Saturday, August 30, 2014

Peter Cherches' New Words/Old Songs

My new jazz vocal project features my lyrics to jazz compositions and solos as well as additional lyrics to standards of the Great American Songbook. It's my return to jazz performance after many years.

While some of the tunes are drawn from my jazz work in the '80s, I've written much new material over the past year or two.

For this project I'm pleased to be joined by my long-time collaborator Lee Feldman on piano, Claire Daly on baritone sax, and Dave Hofstra on bass.

Peter Cherches has balanced writing, music and performance work since 1981. In the 1980s he performed his lyrics for the music of Thelonious Monk and other jazz composers at various New York City venues. Having recently published a new book of fiction, he decided that it was time to write more of his quirky lyrics and return to jazz performance.

Baritone saxophonist Claire Daly is a six-time winner of the Downbeat Critics' Poll "Talent Deserving Wider Recognition" and was named the Jazz Journalists' Association's Baritone Saxophonist of the Year in 2005. Her latest recording, "Baritone Monk," features the compositions of Thelonious Monk.

Lee Feldman, with whom Peter Cherches has had the pleasure of working since 1984, is a stylistically eclectic pianist and a singer/songwriter of great wit and imagination whose work has been compared to that of Tom Waits and Randy Newman. His latest CD is "Album No. 4: Trying to Put Things Together that Never Been Together Before."

One of the most sought-after bassists in New York, especially on the "downtown music" scene, Dave Hofstra has played in a wide range of settings including blues and country, but is most frequently heard in jazz contexts. He is a charter member of the Microscopic Septet.

Upcoming Shows

Sunday, September 21, 7PM. The Drawing Room, 56 Willoughby Street #3, Brooklyn. Seating is limited; no reservations. Please arrive between 6:30 & 6:45 to guarantee a seat. It's right near the Jay Street Metrotech subway station. Admission is $15.

Tuesday, November 18, 7PM. Somethin' Jazz Club, 212 E. 52nd Street (between 2nd & 3rd Ave.), Manhattan. Cover is $12. (212) 371-7657,


From a June 2014 performance at the Brooklyn Conservatory of Music, with Chris Forbes (piano), Max Johnson (bass) and Bernice "Boom Boom" Brooks (drums).

I wrote an additional lyric for the last chorus of this Illinois Jacquet composition.

My lyric for Dexter Gordon's composition "Fried Bananas," which is based on the chord changes of "It Could Happen to You."
For more of my own music as well as lots of music I love across genres, visit and "like" my Facebook page Peter Cherches Music.

Saturday, December 28, 2013

San Juan Chamula, Chiapas, Mexico

Friday, August 02, 2013

Notes from the Ol' Factory

Madeleine schmadeleine; I've got garbage trucks.

Passing a garbage truck on the way to the subway this morning, I was reminded of my childhood aversion to that familiar garbage truck smell. Actually, as a kid I was hypersensitive to odors in general, and the garbage truck was one of the worst that I encountered on a regular basis. I was transported back to my less than idyllic childhood by that same, sickening smell this morning. The smell of a New York City garbage truck hasn't really changed in the last fifty years. I guess, ultimately, despite the changes in our consumption patterns, the basic components of our trash are pretty much stable when it comes to smell.

I don't know how to describe the garbage truck smell. Acrid perhaps, but more complex than that. Not "funky," though funky things are certainly a component of the final bouquet. Not really pustulent either. There's even a touch of the cloying, but for the most part it's an undertone. Ultimately it's just that garbage truck smell.

There were plenty of other smells that bothered me, but I could avoid many of them. Alas, some of that avoidance went counter to the normal pursuits of childhood.

I'm no Augustine and I'm no Rousseau. The juiciest confession you're going to get out of me is that as a kid I hated the circus. In fact, I only went once, to the Ringling Brothers, Barnum & Bailey Circus at Madison Square Garden (though I always thought the announcer on the radio ads was saying "Barnumum Bailey"). I must have been about five or six, and my mother took me. But I didn't stay for the whole thing. I demanded to be taken home, despite my mother's protestations that I should give it a chance. I was so sickened by the smell, the combination of animal odors and those of animal excreta, that I couldn't enjoy any of the acts, not even the clowns. So my mother relented and took me home. I didn't have such luck with "The Sound of Music" at the Rivoli theater, unfortunately, perhaps because it had nothing to do with odors, so that time I just went to sleep.

