meta name="p:domain_verify" content="8b08da541f8a920e6 Marie Z Johnston: Traditional Cooking of Michoacán, A Food Festival

Thursday, October 3, 2013

Traditional Cooking of Michoacán, A Food Festival

Who would have guessed, two years ago in Paris, that meeting Christina Potter and her wife, Judith McKnight, would lead to one of the most outstanding food festivals of my life?  (Well, Cristina and Judith did) Having never been to Mexico, the temptation of traveling to a warmer climate only grew as the weather in Central California got damper.  It didn't take much convincing to book a ticket to Mexico City when Cristina told me the food festival (last year) fell the 3rd week of October Reservations were made, tickets purchased and licktey-split, we were off on another 'culinary extravaganza' adventure...
Judith and Cristina
Cristina has been living in Mexico for 30 some years... she fell in love with the people and the culture and pretty much that was that.  There is little about Mexican cuisine that Cristina can not explain, or extraordinary chefs of Mexico City or Morelia (and beyond) she doesn't know quite well. However, Cristina is also very modest, so there would be no way of knowing this unless you (follow her blog 'Mexico Cooks') hang out with her a bit and put your 'eating experience' in her capable hands... which of course, we did.

Dining room of the Red Tree House
Courtyard view of some rooms at The Red Tree House
Colors explode when the sun rises at The Red Tree House
1st stop: Mexico City.  We stayed in the historic (and seductively bohemian) Condesa district at The Red Tree House which was wonderful, welcoming and you should stay there!  Our first true meal in Mexico was at Azul/Condesa where Chef Ricardo Muñoz Zurita showcases traditional Mexican dishes to their best advantage.  I will tell you right now, anything and everything you may think you know about Mexican food will fly right out the window should you undertake this voyage - which, I can not recommend highly enough. We began with Mescal Banderas and Margaritas - from there, all familiarity (and preconceived notions on Mexican Cuisine) evaporated.

The Azul Condessa, Mexico City
Cristina, Chef Zurita and Judith

After the beverages... menus! (that's 3 tamarind margaritas and 1 banderas)

Mescal is the beverage of choice with dinner

A Tamale starter

Gosh, I wish I remembered what this is - besides shrimp!

I can not resist molé, in this case, duck molé!

One of 4, no, 5 desserts... tart, sweet, perfect!
Chef Zurita's wrote the Dictonary of Mexican Gastronomy (among other remarkable  cookbooks), it is the culmination of 22 years of work and research.  Read about him HERE and HERE   Buy the book (as well as his other cookbooks) HERE.  


Even the street food in the Federale District is enticing - at every corner there is something wonderfully delicious going on:  Tacos, Empanadas, Tamales, fresh's all there; hand made, cooked to order and fabulous!

Not exactly 'street food' still, it's right there on the street and delicious!
Just tell this man how many 'tacos' you'd like and then point at the desired fillings
And there you have it... lunch!
These 'tacos' are made with cauliflower and blue corn tortillas!
Fruit and candy vendors are everywhere
Who can resist Tamales - here are 4 varieties.
We took a four hour bus ride to Morelia, the capital of the state of Michoacán.  This was no ordinary bus, more like business class on an airplane with air conditioning, comfortable reclining seats, a movie and lunch served at our seats (little molé empanadas, fresh fruit and a cookie).  The views out those enormous windows were stunning...

Now, Morelia has been a World Heritage Site since 1991, it's historic center, all Spanish Colonial architecture, is stunning. There are four Universities including the oldest University in the Americas (which has the most gorgeous interior courtyard garden with colonnades I've ever seen) The Cathedral de Michoacán located in the center of town, rivals anything I've seen in Europe. To say that Morelia is a place of unrivaled beauty is not an overstatement. (Not to mention that there is not an American fast food outlet to be found) 

There is a lively nightlife in Morelia, beginning with the illuminating of the cathedral

As the sun sets in Morelia, the light reflected on buildings is just amazing

Music is a weekly event in the central square

Everyone is friendly( at all hours of the day and night)

Seen wandering the streets of Morelia

One of the many splendid inner courtyards found in Morelia
While In Morelia we stayed with Rose Calderone at her wonderful Bed and Breakfast, the Casona Rosa.  (check out a cool video about the Casona and Rose right here)  Rose is a font of information as well, so it's a privilege (and very entertaining) to hang with Cristina, Judith and Rose as they talk about this artist, that restaurant, this musician and what's going on in town next week, next month or tomorrow.

