I cooked yesterday.
A la Mexican.
I should have realized at first that when the course started at 8am, it really means 8:30. When Rosie, the instructor arrived I was still the only student in the room. “What would you like to cook?” she asked me in her delightful Mexican accent. “Mexican or traditional to the Oxaca (Wu-ha-ca) area?” It is the state in which Huatulco lies.
“From the area,” I promptly replied.
Guillermo, the owner of Villas FaSol where we are staying, organized the class for me. I was going to take a course from an American woman named ‘Jane’.
“You do not come to Mexico to learn how to cook traditional foods from a gringo,” he laughed.
Quickly, he got on his phone and called Rosie. She teaches at a vocational school which teaches youth practical skills to find work in the tourist sector. Rosie agreed to let me sit in on a couple of her classes. Yesterday was the first day of the 8 day course she offers at Cecate.
It was a morning of pure delight.
Once we determined what to cook, we set off to the town centre with one of the other students who arrived shortly after Rosie to buy the groceries.
While the Chederaui offers up big supermarket style grocery shopping, food shopping is an experience when you visit the markets. In tiny narrow shops lit mostly by the sun streaming in through the open front, you wander through baskets laden with ripe vegetables and fruits. If you don’t see what you are looking for, you ask the tiny woman behind the counter tucked in the back and she darts further into the recesses to move boxes aside to dig out that which you want. At the butcher shop, men wearing floor length aprons stand at stainless steel counters finely shaving meat from giant slabs. Long lengths of chorizo sausage and other meats hang from a bar above the counter. You tell the proprietor how many sausage you want and he cuts down your request from the string.
There is traffic. Noise. Heat. And the staccato like firing of Spanish everywhere. People call out “Ola!” to Rosie every where we go. She calls back but we keep moving. In every store she is greeted with warmth and familiarity. She explains who I am and they smile at the gringo. That would be me. I smile back. My Spanish is very limited but a smile is universal, and I have the stamp of approval from Rosie.
Back at the school, we unload our purchases and begin.
First we must clean, Rosie tells the two young high school students who are in the course. Sink. Counters. Dishes. Everything is cleaned, though I smile as I see them place the cleaned dishes in a rack that sits on the floor by the sink. Through the open windows, Martine, the gardener at the school, chats, asking me words in English and sharing its Spanish equivalent. Sometimes, he steps into the classroom to write it on the whiteboard. I print the English word for him.
To cook, you must feel both the food and the joy, says Rosie, her smile big and wide. She translates for me, the both of us sharing words to piece our sentences together like a patchwork quilt of English and Spanish creating a mosaic of communication.
I smile. I am feeling the joy.
We make Salsa Verde. Tlayudas – a specialty of the region. Guacamole. When we are done, the four of us sit at the table and share the bounty of what we have created. Martine brings in a bag of bug like looking creatures. Rosie adds some of the contents to the Botana Oaxaquena (Huatulco Snack) that we’ve created. Chilpulin! They all dig in. I look. I think. I wonder if I can do it.
They are bugs. Grasshoppers to be exact.
“Just don’t eat the legs,” they tell me.
I take a breath.
I pick up one of the crispy delicacies.
I pull off the tiny legs and bite in.
My kitchen mates smile and clap.
It is all part of the experience. And what is life without experiences that make your heart feel full and overflowing?
Today, I will spend the morning with Rosie and the two young boys making Mole Negro and another Huatulco speciality, Tacos al Pastor.
What a fabulous adventure!
Cecate asked me