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Thursday, March 30, 2023

Nights at Nanishe are filled with pure flavors of Oaxaca

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Molotes at Nanishe are filled with chorizo con papa and bathed with beans, salsa verde and queso fresco. At right, a blue corn tlayuda is filled with a thin layer of refried beans, asiento, quesillo, and dried beef. Photos: Hannah Hudson and Eduardo Vázquez

Few people know that from Wednesday to Sunday, from 6 to 10.30 pm, Nanishe takes over the kitchen at firm favorite Maíz Canela y Cilantro, loved by locals and expats alike for their homemade Mexican food. These two projects met and the owners became friends through eating at each other’s restaurant.

“We admire them and really respect their cuisine, quality, and dedication,” says Javed Alfonso Gómez, one of Nanishe’s owners. 

Nanishe, meaning “tasty” in the Zapotec language of the Istmo de Tehuantepec, is a family-run affair. Javed, his sister María de los Ángeles, and their mother Sebastiana started the business around 10 years ago, selling tlayudas from their home after moving to Mérida from Oaxaca. Over the years, they operated out of several points around the city before finally moving to their current location in the barrio of Santiago in April 2022.

The family takes great pride in serving authentic Oaxacan food prepared with quality ingredients they bring directly from the region: Quesillo, tlayudas, chapulines, asiento, hoja de aguacate, moles and chocolates are just some of the secrets to the short but punchy menu. Your choices are chilaquiles, tlayudas, tortas, or molotes, washed down with natural fruit juices, guayaba being the star of these. 

We decided to share two dishes, starting with the molotes. The best way we can describe these is crisp corn torpedos filled with soft chorizo con papa. They sit on a bed of shredded lettuce and are bathed with beans, a creamy green sauce, and a sprinkling of queso fresco. The real magic happens, though, when you add a dab of salsa macha to each bite, really making all the flavors and textures sing. 

The three salsas — all made in-house with chiles brought from Oaxaca — are traditional accompaniments to the region’s antojitos (literally, little cravings or whims). The spicy, aromatic salsa macha is made with chile de árbol or chile chiltepe (watch out, this is fiery!); the medium-spice tomatillo and dried-chile salsa is made with morita or mixe chiles; and the creamy green sauce (that is also on the molotes) is a blended guacamole found on every table in Oaxaca.

Our second dish was a blue corn tlayuda filled with a thin layer of refried beans, asiento (pork lard) that adds a very characteristic flavor, quesillo, and tasajo (dried beef). Think of this as the most delicious, brittle, 30-centimeter corn “quesadilla” you’ll ever eat.

Other filling options are chorizo, cecina (pork with a dried chili pepper rub), and chapulines, or dried grasshoppers. Tlayudas are a particularly Oaxacan delicacy, an icon of the region’s cuisine, and it is clear that the Nanishe team is very protective of their traditions.

Nanishe and Maíz Canela y Cilantro collaborate on National Corn Day (Sept. 29) by highlighting the region’s criollo varieties of maize, and then by making tamales for Day of the Dead and the Día de la Candelaria (Candlemas, Feb. 2). They also host a chilaquiles festival that lasts several days.

Food prepared by locals with strong convictions and ties to authentic ingredients and traditions never fails to delight the taste buds.

Nanishe, at Maiz Canela y Cilantro, Calle 70 464, between 55 and 55A, Barrio de Santiago, Centro, Mérida. Open 6 to 10:30 p.m. Wednesday to Sunday. @tlayudasnanishe

Text and photos: Hannah Hudson and Eduardo Vázquez.

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