By Kary Vannice
In August of 2022, the World Health Organization took “old age” off the list of official causes of death. The council that reviews the International Classification of Diseases now recognizes the term, “aging-associated biological decline in intrinsic capacity,” in lieu of “old age.” There were various factors contributing to this reclassification, primary among them was that “old age” could be classified as “agism.”
Vitality, Life, Death
So, while many of the considerations in this debate were sociopolitical, the new terminology is actually more accurate from a physiological and medical standpoint. The true cause of death in cases such as these is indeed biological decline, the loss of vitality from the body’s organs and cells.
The word “vitality” is not something we give much thought to until we start getting older and experience loss of it. But what does “vitality” actually mean? The word vitality has its roots in Latin and means “vital life force,” or as others might define it, “energy,” something the modern western medical system doesn’t often consider when treating biological decline.
Western medicine is fantastic at diagnosing and treating the symptoms of illness and disease, but mostly fails to consider the energetic root cause. Alternative medicine, on the other hand, looks beyond the symptoms to identify and treat energetic imbalances that lead to the expression of symptoms.
Energy and Vibrational Therapy
Vibrational therapies are founded on the fundamental belief that the human body is not merely a collection of biological systems but a dynamic, interconnected matrix of energy and consciousness. From this perspective, health is seen as a state of balance and harmony within this energetic framework. When the body’s energy flows smoothly and harmoniously through its various pathways and centers, it is better equipped to combat illness and maintain vitality.
Vibrational medicine acknowledges the intricate interplay of physical, emotional, mental, and spiritual aspects in an individual’s well-being and provides a comprehensive framework for understanding and promoting better health and wellbeing.
And because energy practitioners delve beyond surface symptoms, into the unique energy patterns and imbalances of each person, they may offer more personalized care. This tailored approach not only fosters a deeper connection between the practitioner and the patient but also leads to more effective treatment plans that consider the individual’s specific needs.
And it’s no secret that many medical interventions come with a host of side effects. Vibrational therapies, on the other hand, offer a more non-invasive and low-risk approach, making them suitable options for individuals who seek treatments with fewer adverse effects or who may not respond favorably to conventional medical approaches.
Beyond merely addressing ailments, vibrational therapies aim to enhance overall well-being. Patients often report notable improvements in their energy levels, reduced stress, and a heightened sense of inner peace. This holistic well-being perspective resonates with those seeking more than just symptom relief but rather a deeper and more harmonious connection with their own vitality.
Extending the Range of Healing
Alternative therapies serve as a vital bridge between conventional and holistic healthcare approaches, providing patients with a more extensive range of healing modalities. With an understanding that physical health is deeply intertwined with energetic balance, embracing the concept of overall vitality and holistic well-being paves the way for exploring the diverse alternative healing options available in the Costa Chica of Oaxaca. In next month’s issue, I’ll be sharing several alternative healing options that are available in various communities along the picturesque Oaxacan coast.
Kary Vannice is an energetic healer who practices a form of vibrational medicine called The Body Code which restores balance, energetic flow, and well-being to the body. Find out more on her website – https://bookme.name/KaryVannice/
By Brooke O’Connor
The entrance to the underworld is here in Oaxaca, and now we can prove it!
The Mitla Ruins: Home to Multiple Cultures
Approximately an hour’s drive from Oaxaca City is Mitla. The name Mitla comes from the Nahuatl word Mictlan, which means “underworld” or “place of rest” in Zapotec, a Nahuatl language still spoken widely in the region. The Zapotecs emerged from the agricultural communities of the central valleys of Oaxaca, building their capital at Monte Alban (approximately where the state capital, Oaxaca de Juárez, is now); the Zapotec civilization flourished at Monte Alban from about 500 BCE to 900 CE.
At that time, perhaps driven out by their neighbors to the west, the Mixtec, the Zapotecs created a new capital at Mitla. Mitla dates to about 100 CE, but may be much earlier; its earliest extant buildings are from about 450 CE. Its ruins are perfect examples of geometric stone architecture that tell stories of a culture steeped in tradition.
Mitla is considered the main religious center of pre-Hispanic culture in the area; both Zapotecs and Mixtecs frequented this “religious metropolis.” John M.D. Pohl, an archeologist at Cal State at LA, has written extensively on the paintings on doorway lintels at Mitla. His analysis has identified the creation tales of three distinct cultures: the eastern Nahua, the Mixtecs from Apoala, and the Zapotecs from Zaachila.
Eventually these cultures weakened in influence and came under the rule of the Aztec emperor Moctezuma. When the Spanish arrived in 1520, Moctezuma welcomed them to Tenochtitlan (Mexico City), only to see virtually all of Mexico conquered and colonized within a year.
Mitla and the Spanish
Here’s where the plot thickens.
In 1552, after the conquest, Mitla was ordered to be destroyed, as were many indigenous religious centers. In 1590, Dominican missionaries began building the church of San Pablo Apóstol (St. Paul the Apostle) atop a platform left by the earlier demolition. They documented how, during construction, they had sealed off the entrances of a labyrinth beneath it.
Francisco de Burgoa, born in Oaxaca around 1600, had joined the Dominican order in 1629; he became a “chronicler,” or historian; in 1674 he wrote about Mitla in a broad-ranging geography that included the “Sito astronómico de esta Provincia de Predicadores de Antequera, Valle de Oaxaca” – the astronomical site of the Province of Preachers of Antequera (Oaxaca de Juárez) in the Valley of Oaxaca.
He described an extensive cavity in the earth at Mitla. When the missionaries went to explore, they found that
such was the corruption and bad smell, the dampness of the floor, and a cold wind which extinguished the lights, that at the little distance, they had already penetrated … they resolved to come out, and ordered this infernal gate to be thoroughly closed with masonry.
The Dominicans sealed all entrances to the tunnel network; the Zapotecs had called the labyrinth Lyobaa, or “place of rest” – i.e., the underworld.
The royal Zapotecs were said to have been buried in Mitla in cruciform graves that were directly beneath the flooring, according to a legend passed down to the Spanish. The Spanish further reported the existence of a Zapotec priest who resembled the Catholic Pope. He was known as the vuijatao, or “Great Seer.” People would travel from all across Oaxaca Valley to consult with the vuijatao, seeking prophecies, judicial opinions, and contact with their departed relatives. The vuijatao lived in what is now called the Group of Columns, where the burial chambers for the highest levels of royalty were located. Families would bring their mummified monarchs to be buried among the columns, where the vuijatao could speak with them.
Mitla’s multiethnic past demonstrates that holiness transcends cultural boundaries. What was formerly the residence of the Zapotec patron deities of death and the underworld is now the residence of twenty-one Catholic patron saints. Every year, the procession for Saint Paul begins within the ruins, with the bulk of the town present. Some locations never lose their sacred meaning.
