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Making Tejate for the Market

a photo essay by Alvin Starkman

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Tejate is a traditional Oaxacan beverage that was once the drink of Zapotec royalty. Tejate is made of toasted corn, rosita de cacao (found only in San Andres Huayapam), cinnamon, and the seeds and flowers the mamey fruit. It is popular in Oaxacan markets, typically served in a brightly painted gourd bowl (or a plastic cup) and sweetened with sugar water. The sweetened drink is a modern adaptation; earlier versions were unsweetened and spicy, containing chile de arbol. Preparing the drink requires skill and hard work. The women who do this are called tejateras.

In the series of photos below, Alvin takes us through the process of preparing tejate for sale at a Oaxacan market. - Tom Penick

Tejate, Drink of the Gods and Zapotec Rulers

Arriving in San Marcos Tlapazola at 4:15 a.m.

Gloria in the kitchen at 4:25 a.m. preparing the fire using dried agave leaves

Cacao beans, seeds from the mamey fruit, and Quararibea funebris flowers (funeral tree, more commonly
referred to as cacao flowers, a misnomer) had been individually roasted on a comal the night before,
as tradition dictates

Peanuts, kept apart for now, were also roasted the night before. They will be ground separately, later on

I provide a helping hand

Water is then added to the ash already in the cauldron over the flame; a smaller amount of lime (mineral)
water has already been added

Corn is ready to add to the cauldron next, as all comes to a boil

Adding more fuel to the fire to bring up the flame

María is now also in the kitchen, burnishing one of her clay figures to get it ready for the kiln

The boiled corn then must be put through a clay colander

The corn must then be thoroughly rinsed

It's 5:20 a.m., and the corn along with cacao,mamey seeds and flowers are ready to be taken to the mill

At the mill, 7 - 8 blocks away along muddy potholed roads, everything must first be weighed

In less than 10 minutes all has been ground, at a cost of 20 pesos

It's still dark out, before 6 a.m., and after arriving home from the mill María continues with her morning tasks,
which today includes making hot chocolate

And Gloria has thoroughly washed all 4 metates, in preparation for kneading the ground cacao mixture together with
the ground corn or nixtamal

Gloria washing a metate

Gloria has hand ground the peanuts, and is kneading the three mixtures together

The kneaded mixtures must be left to cool

It's about 7 a.m., and time for a break with coffee, hot chocolate, mezcal, and sweet rolls

Preparing to hand grind the mixtures with metate

Gloria begins first, joined by María after she has begun breafkast preparation

An understatement, the work is arduous

The finished product prior to being magically turning into tejate, coming off of the metate. It's known as cuanextle

By daybreak Luci has awoken and begins making salsa to complement breakfast

Each metate is scrubbed down once the grinding has been completed, the nutritious liquid set aside

Nothing goes to waste; the nutritious liquid from washing the metates is given to the donkey

After breakfast and before leaving for market, Gloria must make a gourdful of tejate to ensure it has come out right,
and will froth up; if not, more cacao must be added

At 9 a.m., after a heaty breakfast of hand-made tortillas, sopa de guias, my smoked turkey leg quarters, Luci's salsa
and drinks, it's off to market

Table, bowls and other necessities are taken out of storage from a nearby shopkeeper's warehouse

Gloria and Luci begin setting up

While María unpacks their pottery to sell

Luci and Gloria put up a tarp to afford protection from sun and rain

A final bit of kneading ... yet again

She adds water

Luci helps with the heavy lifting

A blouse vender tries to make a sale to Gloria while she's still at work setting up

María and Luci take an order for clay pots to make piñatas

Gloria has brought along chayote and chickpeas to sell from the garden

The finishing touches to the artistry of tejate

Preparing a to take an order to a standing customer in the market

The first delivery of the day

A passerby enjoys a gourd of tejate

Alvin Starkman is a paid contributing writer for Mexico Today, a program for Marca País - Imagen de México. Alvin enjoys taking visitors to Oaxaca to explore more off the beaten track sights, and encourages them to enjoy a diversity of experiences in addition to "the usual." Alvin has written over 200 articles about life and cultural traditions in Oaxaca, consults to documentary film companies, and with his wife operates Casa Machaya Oaxaca Bed & Breakfast.

This page has been visited times since March 6, 2012.

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