Posts Tagged ‘Mixteca’

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Cuetlas: Sampling One of Mexico’s Edible Insects

Sunday, September 22nd, 2013

Boiled and unfurled, these cuetlas are ready to fry.It probably wasn’t the smartest plan to arrive at the Grandiosa Tardeada de Cuetlas feeling absolutely famished. But we’re adventurous eaters who sometimes enjoy bugs in Mexican cuisine, particularly regional specialties like escamoles (ant eggs), chapulines (grasshoppers), and gusanos de maguey (pulque worms). So, we showed up at the 13th annual cuetlada in Puebla on Saturday afternoon ready to sink our teeth into some serious butterfly larvae.

Chiancuetlas, or cuetlas for short, are edible catepillars that grow in Jonote and other types of trees throughout south-central Mexico. The larvae are typically consumed in the Mixteca region of Puebla, Oaxaca, and Guerrero, where they provide an imporant source of dietary protein. You can also buy them locally from tianguis in Atlixco—25 pesos for a sardine tinful—and at the Feria de Cholula. During the rainy season (August and September), the live caterpillars are collected from Cualagua, Cuaulote, and Pochote trees in the gullies near Huaquechula and gutted to remove their green entrails. Many cooks then boil the larvae in salt water, unfurl them by hand, and fry them in oil until they puff up and turn golden brown, and serve them as the main ingredient in tacos.

Guillermo Duque de Estrada (pictured), who invited us to the Grandiosa Tardeada de Cuetlas, has co-organized a semi-private culinary celebration with Antonio Álvarez Moran and a lively group of entomophagous friends since 2000. At previous events, the cuetleros have tried using the caterpillars as a protein in various gourmet recipes, from paella to cuetlas en nogada. They’ve even stuffed the finger- to cigar-sized larvae with tiny grasshoppers and sautéed them with garlic in olive oil.

Guillermo Duque de Estrada fries cuetlas for the taquiza.This year, Duque de Estrada—also known as “Don Cuetlo”—and crew hosted a traditional taquiza featuring fried caterpillars for tacos with eight different homemade salsas, avocado slices, black beans, and grasshopper-infused rice. Those of us who had never tried one before received our “first communion” of a single fried cuetla, so we could savor the larvae in all its salty and crunchy yet chewy glory. The experience was sort of like eating a rehydrated dried mushroom that’d been plunged into a deep-fryer. I jokingly called it cecina de árbol.

Want to try them yourself? El Mural de los Poblanos restaurant (Calle 16 de Septiembre #506 at 7 Oriente) is serving cuetlas for another week and offering them as part of a beer pairing menu this Thursday, Sept. 26, at 8 p.m. (Side note: Álvarez Moran is the painter responsible for the historical murals on the restaurant’s walls.)

In the end, we can’t say that we’d routinely choose cuetlas over carne asada as a taco filling or that the larvae satiated our hunger. But the caterpillars were certainly edible. And, seeing as more than 1,000 types of insects are eaten by choice worldwide—including 67 species of butterflies and moths in Mexico—we’ve arrived terribly late to the dinner party. We’re convinced there’s a Lepidoptera out there we’ll enjoy as much as escamoles.

—Rebecca Smith Hurd

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New Birdwatching Book Touts Puebla’s Diversity

Tuesday, January 1st, 2013

Mexico ranks fifth among the world’s nations in biological diversity, with nearly 29,000 plant and animal species living in its deserts, rainforests, mangroves, and mountains. The state of Puebla, known for its mild climate and varied ecosystems, is home to large percentages of this flora and fauna — including more than half of the country’s 1,100 different species of birds. A new e-book in English, The Birdwatching Hotspots of the State of Puebla, Mexico, provides a free field guide for novices and experts alike.

Common Yellowthroat, ValsequilloHerons and Egrets, ValsequilloRed Warbler, La MalincheCooper's Hawk, Valsequillo

All About Puebla asked author Jajean Rose-Burney, a Peace Corps volunteer from New York who recently finished a two-year assignment here, how he got started as a birdwatcher, why he decided to write the book, what he’d like readers to get out of it, and where he likes to go birdwatching in Puebla. Here’s what he had to say.

AAP: How did you end up studying birds in Puebla?

Rose-Burney: My wife and I joined Peace Corps, a program of the U.S. federal government that has volunteers all around the world. We are both urban planners and were looking for a little break. During training in Queretaro, we were told that our assignment would be SEMARNAT, Mexico’s federal environmental agency, in the city of Puebla. I was devastated. I didn’t want to live in a big city, and I didn’t want to work in a big government planning office.

Fortunately, I got everything that I didn’t want — and am incredibly lucky. During the past two years, I’ve worked on some great conservation projects, including the establishment of a new natural protected area at the Valsequillo Reservoir. I’ve met and worked with great people. I had the opportunity to travel throughout the state and most of southern Mexico. And I have been able to turn my love of birdwatching into my work.

When did you start birdwatching?

I have been birdwatching as a hobby since before I started walking. My parents worked at nature reserves and ran a summer camp when I was little, so I grew up around the outdoors. I always brought my binoculars on family camping and hiking trips. Before coming to Mexico, I had never done birdwatching for work. It was always just a hobby. I have actually done more birdwatching while in Puebla than at any other time in my life. When we travel, whether it be to Cholula or to Tulum, we go birdwatching.

I helped start and was a guide for a recreational bird club, called the Club de Observadores de Aves de Puebla, which goes on monthly field trips to parks and nature reserves in the city and throughout the state. To sign up for the tours, you can contact the club.

What prompted you to write the book and, more specifically, focus on Puebla?

Many other places in Mexico are well-known for birdwatching. Although there are a few dedicated birdwatchers in Puebla, the state has been practically ignored by the outside world. Fortunately for me, Puebla is an awesome state to go birdwatching in.

As you will see in the book, Puebla is one of the most diverse states in Mexico, and trails only Chiapas, Veracruz, and Oaxaca in total bird species. Puebla has many migratory species, those that nest in the U.S. and Canada and winter in Mexico, Central America, and South America, like the ducks and herons in Valsequillo. Puebla has numerous endemic species — species that only exist in Mexico — like the Red Warbler in La Malinche and the Paso de Cortes. Puebla also has many really beautiful and attention-grabbing species, like the Blue-crowned Motmot in Cuetzalan.

What are your favorite places to go birdwatching in Puebla?

The Valsequillo Reservoir is my favorite place to go birdwatching within city limits. The large reservoir attracts thousands of ducks, grebes, herons, and other birds. On any given day, especially during the winter migration, you can cross the reservoir on the ferry boat (known locally as la panga) in San Baltazar Tetela and see at least 60 species of birds. Ease of access, diversity of birds, and beautiful views of the reservoir and surrounding volcanoes makes Valsequillo a must-see.

Picking a favorite place to go birdwatching in the surrounding state of Puebla is difficult. Rather than chose one site, I would say that the entire Mixteca region in southern Puebla is the most fascinating. Tropical deciduous forests and cactus forests — both more colorful in the dry season — reach as far you can see, while the river canyons are lined with majestic ahuehuetes, or Mexican cypress, a tall evergreen that is also Mexico’s national tree.

The Mixteca is home to numerous species that are endemic not only to Mexico, but also to the Mixteca itself, meaning that they exist nowhere else in the world. These include the Dusky Hummingbird, Grey-Breasted Woodpecker, Boucard’s Wren, and Bridled Sparrow, among others. There are also many emblematic species, like the ruby, emerald, and white Elegant Trogon, or the large, rufous-colored Squirrel Cuckoo, or the sparrow-sized Ferruginous Pygmy Owl. And then there are the beautiful people, the food, the languages, and the history…

What do you hope that readers will take away from the book?

I am a conservationist at heart, and everything that I do is aimed at promoting the conservation of nature. Low-impact, sustainable ecotourism — like birdwatching — can have positive impacts on conservation. When tourists visit a place, pay for a hotel, or a guide, or even just lunch, they demonstrate to a community that protecting natural resources can have greater benefits for them than using them up.

I want this book to inspire people to love nature, the outdoors, and birdwatching the way that I do. And I think that in order to love nature, you have to experience it, to touch it, to smell it and see it. When someone reads my book, whether a novice or a seasoned birdwatcher, I hope that they get the urge to visit some of these places and experience them for themselves. The places and birds that I describe in this book are so spectacular, so beautiful, and so unique, that anyone lucky enough to see them will have no choice but to fall head over heels for them.

