really REALLY wanted to go to the one on St. Francis of Assisi and the 13th Century.  It was going to be held in Siena and Assisi for 6 weeks last summer, but it didn’t seem feasible to go.  Along with that, the only things I really had to put into my proposal letter were that St. Francis was my grandmother’s favorite patron saint.  There is also some reference to him in my favorite book, House of the Scorpion (by Nancy Farmer), but I didn’t think that it was enough to spend the whole summer studying about his life. (Sorry Gran – RIP!)

So, I was eagerly awaiting this years announcements, stalking the NEH Summer Institute page for weeks until they finally got this year’s offerings up!  At first, I was disappointed – last year, there had been offerings all over the world (Asia, Africa, Europe – my favorite was the South African one where they must have said at least 50 times that, if you were chosen to participate in their seminar, you had better be there NOT just to have fun and go to the beach… WOW, they sure know their school teachers! LOL).

I looked over the offerings, wondering why on EARTH anyone would want to spend 5 weeks in the summertime in MACON, GEORGIA  studying Cotton Culture in the South from the Civil War to the Civil Rights Movement (I should not be mean, but have you BEEN to South Georgia in the summertime?).  Because my husband is a musician, and I have never been to Germany, I considered making him attend classes for me in drag to participate in the Johann Sebastian Bach Institute in Eisenach, Leipzig, and Potsdam, Germany or for the Mozart Institute in Vienna, Austria.  I was less inclined to have him do this for the Dvořák Institute, as it only involved a trip to Pittsburgh.

Then, all kidding aside, I saw it:  Mesoamerican Cultures and Their Histories:  Spotlight on Oaxaca.  Instantly I felt a rush of excitement!  The last time I visited Oaxaca was in 2003, when I treated my husband and father to a trip to Mexico.  I wanted to return in the summer of 2007, when my husband and I went to Morelia for my Fund for Teachers Grant – but the logistics were not easy.  I love Mexico, and I knew that I could come up with many ideas for research and contribution here.

The only obstacle was that this institute will run up until August 7th, causing me to miss two pre-planning days.  It could have been worse:  I postponed any thought of applying until the school calendar had been set.  One of the calendar options started school at the beginning of that week, so that would have been a deal-breaker.  But, I think that it will work out okay for me now – it’s not like I am extending a trip to the beach, after all.

Here is a link to the Institute Overview and to the Syllabus. It is truly awesome.  Each of the four weeks of the Institute has a distinct theme:

  • Week 1:   Archaeology:  “Art and Architecture as Windows into Cultural Realities in Prehistory”
  • Week 2: Ethnohistory: “Seeking Indigenous Perspectives and Cultural Memories through Manuscript Studies”
  • Week 3: The Arts: “Cultural Continuity and Innovation in Music, Textiles, Pottery, and Photography”
  • Week 4: Film:  “Mesoamerican Histories through Film:  Representations of Cultures and Societies”

So far, I have already purchased airplane tickets for my husband and myself.  I have an apartment reserved for us at a place right around the corner from most of the class meeting sites.  It is called Casita Camila and the little one bedroom apartment looks great!  I found them on VRBO (Vacation rentals by owner), which was the source of our lovely yurt last summer.  My school system was kind enough to put a press release about my grant up on the system website – I am so excited!

I promise to get back to blogging – it’s going to be a truly wonderful experience, I am sure.  Here is a link to Moon Travel Guide’s section on Oaxaca – it has some great maps.  The institute has a page on BlogSpot for a group blog that you can peruse to see about the other participants.  Here is the link.  I am so thankful for this opportunity – can’t wait!!!!