What’s the Latest?
Now in late summer of 2023, we have some solid and scientific answers from Proyecto Lyobaa: Estudio geofisico del subsuelo en Mitla, Oaxaca (Project Lyobaa: Geophysical study of the subsoil at Mitla, Oaxaca). The project is a collaboration among the Mexican National Institute of History and Anthropology (INAH), the National Autonomous University of Mexico (UNAM), and the Association for Archaeological Research and Exploration (ARX Project).
Results from Stage 1 of Project Lyobaa have been released. An archeological team used ground penetrating radar, electrical resistive tomography, and seismic noise tomography for non-intrusive visualization; they combined these results to produce a three-dimensional model of the underground. They discovered extensive rooms and passageways 5 to 8 meters (a bit more in yards) underneath the church of San Pablo, along with evidence of an ancient temple and a giant cavern, right underneath the main altar of the Catholic church.
According to The ARX Project report on the 2022 season of Project Lyobaa,
These findings will help rewrite the history of the origins of Mitla and its development as an ancient site, as well as providing valuable information for the management and prevention of seismic and geological risk in the area.
Stage 2 of Project Lyobaa has already begun; the schedule includes more geophysical scans in other groups of structures. Researchers will work to confirm the existence of further subterranean rooms and passageways, as well as to provide information to mitigate structural risks to the Mitla ruins.
Whenever burial sites like this are rediscovered, uncovered, or tampered with, it opens the imagination to another Hollywood blockbuster. Let’s hope the writers integrate modern Zapotecs and Mixtecs into not just the storyline for accuracy, but as the main actors in the movie.
By Randy Jackson
Concepts of the afterlife have shaped culture and behavior throughout human history, from the building of the Pyramids of Egypt, to the celebration of Día de los Muertos today. Whatever we think the afterlife is “like,” including the materialist concept of no afterlife at all, influences our worldview and how we interact with other people.
From Heaven and Hell to Spiritism
Western thought regarding the afterlife has evolved through time. The concepts of Heaven and Hell did not exist in early Christianity. Christian dogma evolved from the belief in an afterlife of deep sleep until the final judgment at the end of time. Over the centuries Heaven and Hell became eternal rewards or punishments based on the conduct of humans during their time on earth. This concept remained foundational through the centuries. Then in the late 1800’s, a movement that became known as Spiritism (Spiritualism in the U.S.), arose first in Europe and spread throughout the world, particularly among the elite and educated classes. Spiritism held a belief that the afterlife was a continuity of individual consciousness, a concept similar to Eastern religious thought. Spiritism also held the concept that spirits in the afterlife could be communicated with.
One adherent of this view was Francisco Madero, the elected president of Mexico after the downfall of Porfirio Díaz. Madero may have channeled the spirit of Benito Juárez for advice in the early days of the Mexican Revolution.
Madero and the Rise of Spiritism
For a variety of reasons, Spiritism flourished in popularity around the turn of the 20th century. A turn away from the orthodoxy of mainstream religion was a particularly strong cause in the United States. New religions, such as Mormonism and the Seventh Day Adventist Church, were founded in this period, in what is known as the “Second Great Awakening,” a religious revival movement in the U.S. (c. 1795-1835). (The original “Great Awakening” was similar and started in Great Britain, flourishing in the colonies from the 1730s-1770s.)
Another factor that moved western thought towards a different view of the afterlife was the groundbreaking publication in 1859 of “The Origin of Species” by Charles Darwin. The acceptance that life arose on earth through a natural process rather than divine creation was an intellectual paradigm shift that is still reverberating today. Spiritism, fully embracing evolution as a concept, holds that evolution of individual consciousness continues in the afterlife.
The spiritual beliefs of Francisco Madero were consistent with these concepts. Francisco Ignacio Madero González (1873-1913) was from one of the wealthiest Mexican families of the time. He was educated in France and the United States. In the international educated elite circles where Madero moved, the concepts of Spiritism were widely held. The Spiritist held that there were seven hierarchical realms in the afterlife; Spiritism postulated lower “hell-like” realms, up to realms very much like our physical realm, through to higher angelic realms, and ultimately a realm where individual consciousness (the soul) merged with the divine.
This afterlife view of Spiritism, in which individual consciousness can evolve to higher realms, is fundamentally intertwined with the concept of reincarnation. But reincarnation back into our physical realm wasn’t seen as something that happened immediately. Rather, there is time between lives where spirits are believed to exist in the afterlife realm of their evolutionary attainment. This “between lives” period of the afterlife enables mediums to connect to the spirit of the deceased. In the case of Madero’s mediumship, most of his initial contact, he believed, was with his younger brother Raul, who had died at age three.
In 2011 (paperback 2014), C.M. Mayo published Metaphysical Odyssey into the Mexican Revolution: Francisco I. Madero and His Secret Book, Spiritist Manual. In numerous interviews about the work, she makes the point that Madero’s spiritual beliefs are fundamental in understanding the motivations and actions of the person who is credited with initiating the Mexican Revolution.
Madero’s Spiritism and the Mexican Revolution
In 1908, Madero published La sucesión presidencial en 1910, after the long-serving president and dictator, Porfirio Díaz announced in an interview with American journalist James Creelman, that Mexico was ready for democracy and that he would retire in 1910. Díaz subsequently changed his mind, Madero organized the anti-reelection opposition, Díaz had Madero imprisoned, and proceeded to rig the election for yet another term. Madero escaped from prison and while residing in San Antonio, Texas, wrote a manifesto, the “Plan of San Luis Potosí,” considered the founding document of the Mexican Revolution. (Recall that the Mexican Revolution was more of a series of regional conflicts than a clear war; it might have ended in 1917, with the establishment of the Mexican Constitution, but fighting continued on for years.) Madero’s writing led to the overthrow of Porfirio Díaz and Madero’s winning the interim presidential election of 1911.
Historians have given Francisco Madero a couple of significant titles: “Apostle of Democracy” and “Father of the Revolution.” He has been frequently described as having been a decent and honest man. In 2013, Michael Benjamin Amoruso, a doctoral student at the University of Texas in Austin, published a paper for the American Academy of Religion annual meeting, “A Transcendental Mission: Spiritism and the Revolutionary Politics of Francisco I. Madero, 1900-1911.” (The author is now an Assistant Professor of Religious Studies at Occidental University in Los Angeles). Amoruso argued that Madero “understood his political action as the earthly component of spiritual struggle.” Madero expresses a
prescriptive Spiritist vision, in which democracy represents a triumph of human’s “higher nature” over the “base, selfish passions” of Porfirio Díaz and his regime.
