sample Oaxaca trunk
The metate in this photo weighs 60 or 70 pounds. The cylinder on top of the metate is the mano (“hand” in English), used to create pressure on the ingredients being ground. It might weigh 4 or 5 pounds, too! The back and forth motion of the mano on the metate gives the cook great control over how finely the ingredients are ground. The most important food ground on a metate is corn which has been boiled and prepared to make tortillas, the principal staple of a Mexican diet.
In some areas of Mexico, preparing mole (a word which simply means “mixture” in the Aztec language) is a rite of passage, which all girls must go through to be considered adult women in their communities. Oaxaca is famous for several types of mole, one of which is called “mole negro” or black mole.
What would be a good wedding present for a young Zapotec Indian couple? If you were the god-parent, you wouldn’t have much choice and would know for a fact that the gift would be greatly appreciated. Moreover, you would be fulfilling the required gift from a god-parent. You would go to the market, probably in Tlacolula on Sunday, and look through dozens of metates, stone grinding slabs, to pick out a beautiful heavy, solid one with flowers painted on the sides. Cooks have been grinding corn and ingredients on metates for thousands of years in Mexico. With just a few variations on thickness, the metate is the basic kitchen utensil for grinding foods all over Mexico.