To download the free book, which includes maps and other helpful information, click here.

Text by Rebecca Smith Hurd / Photographs by Ana Hernández Balzac (homepage) and Jajean Rose-Burney

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Savoring Mole de Caderas (and More) in Tehuacán

Monday, October 22nd, 2012

Mole de caderas y espinazo is a seasonal, regional dish from Tehuacan, Puebla.It took me five years of living in Puebla to visit Tehuacán, but when I finally did this past weekend, I savored every moment of it. Literally. I spent most of my time there eating: Tacos de cabeza. Mole de caderas y espinazos. Candied fig, squash, and tejocotes (Mexican hawthorn fruit). Muéganos from El Águila Real. All of these culinary treats are local specialties, the first two of which are based on goat meat from the annual slaughter.

Yes, slaughter. Every autumn since the 17th century, when Spanish settlers introduced livestock to Mexico, shepherds have driven goats from the coasts of Oaxaca and Guerrero to the Tehuacán Valley of Puebla, where they’re sacrificed in a ritual ceremony and then eaten. During the migration, the animals feed only on wild grasses and salt (to retain liquids, because they don’t drink any water), notes Enrique Aquino in a column for SDNoticias.com, a national news site. As a result, their flesh—unlike that of farm-raised animals—is very lean and flavorful.

“For more than 300 years, landowners and ranchers paid the servants [and butchers] of the killings with the bones of the goats, the hips and the spines,” Aquino writes. “With these bones they made a broth with tomato and chile, to which they added other seasonal ingredients like ejotes ayocotes (runner beans) and huajes (wild tamarind seeds), resulting in el mole de caderas (goat hip stew).”

Goat brain and head meat tacos with green salsa at La Casona de Mi Lupita.An estimated 4,500 to 8,000 goats were sacrificed this year at Hacienda La Carlota, the owners of which have participated in El Ritual Cultural y Festival Étnico del Mole de Caderas, also known as “La Matanza,” for four generations. Much of their meat will be consumed in Tehuacán by residents and visitors between now and Nov. 15, which marks the end of the 2012 season. The annual celebration, which since 1784 has taken place on the third Thursday of October, includes prayers and folkloric dances and brings together people from across the Mixteca. It is recognized by both the state and federal governments as part of Puebla’s cultural heritage. Although previous festivals tended to be a bit gory, as one might imagine, the knife used to kill the first goat has been replaced with an air gun, to avoid what members of the Humane Society dubbed “a vicious and bloody spectacle.”

Food lovers should note that the wildly popular mole de caderas isn’t the only dish made with the organic carne de chivo. At least two dozen delicacies can be had, based on pretty much every edible part of the animal. These include ubre a la plancha (grilled utter with garlic and milk), riñones encebollados (kidney with onions), and other bits prepared in mojo de ajo (oil, garlic, and spices).

House-made candied fig, squash, and Mexican hawthorn fruit at La Casona de Mi Lupita.All of these dishes are offered at Mi Lupita (5 Sur #307), where Doña Lupita and her family have cooked up goaty goodness since 1956. In fact, her version of mole de caderas is so popular that the restaurant opened a second location last October on the city’s main square. It’s there, at La Casona de Mi Lupita, that my husband and I tucked into a plateful of tacos de cabeza (five head meat and brain tacos) and a piping-hot bowl of mole de caderas y espinazos with ejotes acoyotes.

“This was worth the drive from Puebla,” declares my Poblano other half, tucking a napkin into his white shirt and licking his fingers. “This is the best mole I’ve ever eaten.”

It is not, however, food for reluctant carnivores or the faint of heart: Enjoying this dish to its fullest requires using your hands and teeth to pick and suck the flesh off cracked goat vertebrae and broken leg bones. If that sounds appealing to you, it’s totally worth the trip and the 300 to 400 peso price per (very generous) serving.

—Rebecca Smith Hurd

Tehuacán is located 82 miles southeast of the Puebla capital. ADO operates regular bus service from CAPU to its station a few blocks from the main square in Tehuacán for about 100 pesos. By car, it’s about a 90-minute drive via toll roads (about 200 pesos round-trip) en route to Oaxaca.

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