In his memoir, Madero wrote that beings in the afterlife instructed him in moral and spiritual matters. The political documents that launched the ousting of Porfirio Díaz were likely channeled from a source noted by Madero as “Jose.” Other journals from his channeled works were noted as being from “BJ,” considered by some to be Benito Juárez, the president of Mexico who preceded Porfirio Díaz.
Madero’s beliefs and practices of Spiritism were not a secret in Mexican society of the time. There were cartoons in Mexico City newspapers lampooning the president performing seances; the press described Madero as a “loco que se comunicaba con los muertos” (a madman who talks with the dead). In 1913, a segment of the army rebelled against Madero, and General Victoriano Huerta joined them. Huerta had risen to General under Porfirio Díaz, and Madero apparently did not completely trust him but felt he needed him.
The rebellion resulted in a coup d’etat – aided by the U.S. – against Madero; Huerta had Madero and his Vice-President, José María Pino Suárez, murdered in an alley within the week. Madero was 39; Suárez 44. The New York weekly newspaper The Sun trumpeted huge headlines: “MADERO AND SUAREZ SHOT DEAD ON WAY TO PRISON.” Madero’s overthrow and execution seemed to have nothing to do with his beliefs in the evolution of individuals across lifetimes towards a selfless growth in divine love. His fate was rather a raw power grab by Huerta.
I can’t imagine that Madero and Huerta ended up in the same realm in anyone’s version of the afterlife.
By Julie Etra
We are stardust, we are golden
We are billion-year-old carbon
And we got to get ourselves
Back to the garden.
― Joni Mitchell, chorus to the song “Woodstock” (1969)
We are stardust brought to life, then empowered by the universe
to figure itself out—and we have only just begun.”
― Neil deGrasse Tyson, Astrophysics for People in a Hurry (2017)
It is totally 100% true: nearly all the elements in the human body
were made in a star and many have come through several supernovas.
― Ashley J. King, Ph.D., planetary scientist at the Museum of Natural History, London
Most of the elements of our bodies were formed in stars over the course of billions of years and multiple star lifetimes. It’s even possible that some of our hydrogen (which makes up roughly 9.5% of our bodies) and lithium, which our body contains in very tiny trace amounts (sorry, Elon, not cost effective), originated from the Big Bang. All this may be hard for some people to accept, the fact that we consist of elements of recycled stars. As visitors to or residents of Mexico, how do Mexicans think of this?
What did pre-Hispanic cultures think about the stars?
Numerous ancient (and not so ancient) cultures looked to the sky with wonder and perhaps puzzlement; the sky of course was the source of many origin stories: gods, goddesses, legends about the stars, what or who they were, and what they represented. In many ancient cultures, people believed that gods dwelt outside the realm of human experience, and that temples bridged the gap between the human and the divine, expediting access to their deities. This was true in Mexico, particularly among the Aztecs. In their architectural design, they mimicked what happened during the creation of the world as they knew it.
The Mayans had a sophisticated sacred calendar based on the stars. Days and months were represented by small glyphs (“the specific shape, design, or representation of a character”) and drawings. Chichen Itza, one of the most famous Mayan communities, included an observatory perfectly oriented towards the stars, the planets, and the cosmos. They believed that the history of their people was cyclical and was repeated according to the position of the stars in the sky. The 260-day calendar sacred to the Maya was governed by the path of Venus.
In the Aztec civilization, centered around the capital of Tenochtitlan (present-day Mexico City), three basic types of pyramids existed: the Twin Stair Pyramid, the Single Stair Pyramid, and the Round Pyramid. Twin and Single Stair Pyramids were four-sided constructions with a single or double staircase on one side. This staircase always faced west, which the Aztecs believed was the place where the sun descended into the underworld. These pyramids comprised four main platforms and a final fifth level containing one or two temples.
The temples were set back from the stairs and impossible to see from ground level, creating an illusion that the temples resided in the heavens. They were enormous in order to be as close as possible to the gods residing in the heavens. The Nahua people, who included the Aztecs, Chichimecas, and Toltecs, believed that the heavens had13 levels, usually called topan (“above us” or “the beyond”), with one to many gods living on any given level.
Closer to home (Huatulco)
The Zapotec culture’s preeminent population, agricultural, and religious center, Monte Alban, located in the Central Valleys on the outskirts of present-day Oaxaca City, was inhabited between 500 B.C.E. and approximately 900 C.E., when it was abandoned. At an elevation of 1940 m (6400 ft) above mean sea level, Monte Alban rises 400 m (1300 ft) from the valley floor. It was one of the first urban centers established in Mesoamerica. In the pre-Hispanic era, the three valleys were settled due to the rich soil and numerous productive rivers and intermittent drainages descending from the mountains. The valleys and eventually the flanks of the man-made plateau of Monte Alban were cultivated to support the growing population. Eventually, an estimated peak population of 35,000 resided among the temples, residences, and ballcourts.
Last winter, we learned from our elderly and sage local guide, Nezahualcóyotl (named after the scholar/poet/engineer who appears on the 100-peso bill), there was also a medical facility. Nezahualcóyotl referred me to some supporting documentation that postulated that the figures known as the danzantes (dancers) were in fact patients at a clinic, and their antic postures represented various maladies.
The ancient city was built on a site conducive to observing the celestial heavens, innately tied to the culture, since agriculture and other activities of daily life depended on the study and understanding of the stars. In Oani Báa, (Zapotec for Monte Alban), one of the first buildings to be built in the main square was Building I, a Mesoamerican observatory, erected to follow the movement of the stars, the moon, and the sun. The majority of the temples faced east or west, aligning with the sun’s path. The entire city was itself a great astronomical observatory, and for about1400 years the population observed the constellations and planets and perfected their calendars.
The Zapotecs, particularly the priests or shamans, were aware of alternative “realities,” discovered through the consumption of hallucinogenic drugs, particularly mushrooms, that allowed for communication with the gods. They were purported to practice “astral travel” and to be able to predict the future. The first time my husband and I visited the ruins in 2007, our guide explained (or hypothesized?) that priests would demonstrate their superhuman powers to the masses by disappearing through one of the underground tunnels and emerging on the opposite side of the temple. This would support the Zapotec belief that the sun, after hiding in the west, passed through the interior of the Earth and came out in the east, and thus the priests were able to follow or accompany the sun. (I have read several references to this “spectacle,” and if true it would have helped ensure the commoner’s awe of, and respect for, the ruling religious class.)
Around 1325 CE, the Mixtecs, coming from the north, invaded the valley of Oaxaca and re-occupied the site, along with the city of Mitla to the east.
Off topic, but interesting, the current conditions in the Central Valleys do not even vaguely resemble what it looked like in pre-Hispanic or post-Conquest/colonial time. Today the valley is somewhat denuded, and prominently marked by erosion; there are large stands of agave (mezcal or tequila, anyone?) and numerous large greenhouses.
