Local Drinks: Tejate and Pozontle (Oaxaca, Mexico)

I’ve trumpeted Mexico’s outstanding food before, but how about their drinks?  Does their array of natural juices, Prehispanic concoctions, liquors, and Jarritos nicely complement Mexican cuisine?  Yes, quite often, I must say!

On the topic of indigenous beverages, let’s look at a couple – tejate, and pozontle – which both originate in the present-day state of Oaxaca.

Fantasy: It’s a food market in Mexico, I am invincible!
Reality: It’s a food market (in Mexico), throw good hygiene to the wind.

Yes, tejate, the first of today’s two Pre-Columbian (before Christopher Columbus) drinks, is often seen in vats at markets and bazaars in Oaxaca.  Centuries before the Aztecs, the Zapotec peoples of contemporary Oaxaca were enjoying tejate.  Its ingredients include water, toasted corn, pixtle (ground roasted mamey pits; incidentally, pitztli means bone or seed in the Aztec language Nahuatl), fermented cacao beans, and cacao flowers.  The cacao was most likely introduced to Oaxaca from Chiapas state in Mexico through early bartering.

Generally, it is served in a bowl made of jícara, an inedible fruit from the calabash tree:

The Jícara Tree

I consider tejate a light and very frothy drink, a bit bitter and not too sweet.  Though there are indeed, differences in flavors, I had a similar opinion regarding the less well-known Oaxacan beverage, pozontle.

On a visit to a random market in Oaxaca, I stumbled upon La Pozontoleria, a small kiosk serving up this foamy and slightly sweet “shake” more easily found at rural wedding ceremonies in traditional hillside Oaxacan pueblos (towns).

Pozontle’s four more recognizable ingredients are water, panela (unrefined cane sugar), and ground specks of cacao and corn.  The cacao and corn are rolled into little spheres, which are then dissolved in panela water.  The fifth ingredient, called cocolmécatl, is a vine in the Smilax genus that when ground, causes the rest of the pozontle mixture to foam.


Many of us might be quite familiar with Mexican dishes.  But when it comes to Prehispanic drinks, that’s an entirely different world worth discovering.

Coins, Coins, Obnoxious Coins

Money (Coin) Collection - Numismatist 1Coins are obnoxious.  It’s not their fault…no, no, it’s because governments ’round the world can’t resist weighing down our jeans or handbags – or not, as you’ll see shortly – with coinage.  Is it in deference to those of us easily distracted folk, eager to make music out of the clanging currency?  Or, are they still produced so that cuprolaminophobics – look it up! – can amble over to the nearest train track to have their way with coins?

Kudos to Canada for stopping the minting of the tangible penny.  (As an aside, I like how their official mint website has a section for “our products.”)  Denmark’s central bank doesn’t produce paper money or coins.  On the flip side, too many countries around the world accept US or foreign coins.  Plus, quarters are so darn useful, whether it’s for one-armed bandits or one-night stands.

Getting back on track, I guess I used to be something of a numismatist, or coin collector.  The majority of my collection consists of coins more useful these days as paper weights than legal tender – for instance, pre-euro, and something from Zimbabwe in the ’80s – but that’s part of the point of it being a hobby, no?  What follows is a sampling of some of the less welcome members to pockets worldwide (and yes, I realize that they’re still money)…

Money (Coin) Collection - Numismatist 2The left column, with examples (top to bottom) from Hong Kong, the Maldives, Zimbabwe, and the UK, are ones that have not been eluded by the American diet.  However, if one of those ever fell from your hand or pocket, you’d definitely notice it.

At the same time, are those any more obnoxious by their extremely light opposites in the right column? We have the Japanese one (y)en, the Indonesian 500 rupiah, and the bane of my consumerist existence while in China, the fen.  If a cashier gives you a fen, it’s a euphemism for the country laughing at you.  Bad advice: try spending it in Taiwan.

