We shared our LOVE for Oaxaca in this post, and with the excitement building up for yet another trip coming in May, we want to highlight a few things this magical state is known for.
Barro Negro, translated to black clay, is made in the region of San Bartolo De Coyotepec, just 7 miles south of Oaxaca City. Dating back to the Monte Alban era, it is a traditional craft of the Zapotec people of this area.
Originally having a matte gray finish and made for utilitarian purposes, in the 1950’s it was discovered that a process of burnishing the pottery with quartz just before the clay dries turns the pottery the shiny black finish it is known for today. Although this process makes the pieces more breakable, they have become very coveted for their delicate decorative motifs. You can now take your pick of many of these pieces at the Mercado de Artesanias in San Bartolo.
Alebrijes get their origin in Mexico City in the mid 1930’s where an artisan—Pedro Linares—dreamt of these fantastical beings during an episode of grave sickness. Once awake from his hallucinatory dream, the artisan remembered these colorful beasts and began creating them out of cardboard and papier mâché, just as he did with the piñatas, carnival masks, and religious figures he was known for. Garnering the attention from renowned artists like Diego River and Frida Kahlo, Linares became known as the Alebrije creator.
Linares, originally from San Antonio Arrazola, a town about 6 miles south east of Oaxaca City, returns to his hometown and shares his creations and process. This is where another well-known artist, Manuel Jimenez, learns to make these magical figures and begins to form them out of the copal wood they are known for in Oaxaca. This is the beginning of the Alebrije artistry in and around the various towns of Oaxaca.
Mezcal, known as the ‘elixir of the gods’ is a smoky, distilled alcoholic beverage made in various regions of Mexico from over 30 varieties of the agave plant. While the main difference from tequila is that tequila is made just from the blue agave and mostly in the state of Jalisco, mezcal represents the history of the states where it is produced, most notably Oaxaca.
Traditionally made in small-batches and most popularly from the Espadin agave, its technique has been passed down from generation to generation. Resulting from the liquid extracted from the ‘piña’ of the agave plant, which is roasted in deep pits dug in the Oaxacan earth, mezcal gets its smoky flavor from this process. Fermented anywhere from one month to 12 years in oak or stainless steel barrels, and ranging in flavor based on the fruits, herbs, and sometimes meats it is fermented with and through, it is said "Mezcal is a majestic spirit so it has to be [enjoyed] with respect, slowed down. You don't do shots," — Xavier Amayo, Los Amantes, Oaxaca*
A popular Oaxacan toast while drinking mezcal is the following: "Para todo mal, mezcal, y para todo bien, también." ("For everything bad, mezcal, and for everything good as well.")
Looking to experience Oaxaca with us and see all these things for yourself? Join us in May for our next Eat.Drink.Cook.Mexico. tour to Oaxaca.