When the Zapotec civilization emerged, although the climate was semi-arid as it is today, oak and pine woodlands covered the surrounding mountains (now decimated by logging). During the dry season from November until May, cultivation continued along the rivers, employing sophisticated systems of irrigation canals. It was through these systems, connecting to small streams, that water was provided to Monte Alban; archaeologists have found remains of a small irrigation system consisting of a dam and a canal on the south-eastern flank of the mountain. As there were no domesticated beasts of burden at that time, water and other supplies were most likely carried on the backs of peasants from the flanks of the mountain up to the city.
A little about the Zapotec inframundo (underworld)
A recent archaeological discovery about the underworld has been made in Mitla, a Zapotec religious center located east and south of present-day Oaxaca City (see Brooke O’Connor’s article elsewhere in this issue). A consortium of researchers discovered an extensive labyrinth beneath a colonial Catholic church – the temple of Lyobaa (Zapotec for “place of rest”). This ancient underground site is thought to be what the Zapotecs knew as the entrance to the underworld.
The ARX Project, a member of the research consortium, issued a report on the first year of investigation (2022); the report contains a description written by Francisco de Burgoa, a Dominican historian, at the time the church was built atop the Mitla ruins, noting that the site was
a vast subterranean temple consisting of four interconnected chambers, containing the tombs of the high priests and the kings of Teozapotlán. From the last subterranean chamber, a stone door led into a deep cavern extending thirty leagues below ground. This cavern was intersected by other passages like streets, its roof supported by pillars.
Although it was sealed off by Spanish missionaries centuries ago as part of the conquest and efforts to eliminate perceived pagan practices, rumors of its existence persisted for centuries. Recent high-tech methods were used to re-discover this archaeologically significant site.
An ancient legend of the stars
Finally, as a bittersweet ending, I have translated a Zapotec legend about the stars and cosmos, El Principe y la Estrella (The Prince and the Star). The original appears on the website Mexican Myths and Legends maintained by anthropologist Sonia Iglesias of the Mexican government’s General Directorate of Popular, Indigenous, and Urban Cultures (https://www.mitos-mexicanos.com/tag/xtagabne).
In the pre-Hispanic times of the Zapotec kingdom, there lived a warrior prince who was known for being very handsome and brave. His fame was not only known on Earth but also in Heaven. Alba (Dawn) learned of the extraordinary princely feats and related them to the daughters of the Lord of Heaven, who were actually stars.
The most beautiful of the goddess-daughter-stars fell madly in love with the warrior prince and descended to Earth, sitting patiently next to the river that flowed through Juchitán, waiting for the handsome young man to pass by. He arrived at the place where the star was waiting, and captivated by her beauty, immediately fell in love with her. Without thinking twice, he took her into his arms and swept her away to the royal residence.
Upon realizing the absence of one of his daughters, Heaven became very sad, the sky darkened, and the gray clouds rained tears. The divinities of Heaven, the stars, wanted at all costs to prevent their sister-star from marrying a mere mortal, no matter how brave he was, and they met to develop a plan to prevent the perceived disastrous romance. And so continues the story of the origin of the beautiful xtaga be’nye, the water lily.
The wedding between the goddess-star and the prince was held with many accompanying grand celebrations. One of the stars transformed herself into a breeze, descending to the earth and attending one of the celebrations. Stealthily, she entered the bedroom intended for the newlyweds. Once inside, she abandoned her disguise and turned to the now-married goddess-star to relay to her what her father, the Lord of Heaven, had decided: Sister Star, because of what you have done, our father, Heaven, has decided that you will remain forever on Earth and become a flower that will float on the waters of the lagoon. Your petals will remain closed during the day so that humans cannot see you, but at night they will open so that you can receive a visit from your sisters, the stars!
The star goddess then disappeared with her sister star, and no one would see her again. Moments later, a blackish green flower with a beautiful, slender stem appeared in the Chivele lagoon, which people began to call mudubina (Zapotec for water lily).
The prince, upon realizing the disappearance of his wife, began going crazy with grief. His father, seeing him so desperate, summoned his vinnigenda, travelers from all the winds, to go look for the missing goddess-star. Despite the Zapotec Lord being extremely powerful, he could do nothing against the power of the Lord of Heaven. One of the oldest vinnigendas told the Zapotec Lord that it was not possible to defeat Heaven. Then the old vinnigenda, seeing the suffering of the young warrior, turned him into a flower as well. This new flower was named xtaga be’nye, the water lily (nenúfar in Spanish).
Thus, the two lovers were able to meet. The mudubina with its beautiful petals open only at night and with a red heart from the fire of her love, and the xtaga be’nye that lives by day and shows its yellow heart full of melancholy. They could never see each other, but perhaps one day, the Lord of Heaven will take pity on the lovers so that they can love each other again face to face, forever and ever.
Postscript for the botanically inclined. The plants have male and female parts making them “perfect.” When the flowers first open, the female parts dominate, and nectar pools in their centers. On the second and third day, the flowers produce pollen, the male parts. The Zapotecs gave the flower two different names depending on the flowering stage.
For an interesting read, check out this link:
By Deborah Van Hoewyk
Who Is She?
Santa Muerte – Saint, or Holy, Death – is all about death. She IS death, or maybe escaping death. The explanations of how Santa Muerte came to be, what she does, and who is devoted to her worship vary widely. Wielding a scythe, carrying a globe or an hour glass or the scales of justice, and accompanied by an owl, Santa Muerte makes a lot of people nervous.
She isn’t supposed be a particular person, with a beatified life, but those interested in the syncretism of indigenous and Catholic religion think she might be, or that she goes back to the Aztecs. She has nothing to do with Día de los Muertos, although lately, she’s been showing up at the celebrations. She started out male and became female. Her cult is condemned by the Catholic Church, but it’s the fastest-growing religion in Mexico, the US, and Canada; in 2017, the number of worshippers was estimated at 10 to 12 million, and the number “exploded” during the pandemic. (“Cult,” when used in the religious sense, is not a negative, it simply means an unrecognized religious group.)
Is she the “complex, multifaceted folk spirit” described by Rebecca M. Bender, Associate Professor of Spanish literature and culture at Kansas State University? Or is she the narco-saint, a “strange hybrid of the Virgin Mary and the grim reaper” profiled by independent journalist Jake Flanigan in The Atlantic? Did she protect people from COVID-19, or, as the angel of death, send them straight to their graves?
Where Did She Come From?
Anyone who has toured an ancient ruin in Mexico knows that death was an overarching theme – human sacrifice, dead warriors, tombs, maybe even the winning team in a ball game – the stories are painted and carved throughout.