I also hated the zoo--the zoo odors, that is. I only went to zoos a few times as a kid. Once, on a class trip to the Bronx zoo, I kept my distance from the cages as the rest of the kids went up to gawk at the animals (just imagine it!).

But could it be that the same hypersensitivity to things olfactory also played a part in making me a foodie? I hadn't given it any thought before, but smell is indeed an essential component of flavor, and surely a heightened sense of smell would also give one a more nuanced sense of flavor. Food for thought, and much more pleasant that remembrances of garbage trucks past.

Sunday, June 09, 2013


I love looking at catalogs, all sorts of catalogs, but my favorite ones are from the novelty and "gift" houses. When I was a kid my stepfather used to order from places like Hanover House and Spencer Gifts all the time.  I remember, we were the only family on the block with three blackhead removers. And we had one of those wonderful battery-operated ashtrays with the little boy whose trousers come down so he can piss on your cigarette when you're through. But my favorite item was the go-go dancer drink mixer. It was a miniature rubber go-go dancer, scantily clad, battery-operated. You would pour liquor into a metal tumbler the doll held, then press a red button, and she'd start to shake; that's how your drink would get mixed. We had a small bar, and that's where my stepfather kept the go-go mixer, right next to the lamp he had also ordered from one of those catalogs, you know the kind of lamp I mean, the kind that says "BAR."

Tuesday, May 28, 2013

Adieu, BBS

Lois Gilbert, the indefatigable webmistress of the online jazz portal Jazz Corner, announced last night that the Speakeasy bulletin board would be shutting down as of July 1. It was inevitable; the writing was on the wall, so to speak, for a long time. Newer social media have pretty much spelled the death of public online forums, and that's a shame.

My own experiences with bulletin boards have been in the realm of jazz (Jazz Central Station, Jazz Corner) and food (Chowhound). The online bulletin board, or BBS, pretty much got rolling after the advent of the web browser and picked up on a phenomenon that began with newsgroups on the much less wieldy Usenet. So, for instance, where there was once lots of activity on the group (peak usage was in 1995), jazz bulletin boards that sprung up around that time or shortly thereafter, such as Jazz Online and Jazz Central Station, both now long defunct, took over much of the traffic. By the late '90s into the mid-2000s there was plenty of activity on the bulletin boards by a mix of highly knowledgeable fans and professionals as well as curious novices. For a time one could always expect spirited discussions on a range of musical topics. And they were open forums. All you had to do was register, and you could become a member of a virtual, shared-interest community. Sure there were the usual online issues of trolls, bullies and cliques, but that's what you get in an open forum.

By the mid-2000s, however, a confluence of changing paradigms and generational assumptions and preferences led to a waning of the public bulletin board in favor of the self-selected cells of social media like Facebook. Less drama (generally) perhaps, but also less chance for the surprise contribution from a particularly knowledgeable individual you've never heard from before. On Facebook I have friends from a number of corners of my life: close friends, literary acquaintances, music world acquaintances. But on a jazz bulletin board there was always a critical mass of people with one particular shared interest. I could throw out a question or rehearse a hunch and count on some interesting responses and discussion. For me this was one of the great promises of the internet, bringing together like-minded people who might not otherwise know each other for lively discussion of a shared interest. I even posited, while working on a degree in Library Science, that the BBS could be a great reference resource, as one had access to what I called a community of "experts without portfolio." And a side benefit was striking up real-world, lasting friendships with some of my cyber pals, people I met when they came to New York or when I went to a music festival overseas.

The BBS for me was one of the mechanisms that helped to foster the democratic promise of the internet. I don't think the more atomized landscape of social media has nearly the same power.

Sunday, April 21, 2013

Hydra, for Fans of the Color Blue

Thursday, March 28, 2013

Condensed Book Is Back!

As I still have a number of mint condition copies of the long out of print Condensed Book, I decided to become an Amazon seller to offer copies at a fairer price than other sellers. Previously, Amazon had one new copy listed at $534.61! Used copies are listed starting at $27. Now 25 new copies are available for $20 each, and, as stock is warehoused and orders filled by Amazon, they're eligible for free shipping on orders of $25 or more. And since Amazon is offering Lift Your Right Arm for the reduced price of $6.99, you can get both books for $26.99 with free shipping; that's less than the previous low price for a used copy of Condensed Book. These two books together will be more of less than you'll know what to do with!

Condensed Book @ Amazon

Friday, February 15, 2013

Word of Mouth: Evolution or Devolution?

