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Sopa de Guías

Eating the vines…

Guias (Gee-uhs) are the vines and leaves of the squash plants that wend and weave their way around the bases of the corn in the ‘milpa’. To make these fibrous vines more palate-friendly, they are chopped first into small pieces before being boiled, to make them more tender. These greens, boiled in water along with herbs, corn husks and onion, are the base of Sopa de Guias.

This humble soup is a perfect example of how little is wasted in Mexico’s culinary landscape. That said, a soup like this has the potential to taste like little more than watery broth with boiled greens – perfectly welcome when prepared and offered with love and humility. As a restaurant patron, however, most of my own taste-tests in Oaxaca left me wanting a bit more for my 80 or so pesos – until I tried the offering at Casa Oaxaca, El Restaurante in Oaxaca City.

In keeping with the style and reputation of the restaurant, the presentation of this soup is more “haute” than the “humble” version Chef Alejandro Ruiz was raised on. There’s no trozo de elote (slice of corn on the cob) to gnaw on, instead the corn kernels have been scraped into the bowl. Delicate golden-orange petals of the squash flower adorn the bowl before the broth is ceremoniously poured over at the table  Nevertheless, he stays true to tradition;  in his extensive knowledge of the range of herbs of Oaxaca; these along with a small amount of chile pasilla paste, bring  warmth and complexity to the simple broth.

Aside from the chocoyotes – dimpled little masa dumplings which generally contain some lard to lighten them up– this soup is traditionally a vegetarian dish. Should a bit of lard be a deal-breaker, ask for them to be left out and enjoy this soup with a tortilla instead.



Casa Oaxaca, El Restaurante

A Gurrión 104 A, Oaxaca Centro

Phone number+52 951 516 8531

Strongly recommended that  you call ahead for reservations, or stop in and make reservation in person if you are in Oaxaca

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Huatulco’s Fresh Fruit Gem: Hagia Sofia

In the winter months, that special breed known as “Snowbirds”

fly south to enjoy the “Bahias de Huatulco” – the numerous bays that make up this Pacific coast of Oaxaca. Some stay for months, others arrive on the many large cruise ships that dock there and explore for the day.

Huatulco is well-known for diving and snorkelling, for surfing and other water sports. Fewer visitors think to venture inland to the mountains.

But a short drive north of the town of Santa Maria de Huatulco, there is a lush and exotic eco-agriculture project called Hagia Sofia, a labour of love by one man, Armando Canavati Nader, who recognized the potential of the region to grow exotic fruits that, while not native to the region, are well suited and are sought after on the export market, much due to their “superfood” potential.


noni fruit
Noni fruit, native to Southeast Asia/ Australasia

Fruits native to Southeast Asia, like mangosteen, and the noni, sought after for its antioxidant, anti-inflammatory , anti-bacterial and anti-fungal properties (basically, keeping all ill health at bay..) and used as a super-juice ingredient and as a supplement – both may have commercial viability. in my conversation with Armando, he spoke of these fruits known for their value in traditional medicine as having potential to create employment for the impoverished local indigenous communities surrounding Hagia Sofia.


As we wander through this lush agro-ecological plantation carambola (starfruit) glistens in the sunlight.

Other exotics too, like poma rosa (rose apple), marañon (cashew apple)along with different types of maracuya (passionfruit) and vanilla, their vines wrapping around branches and trunks and sprawling along the ground. Let’s also not forget cacao – I had no idea how it grew from the tree! – and coffee. As native trees are cleared throughout Mexico to make way for commercial orchards, the work of people like Armando to preserve and protect native fruit-bearing trees and plants is all the more important. Different species of mango; trees of chicosapote, with its heavenly sweet fruit and the latex sap which is the origin of “chicle” : natural chewing gum,  and other zapotes – negro and blanco.



Aside from fruits trees… oh, the exotic flowers! With all its lush growth, Hagia Sofia is a natural sanctuary for butterflies and birds.

As the sun climbs high  in the sky and you’re sweating from a bit of an uphill climb (nothing treacherous), there’s an opportunity to cool off either in, or beside, the spray of the Magdalena river. It’s both refreshing and well-timed.

To top off the day, a lovely simple lunch is served from an open kitchen with wood-fired comal. The ingredients come, in part from the property, and the rest from the local community depending on what’s in season.



In words I have taken from their own website – because it can’t be said better:  “Hagia Sofía is a paradise to return to nature and spiritual peace”.


