Wednesday, March 11, 2015

XIII Encuentro de Las Cocineras Tradicionales de Michoacán

Two Fish In A Bowl
What can I say? I was wrong. After attending one of the first of these affairs in Pátzcuaro, back around 2005 or '06, I'd sworn off going to any more. My reasons were based on my negative impressions of that earlier event. It was colorful but poorly organized. The food lines tended to be long. The dishes we sampled were often pretty bad, bony, tough, tepid and unappealing. Maybe it was just our bad luck to have chosen those particular puestos. But I shouldn't have judged subsequent Encuentros based on that early unappealing experience.

Over the last few years, we heard encouraging reports from sources both close and distant to us that the Cocineras event had greatly improved since it had moved to a new location. The Centro de Convenciones y Exposiciones in Morelia has hosted it in recent years. This year, we decided to attend. After all, with 12 previous events under its belt, it surely must be better than ever.

With Ms RedShoes driving, we arrived Saturday at about 11:30 a.m. Parking was a challenge, in spite of the vast Convention Center parking lots. (Some areas had been closed off for some other event.). We turned ourselves around and crossed Calzada Ventura Puente then entered the ServiPlus Bazar parking lot, (ServiPlus is a large collection of small shops under a hangar like roof.) worth a visit if you are a shopaholic.)

After some negotiation with the parking attendant/guard, and the passing of a $50 peso bill, we were allowed to leave Ms Shoe's car there for a couple of hours.

Entrance to the Happy Eating Grounds
I was very pleasantly surprised by the organization and well thought out logistics of the event. But even more pleasing were the Cocineras and their comida casera. Some of the dishes were familiar but others were new to me.

Smoke gets in your eyes ... and lungs.
Because the stoves were wood burning, there was a lot of smoke, especially along the right hand side of the pavilion closest to Calzada Ventura Puente. While somewhat unpleasant, we managed to evade it when possible, and figure that it's a small annoyance for such a wonderful event.

Tortillas baked on a comal over a wood burning stove
We bought our funny money (boletos) at one of two ticket booths. It is generous of the organizers to allow attendees to cash in any extra tickets at the end of their visit. We started with $200 pesos of tickets but had to return later for supplementary tickets. We ran out of tickets twice. Later in the day, some vendors would accept cash or a combination of cash and tickets.

Ticket booth
The main challenge is first walk to around and review the possibilities. It's difficult to do the entire paseo without succumbing to the siren song of the Cocineras and their gustatory, visual and olfactory temptations. I only made it as far as Puesto # 5 where I immediately knew that I had to return there. They were offering platillos of La Tierra Caliente, from the area of Apatzingán.

Puesto # 5: Comida de Apatzingán. Note the toqueras on the comal.
It was torture to only give each stand a quick look, take a few pictures and walk on. I got a small taste of the Encuentro during my once over lightly visit. Next time, I hope to attend two days in a row.

About five booths along, I succumbed to food lust at Puesto #5. Sra. Cuevas and Ms Shoes were ahead, on the other side of the pavilion. I caught up with them near a puesto featuring Caldo de Trucha and Hueva de Trucha (trout roe). We established ourselves at a tablecloth clad table, with comfortable chairs, under a shady roof festooned with papel picado. There were napkins in holders, and a container of actual metal eating utensils!

Well set tables were very welcome
I then returned to Puesto # 5. I saw that they were cooking toqueras on the comal. There was a waiting line for the toqueras,  so I got some Cecina de Res en Chile Rojo, con arroz blanco y frijoles. I could come back for toqueras after I ate the cecina.

Cecina En Chile Rojo
Sra. Cuevas went to one of the nearby beverage stations to get me a green drink, which I think was agua fresca de alfalfa y limón. Horchata, and I think, agua de Jamaica were also offered. The level of hygiene was at its highest at these drink stations. The servers were clad in hair coverings and wore plastic gloves. At the puestos themselves, hygiene was quite high for the most part, yet a friend got very sick the night after eating some food left too long at ambient (very warm) temperature.

The Cecina en Chile Rojo was very simple but very satisfying. Cecina, as many of  my readers know, is a thin sheet of lightly salted, sun dried beef. In the dish I had, it had been cooked in a medium picante salsa de chile rojo, and served on blessed plain, white rice, with small brown beans on the side.

Meanwhile, Sra. Cuevas had a hearty bowl of Pozolillo, a non-nixtamalized, vegetarian version of pozole, made with dried corn, I was told.

