Some of our first memories of Oaxaca, Mexico are from reading recipes and descriptions of moles in cookbooks. Moles (the catch all term for sauce) are famous in this region with a world of variety to choose from, such as the black mole which involves over 27 different ingredients like bitter chocolate to estofado which is light in color, heavy on the cinnamon and served with olives. Another reason why Oaxaca attracted us is the Mezcal, and during our trip last year to Mexico City we fell in love. These distillations are mainly produced in the Oaxaca region and almost 85% of those produced are never exported. You have to travel to the source to taste the wild varietals from the mezcal makers themselves. With this in mind we knew that this years trip had to be to Oaxaca.
Oaxaca is a small city built by the Spanish who established it in 1529. With the city designed on a grid it makes getting around by foot the best way to go. We spent days walking along the sidewalks getting lost only to look up and see the steeple of the large catholic church that anchored the central square to find our way back home. Since the city became a UNESCO world heritage site it has become a coveted tourist destination with the local government investing in pedestrian streets, additional street lights and heightened security. Within blocks of each other you can grab a small batch mezcal, eat at a great restaurant and finish off your night with Consomme (beef broth). Oaxaca city offers many of the classier dining options and great Mezcalerias, but when you venture out of the city you find indigenous groups maintaining their culture and food ways.
Out of town:
Taking small taxi rides out of the city for short day trips is as easy as finding the correct taxi around the Mercado de Abastos, paying your fare and sharing a small car to the central square. If you have the time, making day trips could fill an entire itinerary. There are two main indigenous groups located in Oaxaca - the Zapotec and Mixtec. They may be the most dominant but an additional 50 different indigenous groups continue to live in the province. You see traces of these groups in the city but they really make their mark on the small pueblos dotted around the valley. Each day during the week a different pueblo will hold a market that will draw vendors from around the area. We found on visits to these different markets the diversity that can exist in just one valley, from Etla in the north of the valley to Zaachila in the south. Both communities prepared barbocoa completely different, Zaachila favoring maguey (the leaves of the cactus) where in Etla the meat tasted heavy of avocado leaves. Both use the name barbocoa but they couldn’t be more distinct. In this province you will find herbs, cheeses and preparations that do not exist in other places around the country. Oaxaca is a gastronomic area with food bursting out of every crevasse and we feel extremely lucky to have spent some time in this beautiful part of Mexico.
Below are some of our recommendations:
A small restaurant run by American expats who have gone the extra mile to find some truly rare mescals for their customers. Not only great selections but some nice small bites.
Small bar with a great mescal selection, craft beers from Mexico and a roof top terrace to watch the sun go down over plaza Santa Domingo.
Mezcalería In Situ
For people who really want to dive in the full world of mezcal, here you can find variety and very educated staff that can guide you through the world of distilled agave spirits.
20th of Noviembre Market
A great covered market where you go for lunch to get great typical plates of moles, empanadas, and soups. Look for the special passageway where there are the grill masters cooking up different cuts of meat and sausage for you to order. Certainly one of the ‘to do’ food activities in the city.
Small restaurant specializing in native corn varieties done up in a variety of styles. Great for breakfast and lunch.
Restaurant El Escapulario
Some of the best moles on the trip including a great version of the Oaxacan black mole. Small intimate space on the second floor near Santa Domingo.
Etla-A lively Wednesday Market
Some of the best barbocoa we have tried.
A strong Zapotec influence on the market. Awesome variety of products beings sold with at least 25 vendors of barbocoa.
Ocotlán de Morelos
A small city with a refurbished church housing the late artist Rodolfo Morale’s work of paintings and sculpture. The Market near by is a great place to catch a peek at a woman who dresses like Frida Kahlo and grab some food.
Note: photos are in no particular order. Please reach out if you have any questions.