Money (Coin) Collection - Numismatist 4With the US quarter as a guide, the left column, with Costa Rica and the UK again, as well as the right column with Hong Kong, Belize, and the same 50p from the UK, display coins that are too darn big.  Though we’re nowhere near the scale of the monolithic currency of some Pacific Islands, what’s the reason for this?  Save for Costa Rica, it seems as if imperialism isn’t the only category in which the British got carried away…

The right column also shows some of the funkier shapes of coins.  Someone was asleep at the switch one day, and now his/her handy work gets the attention of bloggers.

Money (Coin) Collection - Numismatist 3Starting from the left, we have the Japanese five (y)en, the US dime, 50 cents from South Africa, 5 sentimo from the Philippines, one tetri from Georgia, 5 koruna from the Czech Republic, and 20 colones from Costa Rica.

The first time I noticed a perforated coin was in Japan.  Curious about why some coins have a hole in them?  Necklaces are one reason, sewing coins into clothing, another.  Thinking about it another way, the Japanese 5 en coin isn’t worth much – particularly outside of Japan – but string it onto some jewelry, and watch your coffers grow.

As for the middle column, that coinage is ridiculous small; the US penny – for its size and its denomination – and the 20 colones, were placed in the photo for comparison.  I’d feel sheepish (particularly outside of their home countries) trying to pay for something with tetri, or the colones for that matter.  Can you imagine a coin-only checkout line?


I hope that you enjoyed this brief tour of coins around the world.  Are there any standouts in your book?

Welcome to Chinatown

As a child, I used to think that the Manhattan Chinatown was one of the coolest neighborhoods to wander around, be puzzled by the Chinese characters written all over the place, and to visit a vastly different culture without needing to hop on a plane.  Later on, I learned that you could get ersatz versions of Western desserts for low prices, but the standout for me was always the (Portuguese-inspired) egg tart.

In any event, after starting to travel, I realized that New York City’s Chinatowns were missing something prominent that other 华埠 (huábù) /  唐人街 (tángrén jiē) proudly displayed– a paifang (牌坊 páifāng).

朝陽門 (Chaoyang Gate), Yokohama Chinatown, Japan

Historians believe that paifang, aka pailou (牌楼 páilou) were influenced by the ancient Indian torana gate, in which four gates – representing four important life events of Buddha – were placed at the four cardinal directions, on paths leading to a stupa.

Breaking down the word paifang, the pai refers to any number of communities in a fang, or precinct.  Originally, they served as markers to designate individual fang, but eventually became more ornamental in purpose.

西安門 (Xi’an Gate), Kobe Chinatown, Japan

Paifang were historically inscribed with specific moral principles to obey, and/or praise the government for recent accomplishments.  Thereafter, icons such as plants and animals whose sounds were homophones with auspicious words – e.g. fruit bat, which also sounds like “blessing.”  Though, modern ones take a more…hospitable approach to phraseology.  For example, a number of paifang have carved into them the idiom 天下为公 (天下 tiānxià “everywhere below heaven,” “the whole world/China;” 为 wèi “for;”公 gōng “the public,” collectively owned”)– this roughly translates as the world is for everyone.

With that background exposited, let’s dive into some Chinatown paifang photos from around the world…with a couple of surprises added to the mix.

What?!  A paifang in China?  Of course!  This one leads the way to the Ge’an community (隔岸村), in the Bao’an district of Shenzhen.  If you’re a tourist and you ended up here, you’ve got quite the wanderlust.

The joke’s on all of us…this paifang is the entrance to a restaurant in Istanbul.  Or, maybe Chinatown will simply “annex” this district.

Latin America++

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Manchester, United Kingdom

 

Busan, Republic of Korea

USA

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But, the questions remains– when is one of New York City’s Chinatowns going to receive its first paifang?

Language Learning on the Road, Guanajuato-Style (Mexico)

And you thought you came here to learn Spanish…

On the way to the small but bustling city of Guanajuato, capital of the eponymous state – known for silver mines and narrow streets – I noticed that some road signs on the outskirts were written in three languages– Spanish, English, and Japanese.

マジですか (maji desu ka- really?)

Is it that hordes of newlywed Japanese tourists are lining up to consummate their marriage at El Callejón del Beso (aka The Alley of the Kiss)?

違います! (chigaimasu – wrong!)

It’s all about the auto industry.

On January 1, 1994 NAFTA, the tripartite free-trade agreement involving Mexico, the US, and Canada, came into effect. In short (i.e. for the purposes of this post), globalization swung Mexico’s lower-cost and less-regulated doors wide-open to manufacturing. (On July 1, 2020 NAFTA morphed into the USMCA, though many of NAFTA’s original provisions still ring true.)

GM opened its first plant in Guanajuato soon after NAFTA was introduced. Years later, other countries such as Germany and Japan followed, with VW, Mazda, and Toyota as the primary brands. This is in addition to the maquiladoras, foreign-run factories, often by the US-Mexico border, which typically produce goods for the company’s home base.

Thus, with the increase in Japanese car firms in the state came the need for Japanese engineers, technicians, and executives, some with families. In 2016, a Japanese consulate opened in León, Guanajuato’s largest city, to serve the thousands of recent expats in Guanajuato and nearby states. Since 2009, more than 80 Japanese companies have been established in Guanajuato alone, hence the need for a consulate.

Now, given that Mexico is also known for coffee, perhaps coffee ramen isn’t too far off?

Parallel Photography: Appreciating Impermanence

For most of my life, I’ve lived close to or in big, vast cities.  Vast.  Wandering around them, eating all over them, and perhaps most memorably, photographing them.

Yet, after a recent cleaning of the closet, I am remiss about one major aspect of my photos from years back– for the most part, they don’t demonstrate transience in the urban jungle.  Yes, of course I have shots of friends and family, but also of certain stores that no longer exist, food not readily available, and pairs of JNCO jeans too spacious even for a Missouri Walmart.  But, rare is the photo that shows a building, mass transit system, or complex under various phases of construction – and on that bandwagon, how the neighborhood might be changing with said construction.  Also rare, shots of the same subject during different seasons.

Only within the past decade have I thought more about this notion of the ephemeral qualities of photographed subjects; in Japanese, this idea of feeling compassion for impermanence is known as  物の哀れ (もの の あはれ), literally “the sorrow of things.”

Take this photo as an example:

Starting from Somewhere, in the Middle of Nowhere

Soon after the Guangmingcheng station of the Guangzhou-Shenzhen-Hong Kong Express Rail Link opened in late 2011, I went to the area specifically to photograph “what might become.”  In other words, China is building high-speed rail stations at ludicrous speed, with neighborhoods booming up directly around those new stations.  Amusingly – and ironically, for the purposes of this post – not much has changed where this photo was taken.

However, if it’s change you’ve got on your mind, then check this out…

February 2005, my first visit to Guangzhou, China.  Back then, the White Swan Hotel was the swankiest place in town by a long shot, national high-speed rail was still in the planning stages, and I didn’t know any Chinese.  And how about that metro rail map?  Amusingly, each station has the Chinese character for station in the name (站 zhan4), in case you’d confuse the circles for donut shops.

Now, what if we look at a Guangzhou metro map from November 2019?

Apologies for the lack of clarity in the photo, but the point is made.  Although mind-numbingly long and crowded, you can now travel from Guangzhou’s primary high-speed rail station Guangzhou South – to Guangzhou Baiyun Airport, with a minimum of one transfer.  In fact, you can take the metro to neighboring Foshan, best known for being the ancestral home of Bruce Lee, and its own metro system.   Even wilder, you will probably eventually be able to ride a metro from Hong Kong to Shenzhen to Dongguan to Guangzhou to Foshan, once – or, if – the merger takes place.

As mentioned earlier, I’ve also become more appreciate of the seasons, be it for their effect on trees, flowers, and potholes, or for the timely foods that appear.  For instance, take this late spring photo of Clark Square Park in Evanston, Illinois, USA:

Looks peaceful, right?  What you can’t see just beyond the trees and rocks is Lake Michigan, a large part of what makes Chicagoland livable for a few months of the year, yet what also makes it…

a torture the rest of the time!  I took this absolutely frigid shot during the “polar vortex” of 2019, and I’m still shivering as a result.  Nevertheless, it was this pair of photos that made me think more closely attentively about choosing certain subjects to photograph, and then sticking with them over time to document changes.


Are you interested in photography?  How do you feel about photographing things that time doesn’t ignore?

Oaxaca’s Crunchy Tlayuda (Mexico)

Mexico, thus far, is one of my three favorite countries in which to eat –the other two being Japan and Turkey.  During my brief time in Southern California, I used to cross over to Tijuana just to get a series of lunches, and then overdo it by chomping on churros while waiting to get back in the US.

CHURROS, at the San Ysidro Border Crossing

After meeting some affable Mexican folks in my travels, my awareness of regional Mexican cuisines grew, as we started taking road trips throughout their delicious country.  I will cover more of these stories in later posts, but for now, we’re going to take a look at the tlayuda, the Oaxacan specialty that might count pizza as a distant relative…all the way in Italy.

In Oaxaca, the word tlayuda generally refers to a fried or toasted giant corn tortilla.   They were first consumed in Prehispanic times — that is, before Hernán Cortés started marauding civilizations in the 1500s; in the native Nahuatl language, tlayuda is derived from tlao-li, or husked corn, and uda, or abundance.

Tlayuda are eaten either with granulated sugar, or with any number of savory ingredients…

Tlayuda at El Milenario (Restaurant), Santa María del Tule, Oaxaca, Mexico

Time for the good stuff!  Savory tlayuda are first, smothered in a mix of refried beans and pork lard, the latter called asiento.  Then…whatever!  For the one above, I ordered it with ground chorizo, squash blossoms, quesillo (Oaxaca cheese; roughly similar to mozzarella), radishes, avocados, tomatoes, and a couple of flora unique to the region.

On the left, the green pod (and its seeds) is called guaje.  Although the pod is inedible, the seeds have an eclectic flavor profile, something of a grassy pumpkin seed.  More importantly, the guaje, being plentiful in the region during the time of Cortés, lent present-day Oaxaca its name.  Since the Spanish couldn’t pronounce Huāxyacac, the Nahuatl word for the plant, they abridged it to become Oaxaca.  So much easierright???

And on the right, pipicha, or chepiche.  Does it bear a striking resemblance to tarragon?  Yes…but the flavor is more like a citrus cilantro, with a hint of minty licorice.  Used by Aztecs and other ancient tribes to treat the liver, pipicha also are high in antioxidants, and can be used to cleanse the palate after a meal.  I felt that the flavor was quite strong, so I would recommend using it sparingly.


What would you put on your ideal tlayuda?

Traveling to the Wrong Destination is Still Traveling

Ever end up in the wrong city?  I ask this, because I read a story a few years ago about someone flying to the wrong “Taiwan.”  Which is to say, the passenger meant to go to the island, but ended up in Taiyuan, China instead.  Never mind that the two places are spelled differently – in both English and Chinese, that the former isn’t a city, and that the person likely needed a visa for China, but I decided to see how common this type of mistake was.  Indeed, it does happen from time to time, that folks end up in the wrong place– just ask these travelers.

Although China did for a spell have a thing for building its own versions of European hotspots – Austrian villages, anyone? – supposedly, the central government has put the kibosh on those.  Then again, it’s unlikely one would confuse Paris, Tianducheng for Paris, France…or even Paris, Texas.

And then we have Atlanta, which really doesn’t want you to get anywhere quickly if you’re looking for an address on Peachtree Street.  (Hint: there are no less than 71 streets with the name Peachtree in them.)

Atlanta Marriott Marquis, Located – I’m Shocked – on Peachtree Street

Thus, in the vein of this topic, I’ll pose this question to my readers– if someone offered you a trip to Mecca, which would you choose?:

Mecca, population ~ 7, 100, in California?  It is also close to the fascinatingly dubious Salton Sea, which I’ll get to in a later post.