While the cult of Santa Muerte emerged in the mid-20th-century, and had mostly stayed out of sight until the 1990s, some anthropologists and archaeologists see its ancestry among the Aztecs. As noted in articles elsewhere in this issue, the Aztecs (in Oaxaca, the Zapotecs and Mixtecs) had an elaborate construction of life after death, including a 13-level heaven and a 9-level underworld. The god of death, Mictlāntēcutli, together with his consort Mictēcacihuātl, ruled Mictlān, the lowest level of the underworld.
The goddess Mictēcacihuātl is immortal and a shapeshifter – she can change her appearance at will, from benevolent to monstrous. Her charge is to guard the skeletons of the dead and govern the festivals honoring the dead; there is a direct line from Mictēcacihuātl to Día de los Muertos. Over time, Mictēcacihuātl gradually became the personification of death itself, as well as the agent through whom the preserved bones of the dead provided the source of life for the next world – unlike their Christian conquerors, the Aztecs believed death was part of an endless cycle of life. Mictēcacihuātl thus develops a dual identity, associated with both death and life, which becomes healing – much like Santa Muerte. Aztecs appealed to her to promote their health and delay their deaths; the pair of them is shown overseeing scenes of sex, fertility, pregnancy and birth.
There are also those who argue that Santa Muerte derives from a 17th-century figure, Doña Sebastiana de Caso y Paredes, who was the niece of a sainted “virgin penitent” in Ecuador, St. Mariana de Jesus of Quito (a virgin penitent consecrates her life to God, lives usually with her family, and refrains from relations with men).
Robert Nixon, a Benedictine friar from London, based his recent book, The Venerable Doña Sebastiana de Caso: the Original Santa Muerte (2022) on the work of Jacinto Morán de Butrón, a 17th-century Ecuadorian historian. According to Morán and Nixon, Sebastiana’s father tried to force her into marriage, but she prayed to Death to rescue her; apparently Death responded, as Sebastiana contracted a fever and died. People began to venerate Sebastiana, who was born on August 15, the feast day of Santa Muerte; a society known as La congregación de la buena muerte sprang up in her honor.
What Happened Next?
The Spanish Catholic conquerors were having none of the worship of death, the multitudinous native gods and goddesses – if they couldn’t co-opt a ritual or belief, they suppressed it. Santa Muerte went underground. While this has led some to believe that Santa Muerte is a modern phenomenon, academic anthropologists use the theory of “bricolage” to explain the evolution of Santa Muerte (nowadays, they’re more likely to use the more dignified term “syncretism”). Either way, it describes the blending of disparate cultural practices into something new.
Defined in 1960 by the French anthropologist Claude Levi-Strauss, bricolage comes from the French word bricoler, or “tinker around.” Generally, you tinker around with unrelated bits and pieces of this and that (bric-a-brac) until you’ve combined them into something new and meaningful to you. “Meaning” is not fixed forever, but depends on your understanding of the bric-a-brac you’ve assembled. For example, when the Spanish arrived, they brought images of the Grim Reaper to “explain” death to the “natives.” ¡¡Listo!! Santa Muerte now carries a scythe.
Before the Spanish arrived, Mictēcacihuātl was the patron of a month (August) of celebrations of the dead. The Spanish arranged to have the Catholic Church exorcize Mictēcacihuātl, since she was obviously inflicting the power of Satan on her believers; they cut the commemorations to two days and moved them to coincide with All Saints’ Day and All Souls’ Day (November 1-2), which we now know as the Days of the Dead (the first day for children who have died, the second for adults).
There is, however, no doubt that Santa Muerte went underground in the colonial period – failure to adopt Christianity precisely as the Spaniards ordered was a major cause of death at the time. Veneration of Santa Muerte continued under cover, though; records of the Spanish Inquisition (a joint state-church effort to “purify” Spanish Catholicism, 1478-1834 in Spain, 1571-1820 in Mexico) report Santa Muerte worship in Guanajuato in 1797. The Chichimeca
at night gather in their chapel to drink peyote until they lose their minds; they light upside-down candles, some of which are black; they dance with paper dolls; they whip Holy Crosses and also a figure of death that they call Santa Muerte, and they bind it with a wet rope threatening to whip and burn it if it does not perform a miracle.
In 1793, the Inquisition reported that indigenous people of what is now Querétaro worshipped – on the altar during mass, no less – “the figure of a complete human skeleton standing on top of a red surface, wearing a crown and holding a bow and arrow.”
What with the War of Independence (1810-21), the Mexican-American War (1846-48), and the Mexican Revolution (1910-21), not to mention minor conflicts and political contretemps, Mexico was very busy for quite a while. Santa Muerte continued to stay underground.
The 20th Century: Santa Muerte Returns
From the 1940s to the 1960s, anthropologists described Santa Muerte as a saint who could guide matters of the heart, a saint of love. By the 1980s, however, Santa Muerte had a wide repertoire of influence. She was soon appealed to for help with (or hindrance of) issues involved in education, business, legal affairs – pretty much the spectrum of modern life. She is the preferred saint of marginalized people, the destitute and desperate, those who feel are in danger because of who they are (based on their professions, private lives, or sexuality).
You can get an idea of Santa Muerte’s versatility from Devoted to Death: Santa Muerte, the Skeleton Saint, by R. Andrew Chesnut, Ph.D., professor of religion at Virginia Commonwealth University (2017 [2 ed]). The first book focused completely on Santa Muerte, Devoted to Death covers her history, her adoption of elements of Catholicism – the whole gamut. Chesnut explains her powers with seven chapters, each covering one of the colors of Santa Muerte’s votive candles.
Red is the most popular single color, and accompanies petitions concerning passion and love. White represents purity and protection, while black is for black magic, and offers support for the “black” activities involved in narcotrafficking. Gold is for financial gain and overall prosperity, and purple represents miraculous healing. Brown is for learning and wisdom, and green offers advocacy to all followers for all reasons, no questions asked. There is also the best-selling seven-color candle, calling on all of Santa Muerte’s powers.
Santa Muerte has kept up with the times, always open to providing new protections on the one hand, and new persecutions on the other hand. Perhaps the most interesting area to adopt Santa Muerte as its saint is narcotrafficking. This is the “black” part of Santa Muerte, and has given rise to her identity as the patron saint of the drug cartels. Santa Muerte can protect you from the narcos and kidnappers, or help the narcos wreak vengeance on their enemies and the kidnappers succeed in capturing their targets.
Even though the black candle apparently sells poorly, statues of Santa Muerte and black candles have been found at sites where narco violence has occurred. When DEA and Mexican police raid drug safe houses, they find altars to Santa Muerte.
Chesnut deplores the concentration on the “black,” violent, and amoral aspects of Santa Muerte the media seem to promote, and says “Most American and Mexican nonbelievers … have little idea that the Skinny Lady [one of her many names] heals sickness, finds employment, and helps alcoholics and drug addicts in their struggles for sobriety.”
