LOS ANGELES — Each week, in a kitchen in South Los Angeles, Alfonso Martinez prepares about 400 pounds of moronga — a light, onion-flecked cloud of a sausage, already crimson from a base of fresh pig’s blood, pushed to a deeper, more exuberant shade by the addition of dried red chiles.
The loops of sausage are sweet, delicate and uniformly soft, but where they’re scored and pressed against the grill, they turn crisp.
Dabbed with smoky salsa, this moronga would be reason enough to visit Poncho’s Tlayudas, Mr. Martinez’s Friday-night pop-up behind the offices of the Binational Front of Indigenous Organizations, a group run by his wife, Odilia Romero, that works for the rights of Indigenous people.
Ms. Romero and Mr. Martinez (whose nickname is Poncho) immigrated from different regions of Oaxaca, a state in southern Mexico. There, the moronga was seasoned with fresh chiles and a tender variety of chive, and the sausage made use of every part of the pig. In Los Angeles, where Mr. Martinez has made the sausage for two years, he has adapted the recipe with dried chiles and fresh yerba buena plucked from fellow Angelenos’ yards.
“It’s become like a Oaxacalifornia style of blood sausage,” Ms. Romero said.
California has been shaped for decades by immigrants from Oaxaca, who number at least 150,000 in Los Angeles — the largest Oaxacan population outside Mexico. Many of them run small food businesses, like specialty markets, restaurants and food trucks.
Along with immigrants from Mexico City, and the states of Jalisco, Sinaloa and Nayarit, Oaxacans define Mexican cuisine and culture here. And their cooking is essential, illuminating the sheer diversity of the city’s Mexican-American population and the variety of Indigenous peoples, languages and traditions that it represents.
Many Oaxacan immigrants made their way north to find work and better living conditions in the early 1990s, just before the Mexican government’s devaluation of the peso threw that country into economic turmoil.
When another couple, David Padilla and Maria Ramos, arrived in 1992, they turned to the craft that Ms. Ramos’s parents had taught her as a child: barbacoa. At first, they catered quinceañeras and weddings, but soon opened their own restaurant, Gish Bac, in Mid-City.
Ms. Ramos, who still cooks in the open kitchen, turns out goat meat that is slick and almost sticky from a low, slow roast, served with its own rich, restorative juices.
Fernando Lopez left his family behind when he made his made his way north in 1993, joining his sister Soledad Lopez. As she had done before him, Mr. Lopez drove from Los Angeles to Tijuana to pick up ingredients shipped to the border, then sold them door to door, catering to the small but flourishing Oaxacan communities in Culver City, Pico-Union and Marina del Rey.
The art of making moronga, or blood sausage, was passed down from Ms. Romero’s great-grandfather and has a fan base among the Oaxacan community in Los Angeles.CreditLeela Cyd Ross for The New York Times
He took requests: Oaxacan tortillas known as tlayudas; lard; small-batch mezcal; dark chocolate; grasshoppers called chapulines. Guelaguetza, the restaurant Ms. Lopez founded, and Mr. Lopez later took over, will celebrate its 25th year in business in May.
“My dad had to keep on bringing ingredients from Oaxaca because so many people living in Los Angeles knew exactly what these things were supposed to taste like,” said Bricia Lopez, one of Mr. Lopez’s four children, who now run the business together. “There’s just no way to recreate our bay leaves, our oregano, our avocado leaves, our chiles.”
Bill Esparza, the author of the 2017 cookbook “L.A. Mexicano,” said Oaxacans’ dedication to their regional ingredients is fierce, and that establishing a flow of quality products from home was critical for their restaurants and food businesses to thrive in Los Angeles.
While cooks from other regions may have compromised where they needed to, “Oaxacans would not open restaurants without their ingredients,” Mr. Esparza said.
Newer restaurateurs, like Mr. Martinez, still import essentials. The fresh, flexible, sweet-scented tlayudas come from a group of Oaxacan artisans who shape each one to be huge and thin, as lightly crinkled and diaphanous as a summer dress, totally distinct from the fatter, palm-size corn tortillas you might encounter at a taqueria.
Drizzled with golden dregs of homemade lard, spread with seasoned black beans, meaty quesillo and shredded cabbage, the tlayuda at Poncho’s is then folded in half so all the ingredients melt into one another. The cabbage steams gently. The outside toasts. And the tlayuda becomes a tlayuda.
The dish is substantial, but not heavy; crisp, but not fragile. It is portable, but best enjoyed immediately, in place, surrounded by the warmth of chatter and grill smoke, at a communal table draped with floral oilcloth, just in front of the open kitchen.
Mr. Martinez, 41, didn’t grow up eating tlayudas. But as a musician in a brass band, he traveled to the capital, Oaxaca City, and often demolished the snack after shows — trombone in one hand, tlayuda in the other.
In Los Angeles, he put aside music and worked briefly in a Chinese restaurant, a cafeteria at the University of California, Los Angeles, and an Iranian restaurant.
But two years ago, Mr. Martinez started to make the food he wanted to make — tlayudas and moronga — at home. His first customers were Zapotec, members of an Indigenous group living near him in South Los Angeles.
In October, he and Miguel Mendez, a cook, set up the food stand at the downtown Sunday market, Smorgasburg. (There, in response to a crowd that is less familiar with Oaxacan food, and wary of the tlayuda’s unwieldy size, they have ordered smaller versions of the tortillas.)
The blood sausage, also on sale at Smorgasburg, has become a fixture at Oaxacan events across the city — weekend religious celebrations, traditional brass-band performances — and, more recently, has played a vital role in the city’s day-to-day politics.
Poncho’s Tlayudas nourished activists, many of them Indigenous people from Oaxaca, as they protested and prepared for hearings at City Hall leading up to the legalization of sidewalk vending late last year. Teachers on strike stopped in to refuel with tlayudas in January, after spending the day marching in front of city schools.
“This is a space where people come to eat and to organize,” Ms. Romero said.
An interpreter of English, Spanish and her native Zapotec, Ms. Romero, 47, has roots in Zoogocho, in the mountainous northern part of Oaxaca. The recipe for the moronga was passed down to Mr. Martinez from her parents.
“Blood sausage is not Mesoamerican,” she said; pork arrived in Mexico with Spanish colonists. “But it mysteriously ended up in the terranorte of Oaxaca, a four-hour drive from Oaxaca City, and now it’s part of a tradition.”
It began with her great-grandfather and his brother, who learned to read in a region where most people weren’t able to go to school. “They must have had contact with Spanish people,” Ms. Romero said, because somehow, her great-grandfather learned to season, shape and poach fresh pig’s blood, transforming it into moronga.
Her father received a lesson in the technique as a wedding present. If you ever need to survive on something, his grandfather told him, you can survive on this.
When Ms. Romero’s father moved to Los Angeles in the mid-1970s, he remembered his father’s words. He took up sausage-making when Ms. Romero’s mother suggested there could be a market for it.
“My mom is a very determined woman.” Ms. Romero said. “In the 1980s, in Los Angeles, she went out to find pig’s blood. She got on a bus, and she carried it home.”
Over the years, Ms. Romero’s family sustained itself, and a growing community, with this moronga. At Poncho’s Tlayudas, it’s not a precise replica of the original Oaxacan sausage, but maybe better: It’s the Oaxacalifornian version.
Poncho’s Tlayudas, Fridays from 5 p.m. to midnight, 4318 South Main Street, Los Angeles; Sundays from 10 a.m. to 4 p.m., Smorgasburg, 787 South Alameda Street, Los Angeles.