I started Word of Mouth in 2006 as a food and travel blog, and I updated it regularly for about six years. Then I took a break, partly due to food writing burnout, and partly to finish up the manuscript for my new book of fiction, Lift Your Right Arm. My plan for the blog now is to use it as an occasional forum for whatever strikes my fancy, which will likely be a disappointment to many who followed this blog for food reports. Nonetheless, I have added the category "fugitive thoughts" to the list of topics this blog will cover, and those thoughts may well dominate in the near future.

Tuesday, February 12, 2013

Cartagena and the Delights of New World Colonial Cities

For me, one of the great recipes for bliss is to just wander around a beautiful, unfamiliar place, with no fixed agenda, all cares and woes on the back burner.  I'm doing just that in Cartagena.  I've even left my camera home in Brooklyn.  But you'll find plenty of Cartagena photos online if you wish.

After years of travel in Asia and Europe, I started catching up on Latin America in recent years, visiting a number of UNESCO-designated world heritage colonial cities. Cartagena centro is stunningly beautiful, the proverbial jewel box, but it's also very touristy.  It reminds me of a more spectacuar version of Old San Juan, without the U.S. connection. There are plenty of restaurants of good repute, but few are Colombian. Frankly, Colombian isn't one of the world's, or even Latin America's great cuisines (I give top honors to the regional wonders of Mexico and the unique fusion that comprises Peruvian cuisine). Cartagena is also known for its jet-set nightlife, but I'm not known for mine.

Other great colonial cities I've visited include Antigua, Guatemala, once a ghost town and now a major tourist draw with fabulous restaurants of all varieties at amazingly reasonable prices. Cusco was wonderful, as much for the warmth of the Andean people as for the architecture. Ouro Preto, in the Brazilian state of Minas Gerais, is a living museum of baroque architecture, mostly churches, and a university town, but it's a sleepy place, and it seemed like a day trip was quite sufficient. Guanajuato, Mexico is a fascinating, hilly city to get lost in, but I didn't love the vibe of the place, perhaps because it's the most resolutely Catholic and right-wing place in Mexico?

As of now, my three favorite colonial cities have been Salvador, Havana and Puebla. I fell in love with the Pelourinho district of Salvador (Bahia, Brazil), for the nonstop Afro-Brazilian music, the African-influenced cuisine, and the overall vibe.  In the Spanish-speaking countries, Puebla was a surprise favorite, perhaps because the historic center is part of a large, bustling city, the only tourists you'll see will likely be Mexicans, and the food is perhaps the best in all of Mexico. It's a stunningly beautiful, vibrant city, and it's a shame more Americans don't make it a destination (granted most Americans go to Mexico for sanitized beach resorts). And then there's Old Havana, dilapidated, with lousy food unless you eat at paladars (small restaurants in private homes), and constant surveillance of anybody who speaks with you, and yes those old American cars, but with some of the world's greatest music everywhere you turn, and some of the most amazingly warm people you'll ever meet, despite their tribulations.

Wednesday, January 30, 2013

Butch Morris, Superconductor, 1947-2013

Lawrence D. “Butch” Morris, who passed away this week, was a true American original, a musical artist of singular genius and originality whom I’m confident posterity will speak of in the same breath as Charles Ives, John Cage and Duke Ellington, even if he’s far from a household name today. Butch came out of the jazz tradition, but by the time his work here was done he had gone way beyond the boundaries of genre.

Butch started out as a brass player, a cornetist, but his real legacy is the work he did in a form of his own devising, Conduction, which grew out of an ever-searching musical vision. He came to New York in the mid-1970s from Southern California, along with a number of other musicians who were welcomed into the vibrant jazz loft scene: David Murray, Arthur Blythe, Butch’s brother Wilber, a brilliant bassist (and another Morris who left us too early), and a then unknown drummer and writer named Stanley Crouch (they knew him before he was a Neanderthal). Butch was one of the first of the musicians from the loft world to start collaborating with some of the younger musicians working within a new, eclectic “downtown” music vocabulary, among them John Zorn, Wayne Horvitz and Bobby Previte. Around the same time a new kind of music started welling up inside his head, and he studied conducting in order to realize what he was imagining. Over time, Butch’s conduction concept gelled, first with musicians from familiar circles, but eventually the entire world became his musical oyster.