The Future for Santa Muerte?
The Catholic Church is generally opposed to “folk saints” – those who, like Santa Muerte, arise from grass-roots veneration. The cult of Santa Muerte particularly offends the Catholic Church – in 2016, Pope Francis called it “satanic,” and explicitly linked it to narcotrafficking. In both the US and Mexico, the church issues warnings against the growing popularity of including Santa Muerte in the second (adult) Day of the Dead celebrations.
Notwithstanding Church opposition, adherents to Santa Muerte are often Christian, if not Catholic. They have no trouble believing in Jesus Christ, or the Trinity, or the Virgin Mary, but Santa Muerte seems to offer a more efficient way to get your prayers answered, regardless of who you are. Moreover, COVID-19 greatly increased the numbers of people, Mexicans especially, who appealed to Santa Muerte to protect them from “the plague.”
Given that life in Mexico can be, depending on where you are, increasingly insecure and violent, that Mexican politics continue to be unstable, corruption remains rampant, and narcotics have thoroughly infiltrated business and government, the need for a saint who can guarantee your safety, encourage your love life, and promote your health and wellbeing, can only grow.
Huatulco Direct Flight Schedule 2023-2024
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- Oct 29, 2023 – Nov 5, 2023- Saturday and Sunday
- Nov 6, 2023 – Dec 17, 2023- Thursday, Saturday and Sunday
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- Apr 29, 2024 – May 5, 2024- Mondays
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- Dec 24, 2023 – Apr 14, 2024- Sundays
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- Nov 5, 2023 – Dec 17, 2023- Sundays
- Dec 19, 2023 – April 28, 2024- Tuesday and Sunday
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- Dec 8, 2023- March 31, 2024- Monday, Wednesday, Friday and Sunday
- April 1, 2024- May 4, 2024- Wednesday and Saturday
From Chicago with Volaris– use a google search to find this flight as it was not appearing on the Volaris website and is operated by Apple Vacations
- January- March – Saturdays
- Aeromexico- Daily 7:40am, 12:25pm. 3:20pm
- Volaris- Daily 6:45am, 3:25pm
- Viva Aerobus- Mondays and Sundays
- Volaris- Sunday and Thursday
- Volaris- Sunday and Thursday
- Aerotucan- Daily 9am
By Jane Bauer
Researchers believe that taste memories can be among the strongest one can have based on a principle called “conditioned taste aversion,” a survival tactic that helps one remember if something was eaten previously and was either poisonous or caused illness. This principle states that this memory biologically helps to prevent one from repeating the mistake in the future when this food is encountered.
-from the article Food and Memory by Joy Intriago
I love when something is so unexpectedly delicious that it imprints on me, creating a food memory that I will remember for years to come. It isn’t usually exotic foods, but an oddly delightful and unexpected pairing that causes my taste buds to perk up. Over 25 years ago in Brighton, UK, at a vegetarian restaurant, after watching The Wedding Singer at a movie theater, I had a combination of beet, cucumber, dill, something creamy and something crispy… maybe a piece of fried wonton. I have tried to recreate this perfect combination but have never managed to hit the same balance of yum.
About 13 years ago, on a chilly May evening, I had dinner in Montreal with my aunt and uncle at Laloux, a French restaurant. I had a combination of foie gras and apple that has made every time I have eaten foie gras since, feel like something is missing.
When I miss my father I can taste the pancakes with ham and maple syrup that he made for me on Sunday mornings. The beauty of a food memory is that you don’t just remember the taste but all the details of the moment get frozen and saved.
Last month I went to Mazunte for a 3-day silent meditation retreat. I was feeling a little dubious about going as I lived in Mazunte for a couple of years when I first moved here in the late 90s. Back then it was a dirt road village with a few palapas on the beach, one Italian restaurant and electricity in only a few parts of the village. Each time I have been recently I felt annoyed by its growth, and I felt even more annoyed with myself, for being that kind of person. Change happens, places grow, some evolve and some just get bigger.
Upon arrival for my retreat I was told that the retreat actually started the following day so I was left to my own devices for dinner. I wandered into the village. Stopped and visited the family that welcomed me into their fold twenty-five years ago and set off to find dinner. Outside the restaurant La Cuisine a blackboard displayed the evening’s specials and one was Tortellini de Conejo con Salsa de Zanahoria y Parmesano (rabbit tortellini with carrot and parmesan sauce). My mouth watered just thinking about it. It did not disappoint. Large tortellini with ground rabbit and a hint of fennel seed… I think, I tried to decipher each bite. The carrot and parmesan sauce was the perfect complement and I liked the cleverness of serving carrots with rabbit.
I had to admit, progress has its advantages in bringing new ingredients and chefs with different techniques. And it’s not new, it’s always been this way. Change is the only constant.
By Julie Etra
While there are chilies – some of them (in)famous for their heat – from around the world, like the medium hot Hatch chilies from New Mexico, or hot Thai chilies, or even hotter Scotch Bonnets, this article focuses on the chilies of Mexico. Note, both spellings are acceptable: chili and chile.
The common name “chili” is from the Náhuatl word chilli. Chilies have been cultivated in Mexico for over 6,000 years. Although their precise origin is unclear, they no doubt come from Latin America. The Nahua (Aztecs) had various uses for the fruit besides consumption, including using the smoke to punish children or to combat military enemies; the smoke from charred chiles caused extreme eye irritation (anyone who has chopped a fresh or roasted high-Scoville-unit chili and then rubbed their eyes knows this firsthand).
Taxonomy and Biology
Chilies are in the genus Capsicum, derived from a Greek word meaning “capsule” (botanically speaking, that is incorrect since the fruit is a berry). They are in the nightshade family (Solanaceae), along with tomatoes and potatoes. Capsicum consists of 20–27 species, five of which are widely cultivated, with C. annuum being the most important. C. annuum includes chili de arbol, jalapeño and poblano, and others such as the domesticated sweet orange, red, and yellow bell peppers, Which are mature versions of the green bell pepper and not considered chilies.
The other four widely used chilies are C. baccatum (the domesticated ají pepper found in many South American countries), C. chinense (habanero chilies), C. frutescens (the Tabasco chili), and C. pubescens (the Mexican manzano, Bolivian locoto, and Peruvian rocoto). Many specific Mexican chilies have Náhuatl language equivalents (tlalchilli = chili de arbol).
Chilies found today have been bred from their wild ancestors, most likely the chiltepin or similar small but picante chilies that are found everywhere, since birds are one of the vectors and spread the seed with their waste. The chiltepin or pequin (or piquin) chilies that sometimes appear in the wild in Huatulco are consumed by the chachalacas (loud partridge-like birds with a red eye – chachalaca means chatty, which they are!). I have quit trying to cultivate these chilies, hoping to cut down on the chacalaca conversations in my yard! Wild chilies are pollinated by honeybees, bumblebees, other species of bees, and ants (and no doubt other insects).
