Wednesday, July 4, 2007


Ran May 10, 2006 in The Monitor, McAllen, Texas.

Purhepecha Indians prepare indigenous foods at cooking show

Story and Photos By TRAVIS M. WHITEHEAD
Monitor Staff Writer

URUAPAN — Elisa Charicata Olivares leaned into the stone metate, pressing the long, squared mano over the cream-colored masa, shifting it back and forth, breaking off a portion to mold into a tortilla.

She was one of many culinary artisans at the 38th Annual Muestra Gastronomia Purhepecha, the Purhepecha Food Show, April 8 and 9 in Uruapan , the second largest city in the Mexican state of Michoacán. The event was presented by Unidad Regional Michoacán de Culturas Populares e Indígenas in the Plaza de la Ranita, just a block away from the crafts fair on Plaza Morelos. The crafts fair was part of the 46th Annual Domingo de Ramos Concurso y Tianguis Artesania in Uruapán, coordinated by the Casa De Las Artesanias, a state agency based in Morelia.

Purhepecha Indians, who heavily populate this area of Mexico, came from miles around — from Cheran, Tzintzuntzan, San Lorenzo and other locales — to demonstrate native cooking. Tall clay pots filled with native foods sat steaming over open wood fires amid the sounds of “clap-clap-clap” from women slapping rolls of yellow or blue corn masa into tortillas. There were bowls of atapakua de calabacitas, a green soup of chopped squash; pots of atole, a corn gruel; and charales, minnow-sized fish fried in a large skillet.

Customers peeled corn husks from corundas, a local variation of the tamale, or dove into hot bowls of churipu, a delicious and spicy stew.

“We’re trying to rescue all the indigenous food in this show,” said Marta Leticia Roman Mares, investigator for Unidad Regional Michoacan de Culturas Populares e Indigenas del Consejo Nacional para la Cultura y las Artes.

“We want to know the food that is consumed in the Purhepecha daily life,” Roman said.

A few feet behind Olivares, Cleofas Dolores Cira, 30, of Tzintzuntzan, and her family engaged in constant conversation as they maintained their work area while cooking up pots of mojarra dorado (another type of fish) and charales.

“We live on a little ranch along Lake Patzcuaro, we catch the fish ourselves,” said Cira’s father, Mauricio Dolores Ponciano, 62, who proudly added that he was “100 percent Purhepecha.”

He kept close watch on a batch of charales sizzling in a large skillet.

“I add salt but that’s all it needs,” he said. He stirred them a bit, then placed a large portion on a plate and added more from a plastic bucket.

A plate of this crispy dish of fish may at first seem intimidating. If you can get past the heads (and eyes) staring up at you, they are actually quite tasty.

Across the plaza, Petra Sanchez de Rhodes got herself a quesadilla with a filling of coriander, mint, onion, amaranta and guajillo chili seeds.

“This is for tomorrow, Palm Sunday,” said Rhodes, a local woman who runs a language school in Uruapan with her American husband.

“Then next week is Holy Week,” she said. She then wrapped a tortilla made of blue corn around her quesadilla, saying it was healthier.

A bowl of dark green gorditas sat nearby. “Those are made of corn and brown sugar,” Rhodes said. “Gorditas dulces. It’s all pre-Hispanic origin.”

Another basket contained small bundles of corn husks with a sweet paste inside. Those were called chapata, which also contained amaranta and sugar.

“It’s very nutritious,” she said. “This is Purhepecha culture.”

Back across the plaza, Charicata, 52, of Cheran turned tortillas on a hot plate next to her metate. A pot of atapakua de queso (with green tomatoes, cebolla, chile, cilantro and tomato) and a small plate of nopales sat nearby. A girl stirred a pot of carne de res on the hot plate as a wood fire flickered below. Charicata dipped her hands in some water before bouncing a thick pad of masa back and forth to spread it into a tortilla.

She appreciated the opportunity to show her native culture at an event such as this.

“I feel very proud,” said Olivares. “I’ve been making white and blue corn tortillas my whole life. The blue tortillas taste better.”

“It’s all natural,” said her helper, Maria de Jesus Rafael Gembe.

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