Telling the story of Guelaguetza, 25 years in the making

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Dulce de Calabaza. Photo credit: Quentin Bacon

In 1994, Fernando Lopez and Maria Monterrubio opened the doors of a humble restaurant on 8th Street in LA’s Koreatown. There were four items on the menu at Guelaguetza at the time, including a tamales de mole that cost $5.

20 years later, Guelaguetza is widely regarded an LA institution—a temple to Oaxacan cuisine, and a James Beard America’s Classic. Fernando and Maria have returned to their native Oaxaca, leaving the next generation to run the show.   

Today, Bricia Lopez is head of operations for Guelaguetza. She’s been entrusted with the family legacy, along with her siblings Paulina, Fernando, Jr. and Elizabeth— which not only includes the restaurant name and recipes, but the family story too. 


Bricia recently wrote that story down in a new cookbook. Simply titled “Oaxaca,” it’s co-authored by a familiar name: LA Taco editor Javier Cabral.

Dulce de Calabaza
Serves 8-12

This is a seasonal dessert that is typically eaten during Día de Muertos season in Oaxaca. The belief is that its spiced, sweet aroma is so tantalizing that it attracts the spirits to come and indulge. The sweet smell brings me back to the beautiful colors of my favorite time of year in Oaxaca. Muertos has always been a big part of my family’s culture. I still remember the smell of copal incense, cempazuchitl (marigold) flowers, mole, and this dulce de calabaza taking over my grandma’s house. She had a special room in her house dedicated to making an altar for my grandpa, who had passed on. I still remember spending Muertos week helping her get ready for my grandpa’s visit. It was so beautiful, and it is a tradition that I still keep alive today in my home. In Oaxaca, when cooking this dish, they use a type of firm pumpkin named calabaza de castilla. In the States, I use kabocha squash because of the similarities in flavor and texture. Eat it for dessert on a windy fall day. 

Ingredients

  • 4½ pounds (2 kg) kabocha squash, sliced into 4-inch (10 cm) pieces
  • 2 pounds (910 g) piloncillo (Mexican-style unrefined brown sugar), broken up into pieces
  • 2 whole cloves
  • ½ tablespoon anise seeds wrapped in a sachet
  • 10½ ounces (300 g) sugar cane, peeled and cut into 1-inch (2.5 cm) pieces
  • 1 (4-inch/10 cm) cinnamon stick

Instructions 

-Put the pumpkin, skin-side down, in a large heavy-bottomed pot over medium heat and add 1 cup (240 ml) water, the piloncillo, cloves, anise seed sachet, sugar cane, and cinnamon stick.

-Bring to a simmer and cook for 45 minutes to an hour, until the piloncillo and water form a honey-like syrup.

-Serve warm.

Credits

Host:
Evan Kleiman

Producers:
Nick Liao, Joseph Stone, Laryl Garcia