Long before Fergus Henderson wowed Western foodies with the novel idea of Nose to Tail eating, the World was already firmly on board. He simply reminded us of what was already going on most places. Scroll down to the South of Mexico where, in Oaxaca's Benito Juarez market, an entire section is devoted to belly, hoof, and liver. At food stalls, sheets of fried pork fat the size of baby blankets, aka chicharrones, are gobbled up by snackers. Sit down to a beer or mineral water on the town square, the Zocalo, and you are treated to a plate of peanuts toasted with dried chilies, then presented with the house specialty--a spongy, spicy mass of slow cooked pig belly in red salsa, to be scooped up with fried tortilla chips.
The open market also features rows upon rows of Mezcal, huge balls of string cheese in great piles, mountains of dried chiles that reach the ceiling, dried beans, and a kaleidoscope of colorful fruits and vegetables adorned with squash flowers. The chapulines vendors get slammed with lines of local shoppers Saturday morning for roasted crickets in a variety of sizes. Later they are likely to be enjoyed with a suero--cold beer laced with fresh lime juice and salt.
This is the Southern inland province where mole was born. We've heard conflicting numbers...are there 11 kinds? 17? Not sure, but the appropriately named black, red, colored, and green moles are everywhere, so we assume these are the most popular. Usually adorning well-cooked chicken pieces (raw meat is rarely refrigerated and so is cooked very thoroughly to an often rubbery or hopefully shredded state), the black mole seems to take top billing as the local hero. It seems very chocolatey to Ms. Tomato's palate, and rich enough to please Louix XIV, but not something she would order again and again.
The seafood cocktail, however, is like a pop song one furtively places on Repeat whenever safely alone. It's the dark secret, the jelly donut of hidden ardors and shameless addictions. It's not a fancy restaurant dish here, but the kind of thing the local kiosk, dangerously located three minute's walk away, serves up in two sizes. Small at $2.50US and Large at $6. You sit down to a warm, spicy, red fish broth first. Then, fresh tomato juice is sweetened, mixed with a little onion and cilantro, and tossed with shrimp, octopus, and oysters, sometimes Krab, and offered with little dishes of more chopped cilantro, onion, tomato, lime wedges, mayonnaise, crackers and fried tortillas, housemade hot sauce, and bottles of commercial chile sauces. It's like gazpacho crammed with chilled poached seafood and Ms. Tomato wakes up in the middle of the night dreaming of it.
But the biggest street food sales must surely go to the nieves vendors. Ice cream is huge. It's sold from freezer baskets on wheels in the form of paletas, or via outdoor parlors where flavors are fancified with names like "angel's kiss", a pink confection of peach, strawberry, and almond, according to one saleslady Ms. Tomato interrogated. Every tropical fruit imaginable is represented in frozen form at these shops, as are tequila and mezcal flavors, and a local favorite called "burnt milk". This is not to be confused with dulce de leche. As a Mexican friend described it to me, it "sort of tastes like ashes, like the milk that has been burned."