Or…

Mecca, population ~ 1.5 million, in Saudi Arabia?

Suggestion: Having been to both, Saudi dates are the best I’ve ever tried.

Airline Safety Cards

Note: With two notable exceptions below, I always ask one of the flight crew if I can take an airline safety card.

Do I really want to take an airline safety card as a souvenir?  They’re typically cooped up in one of those seat-back pockets, probably the nastiest place on a plane – save for the loo/next to anyone eating Macca’s – to place your electronics/reading material/children/etc.  Not to mention, they have those please do not remove from the aircraft labels…well, that’s why you ask first.

But I enjoy the various languages written on them, the amusing graphics, and from time to time, review them to see the bizarre and unique airlines and aircraft types I’ve tried out.

As a shoutout to COVID-19, let’s travel vicariously through some airline safety cards:

airline-safety-card-continental-dc-10As stated above, this is one of those that I didn’t ask to take…likely because I was a little snot way back then.

But, why does this one deserve recognition?  One, it’s the oldest airline safety card in my pile (that’s where “5/94” comes in).  Two, Continental doesn’t exist anymore.  ThreeDC-10s no longer offer scheduled passenger flights.  Four, how nice of them to include Italian in the olden days.

airline-safety-card-adam-air-boeing-737-400-1I took one flight with the bygone Adam Air, between Bali DPS and Jakarta CGK.  The Merpati (another defunct Indonesian carrier) staff at DPS helped me buy this ticket, due to some overeager flooding causing capacity issues at Jakarta airport that weekend.

It’s also one of the few flights from 2008 and earlier that I vividly remember.  Inside the plane, there was duct tape liberally used to hold various parts/doors together.  Pieces of my seat were missing, and the plane rattled from take-off to touchdown.  Might as well thrown in a couple more photos of Adam Air, because it seemed that they were doomed from day one.

adam-air-dps-cgk-2adam-air-dps-cgk-1In fact, just a month after my trip, due to a variety of sordid affairs, they ceased operations.

airline-safety-card-american-airlines-dc-9-80-s80Taken from two American Airlines “Super 80s,” or DC-9-80s’.  The logo may have changed, but the stale and unwelcoming interior remains constant.

Would be even weirder if these two cards are from the same plane, just years apart.

airline-safety-card-air-asia-boeing-737-300-2Way to go, Air Asia.  Your retrofitting of this safety card really instills confidence in me…

airline-safety-card-air-asia-boeing-737-300-1Oh.  That’ll do.

airline-safety-card-garuda-indonesia-crj1000This CRJ1000 card from Garuda Indonesia is the newest (in terms of aircraft age) in my collection.

Though, hah, I have some pretty bad luck flying from Bali, as this particular flight had to return to Bali airport to refuel. In other words, the routing was Bali-Bali.

airline-safety-card-air-koryo-tupolev-134The pièce de résistance- an airline safety card from a Tupolev 134 of North Korea’s Air Koryo. Definitely didn’t ask permission to take this one. Furthermore, it’s the only Soviet-made plane with a presence in my archives, and it’s one of two Soviet jets that I’ve flown (the other – also with Air Koryo – was an Ilyushin 62).


Sure, some of these airline safety cards have amusing graphics, too, but that wasn’t the focus of today’s post.  Though, if you have any photos of unforgettable cards that you’d like to submit, let me know!

Façadism: Not the Only Controversy in Architecture

In the simplest terms, façadism – also known as facadism – refers to when the front-facing exterior (façade) of a building is preserved, regardless of what happens to the remaining part of the structure.  For an example, let’s take this façade, located relatively near the sweets market in La Merced, Mexico City:

Mexico City might be a more nuanced place for facadism, if only because it is very prone to earthquakes.  Indeed, there could be any number of occurrences as to why a façade would be salvaged; among those, historical preservation, unique beauty, and and a state beyond repair for the rest of the building are some of the more common reasons.

