Two new acquaintances, Maura and Amanda, suggested that we share a meal at one of the top-rated restaurants in Oaxaca before going our separate ways. We tried to get a table at Los Danzantes (named for the nude male figures on the stelae at Monte Alban), but we hadn't made reservations and didn't want to wait for hours. We were hungry.
I would probably have enjoyed the Casa Oaxaca experience more if we'd been seated upstairs on the terraza, with a view of Santo Domingo and the blue Oaxacan sky. Instead, we were led down a narrow stairway to a barren, windowless room with bare wooden tables. The high, white walls cried out for some colourful Oaxacan art. Overall, the room (see the photo on their website) had a kind of monastic feel. In such a situation, all you can do is enjoy the company of your dinner companions and hope that the food will be good.
The waiter stood beside our table and prepared a salsa in a molcajete. Maura had described this part of her experience on the terrazza as the waiter even offering a choice the colour of the tomatoes he should add to the salsa. Our experience this time was not so fine. After throwing my napkin into my lap, the waiter silently prepared the salsa.
My friends and I shared an appetizer of tostada de gusanos de maguey, chapulines, mayonesa de chicatana, aguacate, cebolla y rábanos (fried corn tortilla with agave worms, grasshoppers, chicatana ants, guacamole, onion and radishes). For my main course, I had the camarones, pure de nanche amarilla, poro asado y tomates tatemados (sauteed shrimp served with Oaxacan yellow “nanche” fruit puree, roasted leeks and charred tomato). Amanda and Maura both had a traditional Oaxacan rabbit dish. I'll say this much for it: It was an interesting gustatory experience.
This wasn't the first time I had eaten insects. My friend in Taxco, a Canadian expat, had purchased a book, Man Eating Bugs, before moving to Mexico. When I visited him in November 2007, during my first trip to Mexico, we went to a band contest in Axixintla on the feast day of Santa Cecilia, the patroness of musicians. The contest started around 8 a.m. and finished by noon, at which time the feasting began. Other than the rice, nothing looked unfamiliar to me. There was some kind of meat (possibly goat) in a spicy salsa. When I asked our companion, Señor Mota, what this marvellous sauce was, he answered, "Jumil." I had read about jumiles in my friend's book, and had seen people eating them from small plastic bags in the mercado. Still, I was glad that I'd had my first taste of jumiles unawares, and so got to form an unbiased impression of them. Eating agave worms, grasshoppers, and chicatana ants was just the next step.
Tr3s 3istro Restaurant & Oyster Bar
Seated alone at a table for four beside the narrow balcony, I ordered a rib-eye steak and a glass of wine, and sat back to enjoy the view. The sun was setting, turning the mountain visible in the distance to gold. The frenetic activity of the day had slowed, and people were sitting quietly around the Zocalo. (Things do heat up again once the sun goes down.) Ten police officers passed by, eight of them carrying a huge Mexican flag. The scene was constantly changing and endlessly fascinating. My steak arrived, grilled to perfection. The snowy white table cloth met one of my (admittedly plebeian) criteria for "fine dining."