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Cooking With Clay No. 11: The Red Clay of San Marcos Tlapazola, Oaxaca

In the big market at Oaxaca, in the clay cookware area, you will find a stand featuring beautiful red clay cookware. It comes from a village called San Marcos Tlapazola, or more commonly, San Marcos. I think I first encountered it in Half Moon Bay, California, believe it or not. I loved the clay comales and bought 6 of them, not knowing if I'd ever see them again.

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I've looked for the pieces over the years and finally found my way to San Marcos with my pals Gabriel and Yunuen. It was very hot and dusty and when we arrived in town, there was barely a soul. In the center, we found a young woman selling a particularly nasty gruel made from the flowers of the cacao plant. I guess you could get used to it and call it a treat but it wasn't my favorite thing.

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This seemed to amuse Gabriel!

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We later made our ways to the clay makers and it was incredible. The women live in a large compound and everything seemed dedicated to their red clay.

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It was one of the many times that I cursed having to fly and not having a car or truck to bring back my treasures. Each woman had her own showroom and they were all very distinct. I was only interested in cookware and there was plenty.

We of course had to ask about beans and they of course grew them, in this case Negro Delgados. I love Mexico.

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I already had comales so I bought a cazuela and a beanpot and the señora threw in a few extra pieces. It was going to be a difficult trip home but worth it.

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After we left, Gabriel went into the local mini-mart and asked if they had mezcal. What a question! The merchant poured his into an empty Sprite bottle and we left, only now the sleepy town was wide awake and we were being gestured into door after door to try their hootch! Gabriel bought several different kinds, and it's really amazing how different they all taste and yet they're all mezcal.

Back home, I couldn't wait to try out my pieces. They leaked the white "powder" or dust or whatever it is that you see in the photo and it seems to increase with time. They become less red and more brown. And they cook a little hot compared to other clay pots. I've burned things in them and that's a real rare thing from my experiments with clay cooking. I don't like them for beans but for chile sauces, moles and the like, they can't be beat. And the high heat makes the comal perfect for heating tortillas.

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Before you ask, let me tell you that we aren't importing these pieces. The store in Half Moon Bay has closed and the only place I know to find them is in Oaxaca, easily in the mercado but I think a field trip to San Marcos is warranted if you love clay pot cooking.

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