The dining room of Casa Rosa waiting for us in the morning

Rose and guests chatting about the events of the upcoming day

Fruit salad with Jicima, Queso and Chile powder

Breakfast!  Note the Monarch Butterflies on the plate!

Pottery by local artisans

The signage guiding us home and to bed at night
However, we were all gathered for the Encuentro de Cocina Tradicional de Michoacán (7th Annual Michoacán Traditional Food Festival) which in itself was a marvel.  In 2010, in part due to this festival, UNESCO awarded Mexico's food (of the State on Michoacán in particular) the Intangible Cultural Heritage of Humanity status. (not unlike what was awarded the food of France actually) After a couple of days sampling the fare, it's not at all surprising. Interestingly, Michoacán is one of 2 Mexican states to ban GMO's in an attempt to protect the 18 varieties of native corn grown there (Mexico has about 59 varieties), since it produces 30% of all corn grown in Mexico (and most of Mexico's avocados) this is no small potatoes.

One of the many varieties of corn found in Michoacán.
Everyone piled into a couple of cars and we were off... I'm not sure what I expected to find, but surely, this open air event with live music, real plates and glasses, food cooked on the spot in traditional fashion (for a couple of thousand attendees) was not it.  Admission is free; we bought 'tokens' for the food and beverages.  Interestingly, no alcohol is served.

A type of porridge (atole) is being cooked in this pot... it came in a variety of 'flavors'

Like this blackberry & cinnamon variety

Cutting mushrooms in the traditional garb of Michoacán - each woman makes her own

Cooking the tri-color tortillas n a clay comal

The masa is made from three colors of corn then turned into tortillas

It's nearly too beautiful to eat.... nearly.

Everything was prepared using the traditional fragile clay pots

Chile Verde

Comals and pots are balanced over the fire with special rocks (each chef travels with their own)

Cristina and Señora Benedicta Alejo Vargas, one of the greatest living traditional cooks of Michoacán

Corundas being lifted from the pot for us to taste by the Señora

This is the Corunda pot, it has pine needles and water on the bottom to steam them

The cooked Corunda

Removing corundas from the steaming pot.  No tongs required!

The excellent queso molé on this plate was rescued from extinction by the Señora

And lunch is served Michoacán style!

Posolé made with pork and eaten with a yucca 'spoon'

Fish from local waters

All the booths were pretty much mobbed by hungry people wanting to taste it all!

The beauty of the embroidered shirts and pleated skirts was everywhere.

It was very difficult to decide what to eat - there was just so much variety

The food and the people just kept coming

Little 'sandwiches' on the lawn

See, real plates... handmade real plates!

Cooking up some chilis on the comal

Calla lilies and Lobster Mushrooms (known as Pig's Ears in Michoacán)
This year's Festival of Traditional Cooking of Michoacán runs October 4, 5, and 6th, 2013.
You can fly into Mexico City or Puerto Vallarta and ride the bus to get to Morellia. I wish I could be there this year... though I am planning on going next year (because I just didn't get enough molé or fresh corn tamales last year). There is much to see and much to eat - trust me - you won't regret it!

 Hasta la próxima (until next time)


Cristina Potters - email her at

The Red Tree House in Mexico City - reservation inquiries click here

Casona Rosa in Morelia - email Rose at

1 comment:

stanzebla said...

Very interesting. I especially like the descriptions of the traditional Mexican food. And the photographs are wonderful.