Armando serving up a delicious lunch of quesadillas, nopales and beans





“” for all information and reservations can be made on email via “” Right in town, near the surf shops by the docks, you can also  go directly to the office of Hagia Sofia to book your visit.

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Some ‘Yellow’ Tastes in Oaxaca

Walking through markets and perusing street-side stands, yellow fruits and vegetables catch my eye with their cheerful, sunny glow.

It’s Springtime in Oaxaca City.

Chayote blanco, Chayotito (cha-yo-TEE-toh) / White CHayotechayote-oaxyelo

Little pale yellow chayotitos (also called Chayote Amarillo or Chayote Blanco), are nestled here amidst a variety of greens common to the Milpa, like verdolaga (purslane) to the far left and quintoniles (aka: quelites), which are the greens of any of a number of types of amaranth plants. Chayotito has a mild, sweet flavor with a tough, leathery skin – they need to be boiled whole, and then they can be peeled. Cubed or mashed with butter or olive oil and some salt they are a delicious substitute for boiled potatoes. And, like other chayote, you can eat the soft, flat, almond-shaped seed in the centre.

Where: fringes of markets, laid out on cloth on the floor.


Nanches / Nances  (NAN-shez)nanches-oaxyel

These little yellow “berries” are nances or nanches– an odd little fruit with a funky slightly tart, cheesy taste and dry, somewhat cottony texture, Definitely an acquired taste, which I have yet to acquire. I was told these were brought in from Puebla, a few hours north, as they are not  in season in Oaxaca, but there is a demand for them, apparently. For the most part, they are preserved: in liquor (mezcal), in syrup (en almíbar), in ice cream (nieves) but here they are snack-ready– “enchilada” – with a hearty dousing of chile, lime and salt, because when in doubt…

Where: streetside, often from wheelbarrow/ cart


Mango en vinagre/Green Mango in Vinegar

When mango are abundant, and in season, at some point you have to accept that it’s not going to be possible to eat them all when ripe. In Oaxaca, the green fruits are peeled, halved and pitted and immersed in a fruit vinegar, usually made primarily of pineapple peelings. Chile spices things up and these are eaten as a snack. I can think of many ways to use these as a pickle/ chutney as you would see in Indian food, but I haven’t run across them used as a condiment here.

The same green mangos are also simply sliced up and served “enchilada” from bags – again as a refreshing, tartsnack.

Where: streetside carts, or in residential doorways or small shops along with numerous other preserved fruits and vegetables either pickled or in syrup


Flor de Chícharo (florr deh CHEE-chuh-roh) –  Pea flower

florchicaro-oaxyelI was so struck by these pretty bowls of edible flowers, which I found first in the corridor of  Mercado Sanchez Pascuas, that I didn’t pay good enough attention to the type of pea that the vendor next to this was shucking. I had at least noticed that they looked starchy and weren’t the bright green of a fresh sweet Spring pea.

Now, I have gone on to find out that these are the the flowers of the pigeon pea, which originated in India and came to Mexico via African and the Caribbean. This would have been in the early days of the slave trade and by now, they are naturalized and are sometimes planted where the soil is poor.  The pea itself, even when cooked, contains indigestible sugars, so it’s going to cause you some bloating unless sprouted… but the flower can be used as a green vegetable – blanched quickly and then sauteed with onions and garlic, or added to vegetable dishes, rice or egg dishes and so on.

Where: Look for these sold by vendors who come in from the villages — they set up on blankets or makeshift tables at weekly Tiánguis and some may have a little spot in/outside mercados.


Yuca (YOO-kuh) – Cassava Root or Yucayuca-oaxyel

Oftentimes you’ll see that savvy vendors, for the sake of economy,  have taken care of some of the labor that can get in the way of preparing certain foods. Yuca is one of many tubers  best boiled whole because they are troublesome to peel and they do take some time to cook. So first they are cut into 6in lengths, then  into one big pot they go. Cooked, they are easy to peel. Some are cut into sticks and a blob of sweet syrup (‘miel’ can mean corn syrup as well as honey or a combination of the two) is added to give market shoppers a carb-fuelled burst of energy. I took a few whole cooked tubers home and mashed them with salt, pepper and olive oil for a healthier dose of this complex, fibre-rich carb!

Where: At weekly tiánguis, markets and streetside.



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