The simplest description of Butch’s Conduction is structured improvisation. He developed a series of gestures, a language of Conduction, that would be used in rehearsals and performance to create new and unpredictable music with various groups of improvising musicians from many traditions. Collaborative composition in real time. The phrase may be cliché, but it was always a musical tightrope walk, and truly, to use another near-cliché of the jazz world, “the sound of surprise.”

Part of the joy of watching a Butch Morris conduction, besides his hand gestures and, of course, the musicians, was watching Butch’s face. I don’t know if the facial expressions were part of the language of Conduction, but they could certainly be meaningful. Most of the time, as I remember, the expression was one of focus, but on occasion the scowl would show itself, and what a formidable scowl it was. But the scowl, aimed at one musician or another, didn’t mean, “You fucked up,” it didn’t mean, “You’re screwing up my music,” it meant, I’m pretty sure, “My friend, you’re letting yourself down.” Because Butch always set the highest standards for himself and for all the musicians he worked with. He was a teacher, in the rehearsal room and on the bandstand, in the great jazz tradition of Duke Ellington and Charles Mingus. And then there was the smile, that big, beaming mother of all smiles that would suddenly appear on the Morris visage, a smile that maybe meant something like a combination of: “I’m pleased,” “This is all coming together,” “I’m proud of you,” “Thank you,” and, no doubt, “I love you.”

Musicians from the jazz world and other improvising traditions cherished the opportunity to work with Butch, but once he started getting commissions there could sometimes be friction and resistance. My favorite story in this vein involves a performance that I believe became the double-CD set “Holy Sea,” with the Orchestra della Toscana. I don’t have access to the source now (liner notes? interview?), but as I remember it, Butch told a story of resistance and triumph. He had received a commission to work with this Italian chamber orchestra, and these classically trained musicians for whom improvisation was an alien concept were not happy campers at first. They goofed off, showed up late for rehearsals, flaunted their disdain and generally kept their hearts out of the project. How did Butch react? He took the musicians aside and said something like: If you guys sound like shit, it’s your problem, not mine. I’m just a visitor here. When I leave here and move on to my next project, this will be behind me, but you live here, you’ll have to face this audience again, so what shall it be? It worked. The musicians shaped up, fell in love with the process, all the acrimony dissolved, and it turned out to be one of Butch’s most successful Conductions. Boy do I love that story.

I knew Butch Morris, casually, for just over 30 years. We met on January 25, 1982. I was producing and hosting a show at Symphony Space called “A Benefit for Nothing,” which was a benefit for the “Nothing Issue” of my magazine, Zone. Butch was supposed to do something with writer Jessica Hagedorn, as the two had recorded a piece for the first “State of the Union” LP, a collaboration between Zone and Elliott Sharp’s Zoar record label. But Jessica had to be in Manila for a funeral, so Butch did a solo cornet performance. This was pre-Conduction. I’d often run into him in the East Village, our mutual neighborhood until I moved in 1987, and we’d exchange quick hellos usually, usually accompanied by the abundant Butch Morris smile. Same quick hellos and smiles when I’d check-in with him after a Conduction. I once ran into him, somewhat incongruously, at an early Norah Jones show. About six years ago Butch participated in a panel that I hosted at NYU’s Fales Library as a tie-in to a research guide and mini-history of downtown music that I had written for the library. Butch accepted my invitation without hesitation, and the only obstacle was finding a date when both Butch and Elliott Sharp would be in the U.S. at the same time. I’m pretty sure the last time I saw him was at a screening at the Bowery Poetry Club of Vipal Monga’s excellent documentary about Butch and Conduction, “Black February.” Afterwards I went up to Butch and said, “Butch Morris, star of stage and screen.” His reply? “Oh, come on!”

Photo: Claudio Casanova

Thursday, December 13, 2012

Where Did the 57 Go?

When I was a kid growing up in Brooklyn the only ketchup we'd consider using on our fries was Heinz.  Any other brand, especially if it was called "catsup," was something that, we smug New York kids figured, only clueless Middle Americans consumed, akin to choosing Miracle Whip over Hellman's mayo.  Heinz advertised itself a "the slow ketchup," and indeed it was, and still is.  It can be a daunting task to get some ketchup out of the bottle, especially one that's full or nearly full.  But there was a trick that pretty much everybody knew about (even if Heinz claims that only 11% of people know the trick):  if you hit the 57 embossed on the bottle, a bit above the label, that would start the flow, or at least the trickle.  A recent discovery at MIT may obviate the 57 trick, but for now the 57 remains the ketchup eater's friend.

