I’m certain this will be the first of many posts describing my experiences in Mexican and Latin American Markets. And cooking projects.
My second day here, I had decided to attempt chicken satay tacos in my tiny kitchen. I came up with tortillas, cilantro and limes without difficulty, and I already had roasted peanuts.
In pursuit of raw chicken, I wandered back to the 20 de Noviembre market and started asking around. The fact that I didn’t know the word for a chicken vendor, or for raw meat, or thighs was a complication, but I wasn’t going to let it interfere with my mission.
Ducking in one doorway on my left, I could tell I had turned too soon: I was in the red meat row. Forget the slabs of cow of every variety on all sides, I was in another world, transported instantly. Steam rose up, silhouettes loomed while my eyeball aperture rushed to adjust to the lower light, the hum of Spanish syllables surrounded. Not another tourist in sight. It’s like a bigger, more free-flowing Pike Place Market (in Seattle) or a smaller, more orderly Iron Market (in Port-au-Prince).
I had gathered from previous asking that I should search for a pollería. I decided to keep taking right turns and see where it would lead me. Locals hunched over plates at long bars, turning a curious eye as I passed. Next were rows of fish lining a slippery aisle with large drains in the floor. The pollería gave itself away by the stark yellow chicken feet jutting out at awkward angles.
I took a deep breath and passed several vendors. No chickening out now. At an intersection, I stopped and made my request. Busco pollo no cocinado, I managed, well aware of my verbal butchery, but unable to help myself. Pollo crudo? inquired the woman with the knife. Yes, I responded, raw, crudo. Then I pointed to my thigh, and we narrowed my request down to the cut I was seeking. Without hesitation, the woman sawed off three thighs, took my 35 pesos (just over two dollars), and sent me on my way.
A brief, impulsive stop at a nievería for a taste of beso Oxaqueña ice cream characterized by walnuts and carrots. Then on up my hill to get my chicken legs into the fridge as fast as possible.
I looked up a few recipes. Obviously, I was not the first to come up with the chicken satay taco concept. But the recipes called for cabbage slaw, coconut milk, soy sauce and other things I didn’t have and hadn’t the know how or the energy to get here in Oaxaca.
So I used what I had on hand, browning the chicken in olive oil, salt, oregano and pepper flakes. I disinfected my cilantro with grapefruit seed extract, vinegar and baking soda, shelled peanuts into the blender along with sugar and salt, and wondered what I would use as liquids in the peanut sauce and to steam my chicken. Half and half, Dos Equis and balsamic vinegar, respectively, offered solutions. Finished off with avocado and lime juice. I considered sprinkling the whole thing with chapulines (fried grasshoppers) but opted not to.
Don’t worry, my Spanish classes at the Instituto Cultural de Oaxaca start tomorrow, and include traditional Oaxacan cooking workshops. So I won’t be making up weird fusion dishes the whole time I’m here, and will learn how locals do food.