Oaxaca, Mexico

  • Visited November 2018

Oaxaca (pronounced wa-ha-ka) is a foodie’s paradise. From street food to fine dining, pulque to mezcal, a visit to this region is a gourmet treat fest. Come prepared to try anything and to eat/drink plenty!

Things you should try when in Oaxaca:

  • Chapulines – grasshoppers are a popular snack here. Dried out, and flavoured with lime and chilli, these protein-filled insects are actually very tasty on their own or added to Tlayudas (see picture below). They can also be found in a popular gelatine-based sweet.
  • Mezcal – Made from any type of agave plant (Tequila can only be made by law with the blue agave), Mexicans take mezcal very seriously. Unlike Tequila, mezcal is meant to be savoured rather than knocked back in a shot. You can find it everywhere though I would recommend going to a mezcal tasting session. I did one as part of an organised day tour and I enjoyed learning about the making process and then trying the different varieties.   
  • Pulque – an alcoholic drink that has been prepared in this region for over 2,000 years. Made from the fermented sap of the maguey plant (a type of agave) it has a distinctive flavour.
  • Tlayudas – traditional to Oaxacan cuisine, a basic tlayuda consists of a large, thin, fried or toasted tortilla, filled with refried beans, unrefined pork lard, lettuce, Oaxacan cheese. The tortilla is folded and then topped with an ingredient of your choice e.g. beef, chicken, chapulines etc. 
  • Mole – there are 7 types of mole from Oaxaca: negro, rojo, coloradito, amarilla, verde, chichilo and manchamantel. Challenge yourself to try them all!   
  • Oaxacan coffee – coffee lovers rejoice! You can find lots of lovely cafes in Oaxaca that serve freshly ground local coffee. Oaxaca is one of Mexico’s primary coffee producing states.
  • Oaxacan chocolate – eat it or drink it, consuming the local chocolate needs to be done. You can actually watch the chocolate being ground at Chocolate Conchita, a chocolate mole cafe, before trying the wide varieties of chocolate they offer.

After you’ve sated your appetite, give yourself plenty of time to explore everything this lovely city, and surrounding region, have to offer. There is much to do to please the culture junkie or nature lover. The hostel I stayed in did a free walking tour every other day and it was an excellent introduction to the city – we toured local markets, trying chapulines, watched chocolate get made, visited an ice-cream cafe and explored the areas around the Zocalo and Santo Domingo. This is a very easy and compact city to get around by foot.

Suggested activities:

  • Explore the main city sites such as the churches – the interior of Santo Domingo is particularly beautiful – galleries/museums (I can recommend the Museum of Contemporary Art MACO) and markets.
  • Take a day tour exploring the region – I did one for 200 pesos booked through my hostel which included Santa Maria el Tule (home of a tree over 2,000 years old), a weaving workshop in Teotitlan del Valle, Mezcal tasting at a distillery, the ruins of Mitla, a lunch buffet, and the highlight of the day: swimming in the natural pools of Hierve el Agua. Entry prices were not included or the cost of the buffet so make sure you have cash with you. It was 10 pesos for the tree, 70 pesos for Mitla, 60 pesos for Hierve el Agua and 150 pesos for lunch.
  • People-watch in the zocalo or Parque Llano (I visited on a weekend and found tasty street food here and a dance festival taking place).
  • Have a coffee at Cafe Brujula.
  • Have a meal at La Casa de la Abuelo – excellent service and the food was great. I had quesillo a la plancha (Oaxaca’s famous white cheese with refried beans and guacamole) followed by a cup of chocolate de aqua, made with Oaxacan chocolate.Tip: sit at a table by the windows for views of the zocalo.
  • Take a 40-minute bus ride to the well-preserved ruins of Monte Alban

Selection of pictures from my stay: