Sam Laur (’20) reflects on how food has allowed him to better experience and understand the people and place of Oaxaca.
I am 5 days into this trip and I am already in love with the Oaxacan food. My host mother is incredibly sweet. She refers to Carter, my roommate, and I as her “hijos” sons and anticipates our every need. We wake up every morning to a delicious breakfast, and every night when we tell her we are hungry she makes us incredible dinners. As she says, they are always “hecho con amor” made with love.
Through this food, I have realized a lot about Oaxacan culture. First of all almost every dish I have had is based on some universally familiar food such as rice, chicken, beef, or eggs. To me this is a fitting symbol for the way in which the people here have welcomed us. They are not looking to put up fences between our cultures, instead they seek to do the opposite. Everyone I have met here has been incredibly friendly. Yesterday, we did a language exchange with students from the local schools, and they warmed up to me right away, eager to talk about their lives and learn about mine. Despite being in a foreign country, I feel right at home. The familiar elements of the food I have eaten here remind me of that.
Additionally with almost every meal we have had some sort of tortilla. To me these tortillas represent the preservation of traditions in Oaxaca. While our host mother does not make her own tortillas, she buys them from local vendors who hand make them. Furthermore, each of the eight regions in Oaxaca makes their own type of tortilla. For dinner two nights ago, we had tortillas from the Istmo region. They were infused with spices and had holes in them, a Swiss cheese of tortillas. I have learned while here that Oaxaca is what the rest of Mexico would have looked like decades ago. I perceive this as a product of the value that people in this city place on their culture and history. At the dinner table, the tortillas exemplify this.
One of the most visibly obvious things I noticed upon arrival in Oaxaca is how alive everything is. In the food we’ve eaten, this is illustrated by the spice in every food. Mixed into every meal is some sort of chili. It adds a zest and flavor to every food that reminds me of the zest with which people seem to live their lives here. Every block is full of vendors, couples, and people spending time with their friends. In contrast to the spectrum of white to brown with which New England houses are painted, the houses here are red, yellow, blue, green and many other colors. As a culture that puts a lot of effort and care into the food they make, the flavor and spicy pop that characterizes their dishes, truly seems to reflect the joy and love with which they live their lives in this vibrant city.