Oaxaca is one of the most colourful cities on Earth. This includes its architecture, its people, and of course, its culinary specialities! The Mexican province is home to smoky mescal, spectacular moles, edible insects, fragrant chocolate, vibrant food markets, a funky ingredient called “corn smut” and one of the most crave-worthy street food meals in the world, carne asada.
There is so much to do in Oaxaca… but the amazing food is the main reason to go!
What To Eat in Oaxaca
Right in the heart of Oaxaca, in the complex that combines 20 de Noviembre and Benito Juarez mercados, it’s possible to taste some of the best street food in the world. On each side of a smoky alley, butchers display different cuts and kinds of meat. These include freshly cut beef loin, thin sheets of dried meats, chorizo sausages, and intestines.Next to each kiosk, a man tends to a small charcoal grill. A little further, in the direction of the centre of the market, you’ll find tables and chairs, as well as vegetables and drinks to go with your meal.
Next to each kiosk, a man tends to a small charcoal grill. A little further, in the direction of the centre of the market, you’ll find tables and chairs, as well as vegetables and drinks to go with your meal.
Customers make their choice of meats from one of the butchers, then take a small basket and sit at one of the tables. Ladies offer salsas, tortillas (those made of blue corn are sublime!) and vegetables, such as grilled green onions, avocados, and tomatoes. Some places serve beer, while others only offer soft drinks.
You smell the fat of the meat dripping onto the embers and smoke invading the whole market, you hear the clamour of people chewing and chatting, and before you know it, your meal is ready. You can even design your own tacos. This is the experience of eating the carne asadas of Oaxaca.
Address: Mercado 20 de Noviembre, 20 de Noviembre, Centro
It’s a cliché today to remind people that Mexican food has nothing to do with Tex-Mex. No orange cheese, iceberg lettuce, or crunchy tacos in Mexico. But travellers who go to all the way to Oaxaca already know this. Almost everyone has heard about the famous mole sauce, rich and creamy, which contains chocolate and is used as a sauce for chicken, for example. This recipe, the mole poblano, can be found almost everywhere in Mexico. But in Oaxaca, there are seven types of moles.
There are several places in Oaxaca where it’s possible to taste these sauces. For example, it’s a staple on the menu at Casa Crespo restaurant. In addition, the place offers cooking classes for those who would like to learn how to make mole sauces, and anything Oaxacan.
My favourite? The coloradito, which includes several types of peppers. The bright scarlet sauce is so delicious that one could put it on an insect and it would eat itself up! And talking about insects…
Address: Casa Crespo, Allende 107, Centro Histórico
Grasshoppers and worms!
Across Mexico, you can find chapulines, fried and seasoned grasshoppers, which people there eat in the same way that the Dutch munch on a cone of fries or the Americans snack on a bag of chips. These grasshoppers are excellent! But that’s not all.At the central market, several stalls offer bags full of different edible insects: ants and their larvae, beetles, and much more. Several insects also serve as taco stuffing. There are also the famous
At the central market, several stalls offer bags full of different edible insects: ants and their larvae, beetles, and much more. Several insects also serve as taco stuffing. There are also the famous gusanos. Which brings us to the next topic…
Mescal, an unforgettable taste
Mescal is the local alcohol of the region. It is well known all over the world because some varieties of mescal have a worm at the bottom of the bottle. This is a gusano, a worm that feeds on the maguey plant. It is from this plant that mescal is made.
If tequila is made in the region of Tequila, well, in the same way, mescal is made in the region of Oaxaca. It’s essentially the same recipe, with a few minor differences, but mescal has a strong smokey taste because of the way it’s processed. It’s precisely this powerful aroma that makes it unforgettable.
Mescal is often served with a mixture of salt, ground chilli and dried and ground worms; in addition, a small slice of orange is often added. One of the best places to taste the local alcohol is the Mescaleria Los Amantes.
Address: Los Amantes Mezcalería, Allende 107, Centro Histórico
The market of Tlacolula de Matamoros
The markets of the city of Oaxaca are an endless source of discoveries. But sometimes, travellers don’t have as much time as they would like to explore everything. Fortunately, every weekend, very close to the city of Oaxaca, the market town of Tlacolula de Matamoros offers handmade clothes, knock-off sunglasses, fresh vegetables, live poultry, asadas, horchata and fresh tejate, and everything in between.
And depending on the season, you may be able to find quesadillas of huitlacoche. This ingredient is nicknamed “the Mexican truffle,” because its taste and colour come close to the original thing. It’s actually a fungus outgrowth that attacks and destroys the corn grown in the area. Instead of throwing away it away, though, why not eat it? This is definitely one of the dishes that is worth actively seeking during a trip to Oaxaca. And if you don’t find it, you can always fall back on the succulent zucchini flower quesadillas.
Address: Mercado Municipal Martín González, Galeana 2, Tercera Secc, 70400 Tlacolula de Matamoros
Oaxaca is a very special city…
Walking around the city, you will notice a few things: first, the buildings are never higher than a few floors. This is because earthquakes are so frequent that it would be dangerous to do otherwise. Then you’ll notice that the city is very colourful. Small concrete buildings are often painted red, blue, or orange. Once you have visited Oaxaca, it will never again be hard to identify this colourful city on a postcard.
Don’t miss out on these discoveries and book your Air Transat flight to Mexico and start planning your visit!
Cover photo credit: Cedric Lizotte