What is the best way to describe chilies? Should we classify chilies by their heat? Fresh versus dried? By region? By size? By preparation?
CONABIO, Mexico’s National Commission for the Knowledge and Use of Biodiversity, puts out a fabulous poster of Mexican chilies with the slogan “Si no le pusiste chile, no esperes que te sepa.” This is the short version of a quote from David Alonso López, a graduate of the International Gastronomy program at the Universidad Mexicana: “Si no le pusiste chile, no esperes que te sepa la comida, aunque hay de picantes a picantes”: “If you didn’t add chilies, don’t expect you know our food [culture], although there’s hot and then there’s really hot.”
Chiles are often categorized by their heat or level of picante (spiciness), measured in Scoville units. For example, the habanero pica (bites), so it rates as very hot at 350,000 Scoville units, while the proletariat poblano, typically associated with the chili relleno, is considered mild at 1000-2000 units. (This might not always be the case with individual peppers, since chilies cross pollinate and hybridize.)
How to Use Mexican Chilies
Chilies can be used fresh or raw in salsas (immature/green; mature/red). They can be smoked, pickled (as in escabeche, that dish of pickled chilies, carrots, etc. that appears on many restaurant tables), or roasted. I like to roast poblanos, chop them up and add them to a batch of pinto or black beans, along with other ingredients, of course. Roasting usually adds heat; a roasted serrano is hotter than its fresh form. Typically, when chilies are roasted, the seed and the membranes are removed.
Dried chilies can be used in many ways; the red chili de arbol flakes are often served with pizza; chilies can be dried and ground into powders; whole dried chilies can be reconstituted by soaking in vinegar or water for use in salsa, e.g., guajillo salsa.
Poblano chilies can be stuffed (chili relleno; relleno = “filled”), not just with cheese but with almost anything. The poblanos first need to be roasted to char and remove the skin, which is hard to digest.
My favorite relleno is the very complicated chilies en nogada – chilies in walnut cream sauce, stuffed with meat and fruit and garnished with the sauce, pomegranate seeds, and parsley, the colors of the red, white, and green Mexican flag. The dish originated in the city of Puebla, where the struggle for Mexican independence began. It is said to have been prepared for Emperor Augustín de Iturbide (first president and then emperor after the war of independence – a long story for another time). It is a source of pride for the inhabitants of the state of Puebla; people from Puebla are known as “poblanos,” although that really means “people of the pueblo/town,” and not people of the pepper! You can order this exquisite dish at Campestre Santa Clara in La Crucecita.
Here’s a list of the varieties of chilies mostly commonly available in Huatulco, in fresh, dried, or smoked form, along with a few unusual chilies you might look for. The most popular are available in the supermarkets, but you’ll have better luck checking out the baskets at the produce markets and the Organic Market held on Saturdays in Santa Cruz (Mercado Orgánico de Huatulco – MOH). The Saturday schedule varies by the season.
The bola chili comes from Coahuila, Durango, Guerrero, Jalisco, and Veracruz. When it is dried, it is called cascabel. It’s used in salsas and “jams” (paste form), and has a nutty flavor.
The chawa chili grows in the Yucatán, and is used fresh (green) in salsas or pickled in escabeche.
The chilaca chili is from the state of Chihuahua, and is used green or red. A dried chilaca is called pasilla. Use chilacas in stews or roast them with cheese.
Chile verde del norte is similar to the anaheim chili or perhaps the Hatch chilies; green is spicier than red, which can be almost sweet. If it is dried while green, it is called chile seco del norte; if red, chile colorado. It can be used for chilies rellenos, in stews, soups (especially posole, the broth made with pork, hominy, and chilies, plus all the chopped toppings you want), and marinades and sauces.
Chile de arbol grows everywhere, is used fresh, either green or red, and dried, usually ground (molido). It’s picante – hot – and is used in everything.
Chile chicuarote (sometimes criollo) comes from the Valley of Mexico, and is grown in the San Gregorio Atlapulco neighborhood of Xochimilco, the floating gardens south of Mexico City. It is used fresh (green/red) or dried in salsas and moles. It’s also the title of a 2020 film directed by Gael García Bernal that portrays two young chicuarotes – the informal name for Xochimilco residents, meaning “pretty spicy” – who go from unsuccessful clowning to armed robbery while riding public transportation.
Chile chilhuacle is a rare chili that grows in Oaxaca, and is used dried. Considered essential in mole negro.
Chile costeño is also from Oaxaca, also used dried in moles and salsas. It adds a fruity flavor.
The chile loco comes from Puebla and is available in the rainy season. It used fresh or dried in salsas, pastes, or roasted and sliced. Picante.
The rare chile tuxta or tusta is from Oaxaca. It is dried and used in traditional recipes.
The small Chiltepin chilies grow throughout Mexico and are used fresh in salsas and aguachile (chili-water), a shrimp dish from northwestern Mexico like ceviche but without the marinating time that “cooks” the fish. Picante.
Güero chilis (güero = blond) are basically the same as banana peppers. They are grown in northern Mexico and used fresh in yellow mole, salsas, and escabeche.
Jalapeño chilies are available everywhere. When jalapeños are smoked, they are called chipotle; the canned version is called chipotles en adobo (sauce). Because it is smoked for less time, the morita chili is a milder type of chipotle. Jalapeños have many fresh uses (salsas, pickled for escabeche), while chipotles are used in stews and moles, among other dishes.
Manzana chilies come from the state of Michoacán in the Central Mexican Valley. They can be roasted or grilled, and are often used in salsas.
The mirasol chili grows upright – its name means “look at the sun.” Mirasol chilies come from the central Mexican altiplano (plateau). The dried form is called guajillo, a mild, sweetish pepper that adds rich flavor to moles, salsas, and stews.
Pequin chilies come largely from Coahuila and are used dry, mostly in salsas. Of course, the supermarkets all carry shaker bottles of “chili piquin,” sometimes with lime, which is great for sprinkling atop corn, eggs, avocado toast, and tropical fruit.
Poblano chilies are grown, predominantly in the state of Puebla, but are available everywhere; once the fresh poblanos are roasted, they can be stuffed (see above – delicious for chiles en nogada). Smoked poblanos are called ancho chilies, and good in bean dishes and stews. Serrano chilies are widely grown and available across Mexico. They are used fresh, both green and red, especially for salsa. Dried, they’re called chile seco. For more information and fun, check out these sites.
Lila Downs’ fabulous tribute to the chili, Son del Chile Frito. http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=_U1ZuI5rw3U.