Ms Shoes had a Taco de Chiles Capones. The Chiles Capones at the event were much more caseros y rústicos than those at  Restaurante La Mesa de Blanca in Ziracuaretiro. But I didn't try the rustic but rough looking Chiles Capones from fear of, um, digestive problems.

Chiles Capones del Encuento
Chiles Capones de La Mesa de Blanca 

Cristina Potter, the notable México Cooks! blogger and Mexican food expert came and sat down across the table from us. She was a featured speaker that day on la Comida Michoacana, but, unfortunately, we could not stay to hear her speech.

Cristina was eating a bowl of Caldo de Chile Relleno, a clear soup containing a small, cheese stuffed chile and a spicier Chile Güero. A young cocinera, dressed in traditional traje (outfit) came by and gave Cristina a gift of three tamales de la milpa, filled with diced vegetables, one of which was topped with hueva. (trout roe). Cristina invited us to taste the tamales, which I did, bypassing the scarce hueva. It was very nice.
Tamales de la Milpa
Although near satiated, I still had to have some toqueras.  We'd had a good version of these fresh corn griddlecakes at the venerable Fonda Marceva restaurant in Morelia Centro.

Those at Stand # 5 were more rustic and even better than Fonda Marceva's. Cooks were cutting the kernels from ears of white corn, while another cook passed the kernels through a hand cranked meat grinder. Yet another cook patted the ground corn into ovals and loosely wrapped the masa in fresh, green corn husks.

The woman at the comal then baked the packages until the outside had browned and the masa was cooked.

What I hadn't realized in my earlier stop was that the toqueras  served as a sturdy base for a white sauce/soup of white cheese cubes laced with rajas (strips) of mild Chile Poblano. When I asked what it was, I was told "Minguichi". I immediately recalled the legendary  minguichi of Michoacán, of which I'd read recipes, but none were like this.


I asked for three plain toqueras and two with minguichi packed into two of several Tupperware type containers we'd brought with us.

Toqueras with Minguichi on them
Inevitably, I had to seek the Men's Room. At one end of the pavilion were a very large truck trailer elevated above ground level, and another, more permanent looking building. Up the few steps to the traler and through the heavy, spring loaded door revealed a surprisingly classy "sanitary facility". It was finished in nice woods with granite-like sinks and splash panels. The interior was immaculate. What a relief to have such a high quality rest room, a striking difference from the anticipated nasty, smelly Port-a-Potties.

A restroom worthy of Don Cuevas.
More here
On the way back to our table, I stopped at a stand selling products of Michoacán. I bought a large chunk of Queso Cotija, which ranks worldwide among the finer aged strong cheeses.

Queso Cotija. What's the jarred version like?
On a final pass on the way out, I stopped and got some Mole de Pollo con Arroz to go. I wasn't to eat this until the following morning, and my instincts proved correct. It was a very good dark mole, emphatically more picante than dulce, as I prefer it.

The experience was further enhanced by the presence of attractive women, both in traditional traje, below ...
Beauty through the ages.

... and, wearing contemporary clothing
Free Tequila samples, served by a pretty girl
At the end, I was tired but greatly satisfied. The Encuentro was a wonderful event, and I hope to be able to attend again. Ms Shoes told us that there will be another in October.

Before picking up the car, we did an quick tour of the labyrinthine interior of the ServiPlus Bazar. If you are to enter, carry a a big ball of string to unreel as you thread your way into the complex, or have a guide.

Encuentros de Las Cocineras tips: wear sunblock and a broad brimmed hat. We always have with us hand sanitizer moist towelettes.

Carry a few Tupperware type containers in order to have reliable carry home containers. Disposable styro foam containers are sold on the site, but they are expensive.

Park nearby, for example at the Plaza Camelinas shopping center, on Avenida Camelinas at Calzada Ventura Puente.


View Larger Map

It would be unwieldy to post all the photos I took, but you can, if you wish,see them as a slideshow (below) or click through and see them in larger format.

Don Cuevas


Steve Cotton said...

That would have been a perfect event for another excuse to visit your great state.

jennifer rose said...

This event just keeps getter better and better. And miraculously the music was kept at a level where conversations could easily be held.

DonCuevas said...

Thanks, Felipe. I considered a picture of chiles, simmering in pot, and another candidate was the Minguichi pic. But Don Cuevas always likes to break free from the mold. The two fish in a pot seemed almost Picasso-esque, y ya! Got your attention, didn't it?

Don Cuevas

Kim G said...

Sounds like quite the culinary event. Great writeup.


Kim G
Boston, MA
Where today we are going to a flower show. Fortunately we don't suffer from allergies.

DonCuevas said...

Gracias, Kim G.