de Piedra Restaurant Review
Campesinos working the land or tending flocks in the river
valleys and hills of the Sierra Norte would stop, fish for
trout, or perhaps gather lobster-like langostinos after
the first rains in May, and then cook their bounty in an unusual
way. They would place their catch in a half-gourd filled with
river water and freshly picked aromatic herbs, heat rocks
from the banks to red-hot, then place them in the bowl and
watch their meal quickly poach in a boiling broth.
Caldo de Piedra, located a few minutes outside of Oaxaca on
the highway leading to Santa Mara el Tule, ceremoniously replicates
the age-old custom before your eyes. The restaurant is a large,
simple palapa with an open kitchen. The menu is effectively
non-existent since all that is served are generously filled
quesadillas and similar appetizers, your choice of
three soups (the caldos), and non-alcoholic beverages.
The owners boast that this traditional meal preparation dates
to pre-Hispanic times, and was practiced in their home village,
San Felipe Usila, in the district of Tuxtepec.
Service is uncharacteristically fast. Waitresses are eager
to attend to orders, and more importantly answer all queries
about your comida's preparation, so be sure to ask
to go over to the two kitchen areas to bear witness to the
procedural pomp. On the one side are women working over metate
(grinding stone) and comal (large round clay "stove-top"
used for cooking over an open flame), hand-making tortillas
for filling with your choice of quesillo (the famed
Oaxacan string cheese), mushrooms, squash blossoms and more.
On the other side unfolds the curious convention. A substantial
helping of your choice of raw, medium sized shrimp, red snapper,
or a combination of the two is placed in a jìcara
(the half gourd) with a selection of chiles, onion and leafy
herbs including requisite cilantro. A blender off to
the side is used to prepare a tomato-based liquid which is
then poured into each vessel. With the aid of a large wooden
tong, a couple of baseball sized river stones are plucked
from a flaming fire pit, gingerly placed in each gourd, and
voilà, your meal starts to boil. Rocks are added
a second time, following which each comida-in-a-pot is brought
to the table.
Flavors remain distinctly discernable to the extreme, given
that fresh ingredients are combined on the spot. The chef/proprietor
is in complete control of process so as to assure the proper
degree of doneness (with only one cooking method and a choice
of only three main dishes, it's pretty well guaranteed). It's
low-fat protein, herbs, vegetable and tortilla, yielding
ideal fare for the diet and health conscious, in a region
of the state noted for pretty well the opposite, and they
even serve coca light (diet coke). It's all so simple, making
the experience gastronomically rewarding, while at the same
Open daily, noon to 7 pm.
Price with beverage and shared appetizers, 125 pesos pp.
Caldo de Piedra is by far the most unique restaurant in Oaxaca.
Your selection of fish or shrimp is prepared in a tradition
dating to pre-Hispanic times, by placing red hot rocks in
a gourd filled with your bounty from the sea, select herbs
and spices, and a tangy liquid stock. Ambience is palapa-simple,
service is fast, and overall experience is awe-inspiring.
Machaya Oaxaca Bed & Breakfast ( http://www.oaxacadream.com
& Arlene Starkmans Casa Machaya Oaxaca Bed &
Breakfast ( http://www.oaxacadream.com
) combines the comfort and service of quality downtown Oaxaca
hotels, with the quaintness of country inn lodging. Oaxaca
accommodations with a personal touch. Ask about Alvins
Oaxaca tours, fully personalized. Casa Machaya is a founding
member of the Oaxaca Bed and Breakfast Association.
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