- Conabio Poster: https://en.ihuitl.com/fullscreen-page/comp-jlojikxq/8c30da01-6084-4b6d-888b-80ebaafe6435/20.
- Scoville Chart: http://www.titlemax.com/discovery-center/lifestyle/peppers-ranked-by-scoville-heat-units/.
- On bola chilies: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=9zs-hZ22iyM
- On loca and poblano chilies: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=7JUdreyC-XU
- On the chicuarote chili: http://www.mexiconewsdaily.com/culture/cdmx-pueblo-chile-chicuarote/?utm_source=jeeng&utm_medium=email&trigger=click.
By Carole Reedy
Recent changes in the nation’s capital reflect the adventurous and innovative character of this grand city. Previously called DF (Distrito Federal), our village of more than 20 million inhabitants is now called Cuidad de Mexico (CDMX), an effort to exercise more political autonomy.
With Covid restrictions lifted, the city has experienced an explosion of visitors, foreigners and nationals alike seeking residency here. Many come for jobs that are unavailable in rural areas. Foreigners are retiring here due to the lower cost of living and quality of life. And in today’s work-from-home environment, CDMX allows individuals to live and work from an apartment or hotel in a vibrant cultural city for a fraction of the cost of London, New York, Boston, or Copenhagen.
The reasons for the popularity of the city are diverse. Mexico City is rated sixth in the list of best cities by Travel and Leisure Magazine. However, with good news comes an eye-opening reality: Mexico City is now the second most expensive city in Latin America…and the 21st most expensive in the world.
The peso is one of the strongest, if not the strongest, currencies worldwide as of this writing, which is as always advantageous to some and not to others.
Just as in most major world cities, rental costs are up and so are many restaurant prices. Inflation has been rampant, but appears to be slowing. Let’s take a second look at some of our favorites eateries as well as some new choices.
Rosetta, 166 Colima, Roma Norte.
Undoubtedly one of the most popular spots in the city, due mainly to the recognition given to its chef, Elena Reygadas, named best female chef in the world 2023. Rosetta now claims the 50th spot on The World’s 50 Best Restaurants, according to a panel of 1,080 culinary experts. Among my friends, it is the restaurant most requested during repeat visits.
At a recent lunch our group enjoyed the most popular item on the menu–the salt-encrusted sea bass. I always have the risotto, this time with beet, radish, and cheese from Chiapas (you can never go wrong with the risotto, prepared in a different manner on each visit).
Prices do not appear to have risen much, although to me a glass of wine always seems proportionally out of touch with reality! This is true in almost all restaurants these days, where you can often order a margarita or other cocktail for a more reasonable price. Main dishes are fairly priced, but appetizers, desserts, and bottles of wine will quickly fatten your final bill.
Quintonil, 55 Newton, Polanco
Breaking into the Top 10 at number nine on the Best Restaurants list this year, chefs Jorge Vallejo and Alejandra Flores prove once again that fresh ingredients are the secret to success. They have appeared on the Best Restaurant list since 2015.
Here you’ll find an a la carte as well as a tasting menu, which is offered at a fixed price. The cost of the tasting menu is 4,500 pesos per person, and 6,825 pesos for the beverage pairing option (a popular choice). You’ll find all kinds of exotic items on the menu among expected favorites: Grilled avocado tartare with escamoles, a ceviche of vegetables in smoked cactus, Crottin cheese with pico de gallo and chili oil, Chicatana ant chorizo; santanero beans from Oaxaca and candied onions; red sauce with jumiles and epazote.
The restaurant was redesigned in 2020, the year the pandemic started and thus the ruin of many an eatery. Fortunately, the restaurants mentioned here were able to ride out the storm. Just blocks always from Quintonil you will find another of the most recognized restaurants in the world…
Pujol, 133 Tennyson, Polanco
Pujol has collected so many accolades it is difficult to find something new to highlight. Its founder and chef Enrique Olivera is world famous, full stop.
Olvera founded Pujol in 2000 with the goal of providing unique experiences in Mexican gastronomy using techniques from across the country. After starting out with just three waiters and three chefs in the kitchen, Pujol now appears on the Best Restaurants list year after year, and his restaurant Cosme in New York City receives accolades too. According to Larousse Cocina, Olivera is considered one of the Ten International Figures of the Gastronomic Industry by Starchefs.com.
What can you expect from Pujol? The outstanding mole negro from Oaxaca. “The mole we make is black mole from Oaxaca,” the chef tells us. “It has 100 ingredients: tomatoes, some nuts, herbs, nutmeg, and seasonal fruits.” It is best served with a corn tortilla and hoja santa. The secret is in the reheating of the mole over 2000 days.
Clients also seem to like the emphasis on Mexican spices and corn products used during the marathon tasting menu. Unusual cocktails are also served, many incorporating the very popular Mexican mezcal, which seems to have replaced tequila as the favorite drink of the country. No doubt about it, the price tag is high, but people from the US, Canada, and Europe don’t find the prices as daunting as we who live in Mexico. The tasting menu at Pujol is 2,565 pesos per person. There is no beverage pairing option as of this writing.
Your visits to the capital are not limited to the central colonias of Mexico City: Roma Centro, Condesa and Polanco. A trip further south to Coyoacan and San Angel is a must for all visitors. Here are the former homes of Frida Khalo and Diego Rivera, as well as the fascinating view of the life of Leon Trotsky in his humble home just blocks away from Frida’s Blue House.
Oxa Cocina Única in the Bazar Sábado, Plaza San Jacinto, San Ángel
Charming ambiance, excellent service, and a variety of dishes from Oaxaca have contributed to the recent success of this eatery. Although it’s located in the Bazar Sábado, which, as the name suggests, is open as a shopping bazaar only on Saturdays from 10 am to 7 pm, the restaurant is open daily for lunch and dinner, except Mondays. On a recent visit we enjoyed perfectly prepared salmon in a pistachio sauce, sopes de pollo for appetizers, and the best of Mexican wines from the Casa Madero winery. Other favorites include the margaritas, bean soup, shrimp tacos, and of course the cafe de olla.
Bistro 83, 17 Calle de Amaragura, San Ángel
If you want a beautiful peaceful garden setting, spend the morning, afternoon, or evening (open from 8 am to 11 pm every day) at Bistro 83 across from Plaza Jacinto. Here you will enjoy Mediterranean specialties such as escargot, octopus, salmon, or carpaccio del res. There are also fondues, pizzas, and salads, all delicately prepared and presented.
Our favorite small and simple restaurants include San Giorgio for true Italian pizza in Roma Sur; Manila for duck tacos in Condesa; and Mog for hot and spicy Asian bowls and sushi in Roma Norte. These stalwarts continue as always with specialties that never disappoint.