Today I was having lunch at a little French cafe near work.  I ordered a merguez sandwich with Provencal fries, and they brought me a bottle of Heinz.  It was full.  I went looking for the 57.  I couldn't find it.  I took my glasses off and brought the bottle right up to my nose.  I didn't see any 57.  I ran my fingers all around the bottle above the label.  I didn't feel any 57.  What happened to the 57?  Have they redesigned the bottle, or did I perhaps get an improperly manufactured one, an anomaly, a rogue ketchup bottle? 

It must have been a mistake.


Please tell me it was a mistake.

Sunday, December 09, 2012

Where Has Word of Mouth Been?

After six years of fairly faithful food and travel blogging, I felt it was time for a break.  Meanwhile, I've been working on getting my latest collection of short fiction ready for publication.  Lift Your Right Arm will be published in March by Pelekinesis.

I've set up a blog for the book.

And I now have a Facebook author page too.

Please stop by one or the other.  Or both.

Monday, December 19, 2011

The Year of the Maya

"Chac Mool" at Merida Anthropology Museum

Well, at the risk of sounding egocentric, as if that ever bothered me, this was my year of the Maya. Earlier this year I went to Guatemala and Honduras, where I saw the sites at Tikal and Copan. This time, in Mexico's Yucatan peninsula, I visited the ruins at Tulum and Uxmal, fairly close to Merida.

I skipped the more famous Chichen Itza, because I'd heard it was always mobbed with tour buses from the beach resorts, and because, despite its UNESCO World Heritage designation, I'd heard that it would be a disappointment compared to Tikal. I have some friends who are completists when it comes to these things, but for me a few good examples will suffice. Uxmal is architecturally different from Chichen Itza, and a few people I met who had been to both felt that it's much more interesting, mainly for the detail on the buildings, which you don't get at Chichen Itza (and which, though striking, don't really compare with the carvings at Copan).

I went to Uxmal with a small tour group (there were seven of us) so I could see the light and sound show after dark (there's no public transportation back to Merida in the evening). When we arrived in the afternoon there were only a couple of other visitors at the site, a far cry from what I would experience in Tulum (and, I expect, what I would have experienced at Chichen Itza). The light and sound show was worthwhile for the way the lighting highlighted the detail on the structures. A photo doesn't do it justice, but nonetheless...

The photo at the top is of a Mayan sculpture at the small but impressive anthropological museum in Merida. The Chac Mool, a reclining figure, is a common icon of Mayan art. This one is from Chichen Itza.

Monday, December 12, 2011

A Tale of Three Tulums

Tulum lies on the Caribbean coast of the Yucatan peninsula, in the state of Quintana Roo, about two hours south of Cancun. This stretch of coast has been dubbed "The Mayan Riviera" by the Mexican tourism industry. Formerly fishermen's villages, the coast was developed into a major resort area in the 1970s, starting with Cancun. Now Playa del Carmen, between Cancun and Tulum, is the most glamorous of the resort areas. Tulum is less developed, without the crass all-inclusives that dominate the other beaches. It was formerly the beach favored by backpackers, and you still see several places announcing yoga classes, but prices have gone up considerably and it's hard to find budget accommodations at the beach these days. What the beach areas all share are miles of pristine white sand and the sea as blue as Paul Newman's eyes.

Tulum is also the site of an ancient Mayan ruin, though a minor one in terms of its importance in the Mayan world as well as the quality of its architecture and preservation. Still, it's one of the most visited due to easy access from the beach resorts. In my hour at the ruins I saw more tourists than the much more spectacular Uxmal ruins, close to Merida, probably sees in a month. The one thing that sets the Tulum ruins apart from other Mayan sites is the dramatic seaside setting.

The third Tulum is Tulum Pueblo, the town just a bit inland from the beach, where hotels cater to budget travelers and where many of the folks who work at the beach hotels tend to live. I stayed in Tulum Pueblo, at a decent enough little hotel called Maison Tulum, which was marred only by an annoying, clueless manager who reminded me of something out of Fawlty Towers. What Tulum Pueblo does offer the tourist, even those staying at the beaches, is a strip of interesting international restaurants. I ate at an Argentine steak house and a surprisingly good Vietnamese restaurant.