The concept of facadism has been controversial for years, though has become much more so due to the skyrocketing real estate prices in such cities as New York, London, and Sydney.  Often availing of historic facades as a scapegoat for skyscraper projects that completely ignore the original building’s raison d’être, property developers are generally the last ones standing in a court battle with city officials and/or defiant communities.  To clarify, some of those facades might be on national lists of historic preservation, therefore cannot be bulldozed save for being in dangerous condition; that developers can do what they wish behind-the-scenes, so to speak, is just a facet of capitalism.

Egyptian Revival Façade of the former Pennsylvania Fire Insurance Company, now part of Penn Mutual Tower, Philadelphia, USA

Façadism isn’t always done distastefully; though highly subjective, I tend to think the Greek Revival example serving as the entrance to the American wing in New York’s Metropolitan Museum of Art is a standout.  But, if you tend to think it’s all an eyesore, you might be interested to know that there used to be a tongue-in-cheek award – the Carbuncle Cup -given out annually to the worst offender in the United Kingdom.

Now that we’ve learned a bit about facadism, I hypothesize that there are other aspects of architectural grievances that are overlooked, particularly in the face of tourism.  Namely, I am referring to Shiro Syndrome, a phrase that I originally concocted while traveling to Osaka, Japan in 2005.

Shiro Syndrome – in Japanese, shiro 城 means “castle” – refers to the reconstruction of castles (and temples, shrines, historic sites, etc.), frequently with contemporary materials.  This is not specific to Japan, but being that it’s one of my most-visited countries, I can’t help but think about it, and that one moment in Osaka that started it all:

Although construction started on the castle in 1583, due to a combination of domestic strife and lightning, the current ferro-concrete structure was finished in 1931.  Further repairs were completed in 1997, and an elevator was added soon after.

Which brings me to the question…do you think the present-day Osaka Castle should still be considered historic?

The same could be asked of many of the pagodas in Bagan, Myanmar:

Bagan, which was the seat of an eponymous kingdom between the 9th and 13th centuries, saw the construction of hundreds of pagodas during that time.  However, subsequent to a catastrophic earthquake in 1975, many pagodas were hastily renovated with modern technology; another earthquake in 2016 damaged many more extant pagodas, worrying historians and archeologists alike about how the repairs would be carried out.

Then, we have the truly unusual Kawasaki Warehouse, in Kawasaki, Japan, which closed late last year.

Directly inspired by long-destroyed Kowloon Walled City in Hong Kong
A feeble attempt at recreating Hong Kong’s Kowloon Walled City

The entire concept of the building was to capture the essence of Hong Kong’s infamous Kowloon Walled City, a massive ghetto which was finally razed in 1994.  If you’re curious about how it looked, the movie Bloodsport was allowed to film inside the labyrinthine Kowloon Walled City.


What is your opinion of façadism?  How would you compare it to the other two architectural topics mentioned above?

If Food Had Passports: Guatemalan Cardamom

Source: https://qtradeteas.wordpress.com/2011/02/16/cardamom/
Source: Qtradeteas

Ever since I started raiding the breath freshener (and carminative) trays at Indian restaurants, I’ve been curious about cardamom.  Whereas my usual reason for diving into those trays was for the candy-coated fennel seeds, the inimitable aggressive and unique flavor of cardamom always stood out.  When else could I find the expensive pods in my food?  Atop biryanis, in milk and as a seasoning for teas.

And in Antigua, Guatemala, in chocolate:

Antigua, Guatemala - Cardamom Chocolate (2)Prior to World War I, German coffee farmer Oscar Majus Kloeffer introduced cardamom to the fertile soil of Alta Verapáz.  Guatemala is currently the world’s largest exporter of cardamom, though hardly uses it on the domestic front, save for adding it to bars of local chocolate much to the amusement of self-declared travel/food bloggers.  Most of it is shipped to the Middle East and India, the latter of which frequently expressing sour grapes over one of its native crops.

If you’re curious about the history of cardamom – a distant relative of my favorite root, ginger – visit the Western Ghats of India to discover its origin.


Are you a fan of cardamom?  Have you ever been to Guatemala?