I visited the ruins the morning after I arrived in town and shared my time at the site with hundreds of others, many coming in large tour groups led by men and women with those silly flags. The ruins are perhaps worth visiting as long as you're in the area, but unless you're a Mayan ruin completist you wouldn't be missing much if you skipped it.

Afterwards I took a cab a bit down the coast to one of the main stretches of beach, where I had lunch and drinks at La Zebra, a beach hotel that also rents cabanas for day use. After lunch I took a long, romantic walk on the beach with that certain someone, me.

I had two of La Zebra's fabulous house special pineapple Margaritas.

For lunch I had some excellent grilled fish tacos.

The night before, after I had arrived in Tulum Pueblo, I had a nice steak dinner at El Pequeno Buenos Aires, one of the Pueblo's two Argentine steak houses. Happily they offered half orders of meat, just enough after my spicy beef empanada and along with my order of frites with parsley, garlic and olive oil. They offer a number of cuts of steak, and I went with the vacio, an Argentine cut of flank steak that's not common outside of Argentina.

But my real find in Tulum Pueblo was El Canto de Buda, a 3-month-old Vietnamese restaurant. I scouted it out after I finished my Argentine dinner, and after looking at the menu and seeing the Vietnamese proprietress greeting customers, I decided it might very well be the real thing and decided to dine there the following evening.

Not only was it the real thing, it was better than most Vietnamese restaurants in New York. For 135 pesos (under $11), I had a three-course dinner (juice or tea included) that consisted of fabulous spring rolls, a crab souffle (made with crabmeat, egg, chopped pork, glass noodles and mushrooms), a side of fried rice and a dessert of tapioca pudding with sweet potato.

I told the owner that her food was excellent and she replied that she was lucky to have found a very good cook. "Mexican or Vietnamese?" I asked. "Mexican." Then I told her that in New York, no matter what type of restaurant you were dining at, odds were pretty good that the guys doing the actual cooking were Mexican or Central American.

Thursday, December 08, 2011

24 Hours in Valladolid

No, I'm not trying to write one of those pieces for the New York Times travel section, but I did spend literally 24 hours in Valladolid. Valladolid is Yucatan state's second city, but it's really just a little town (pop. 45,000) compared to Merida's nearly one million population. Like Merida, Valladolid was named for a city in Spain. The town is located about halfway between Merida and the beaches of the "Mayan Riviera" in the neighboring state of Quintana Roo. I took a bus from Merida that got me in around 3:30 in the afternoon, and took the same bus the following day, onward to Tulum.

Valladolid's a pleasant place to spend a day. Life is taken at a slower pace than in the big city, and you get the feeling that not much has changed in the past fifty years. It's a convenient base for the Mayan ruins of Chichen Itza and Ek Balam, but for me it was a nice way to break up the bus ride.

The town's main plaza is usually referred to simply as El Centro. On one side is the cathedral, and on another is the hotel El Meson del Marques, where I stayed.

I'm a sucker for a good cloud formation, and I shot this near El Centro.

I noticed many congregations of crows in both Merida and Valladolid, and they're capable of a cacophonous Hitchcockian racket.

There aren't many real "sights" in Valladolid, and one wouldn't make a special trip to see them. One of them is the Convento de San Bernardino, which was actually a Franciscan monastery.

Valladolid has a cenote right in the heart of town, Cenote Zaci. Cenotes are sinkholes that collect rainwater, and some are popular for swimming. In Mayan times cenotes were the main source of fresh water in areas without lakes or rivers. Zaci is not as visually spectacular as some are considered to be, but one still gets the feel of one, with stalactites and stalagmites overlooking the pool.

Valladolid's biggest surprise is that it's now, in its own small way, a true foodie destination. Up until a couple of years ago the restaurant at El Meson del Marques was considered the town's best eatery. Their menu features a number of Valladolid specialties. For an appetizer I had the Valladolid-style longaniza, a semi-dry smoked sausage, delectably charred.

I followed that with queso relleno, one of the Yucatan's most interesting dishes. Literally "stuffed cheese," it normally consists of an Edam cheese rind (yes, Dutch cheese in the New World) stuffed with chopped meat, steamed until the cheese gets runny. Apparently, the hacienda owners would eat the center of the cheese and leave the rinds for the servants, and I guess one of them figured out this nice way of utilizing the rind. The version at El Meson del Marques, however, is a variation, sort of a deconstructed queso relleno served in a broth, along with turkey meat. This nice piece from Food and Wine features a discussion of queso relleno.

El Meson del Marques was dethroned as the king of Valladolid eateries only two years ago when Taberna de los Frailes (the Friars' tavern) opened right next to the Convento de San Bernardino and upped the culinary ante with their elegant fusion of local ingredients and haute cuisine techniques. This turned out to be the culinary highlight of my most recent trip to Mexico. I started with a fabulous fish soup that was accented with a local liqueur.

Even better was the tsi'ik, a kind of ceviche of pulled smoked pork that had a perfect balance of flavors.

And my dessert, a lemon cake that tasted similar to key lime pie, was fantastic too.

I think 24 hours in Valladolid is just about right unless you're using the town as a base to visit some of the Mayan antiquities. My only regret was that I only had one opportunity to eat at Taberna de los Frailes.

Saturday, November 26, 2011

Eating in Veracruz

Seafood, of course, except for breakfast.

On Thursday I had lunch at one of the beachfront palapas on the rather shabby beach next to the aquarium. (I'm not a beach person, so I didn't seek out the good one, further out in the adjacent town of Boca del Rio, a separate municipality but for practical purposes an extension of Veracruz.) These restaurants all have similar menus, so I chose the most crowded one. I had a crab cocktail and pulpo (octopus) a la Veracruzana, both respectable though unspectacular. I always find Mexican cocktail sauces much too sweet, so lime and chile sauce were added liberally. Any seafood dish called a la Veracruzana, which you can find at many Mexican restaurants in the U.S., features a sauce of chopped tomatoes and onions.

One of Veracruz's most famous seafood restaurants, Villa Rica, has a branch at the Gran Hotel Diligencias, right on the Zocalo (main square), where I happened to be staying. I started with an order of shrimp empanadas which may well have been the best empanadas I've ever tasted. For my main course I chose the fish filet stuffed with mixed seafood. This too was quite good except for the fact that it had a white sauce which seemed to be mayo based, which is really not my cuppa, or even my copa. In Veracruz you can get many things stuffed with seafood: fish filet, crab shells, pineapples and coconuts. I washed my dinner down with a dark Bohemia beer and finished with a Herradura Anejo (anejos are the cognac of tequila). This was my Thanksgiving dinner. I'd save the turkey for Yucatan, where it's a staple of the local cuisine.

The next day I had lunch at a food court that's full of stalls selling seafood dishes of all sorts. At one of the stalls I had camaron enchipotlado (shrimp in a chipotle sauce), picante y muy delicioso.

For dinner I tried a place that I had scouted out earlier, but which turned out to be somewhat disappointing. I ordered the stuffed crab, not realizing that it would be pretty much the same stuffing I had the night before, only not as good. Still, the owner/waiter was really nice, and after dinner he brought me several small alcoholic batidas (shakes) on the house, a guanabana and a mango.

Friday, November 25, 2011


The Malecon

I spent Thanksgiving and the day after in Veracruz, before heading off to the Yucatan, and I'll tell you what I ate next time, but now it's time to share some photos of the city. Regular readers of Word of Mouth may have noticed that the pickings have been slim for a while. Well, I've pretty much decided that, for the time being at least, I'll only be blogging when I travel, or to announce new creative publications online.

I've been curious about Veracruz for some time. As a major port, on the Gulf of Mexico, it's got a somewhat different character from other parts of Mexico, a certain cosmopolitanism and an embrace of other cultures, especially Caribbean. I was particularly interested in the music of the region, much of which incorporates Afro-Caribbean rhythms, especially Cuban. So I was rather disappointed that two music clubs I'd read about, El Rincon de la Trova and Kachamba were no longer in operation. Still, in the evening there's really non-stop music around the Zocalo, the main square, the heart of Veracruz cafe culture. Roving musicians play marimba, often augmented by a drum kit featuring a timbal, while other groups play the local son Jarocho (La Bamba is the most famous song in this style), and occasionally mariachi. In truth, while pleasant enough and laid back, Veracruz is nothing special by day, but at night it really comes to life, both on the Zocalo and the Malecon (waterfront).

Veracruz has lots of statues. This one, which I found rather cute, is in honor of the Spanish immigrants who arrived through the port of Veracruz.

Veracruz also has lots of porticoes, which provide shade in a city that can get pretty hot. This feature, along with a distinctive local cuisine, are qualities it shares with Bologna.

The top of the cathedral. Supposedly it's not a particularly interesting one, and I didn't go inside.

A marimba plays for diners on the Zocalo.