This would have been my response a couple of years ago if someone told me they were going to Oaxaca, the quaint Mexican town with the name that is pronounced nothing like it’s spelt. Fast forward to the present and it seems every other Tom, Dick, and Harriet I know has either been or is going to this tourist hotspot. Unsurprising really when you see what it has to offer- vibrant town centre, easy day trips to the Monte Alban ruins and mezcal (Mexican liquor) factories, hectic markets, and home to the mole, hot chocolates, and other delicious delights.
We spent the days soaking up the sights and sounds in the heart of things because there’s no shortage of things to do in town, and we were a little too tired for more. There were strolls down the Andador watching other tourists haggling with street vendors, quiet moments at the stunning Church of Santo Domingo de Guzman, culture fixes at the Museum of Oaxacan Cultures, and random rambles around the backstreets. But the majority of our time was spent getting lost in the market, eating some new and interesting things, and sipping margheritas and beers while people watching in Zocalo.
You could sit in one of the restaurants surrounding the Zocalo all day playing I-Spy… with my little eye… balloons– from the many sellers who don’t seem to sell many at all, tents– that the protesting locals have put up over the makeshift manhole toilet, shiny shoes– after being buffed back to life by the numerous shoe shiners, and kids– everywhere. Some running and laughing without a care in the world, others moving from tourist to tourist trying to sell anything from necklaces to cigarettes. One little girl was particularly memorable- she showed us some bracelets, we told her ‘no gracias’, and instead of moving on to the next table, she asked if she could have some nuts. She wrapped a handful in a serviette, gave it a squeeze of lime, then off she skipped, just as little girls should.
When we weren’t watching the Oaxacan world go by, we were eating it… At one end of the spectrum was the priciest meal we had in Mexico- dinner at Casa Oaxaca. It started well with salsa made fresh at the table; perfectly paired with the blue corn tortillas. Things then got very interesting with our starters- perfectly tangy ceviche with spicy kicks in every bite, and taquitos like I’ve never had before- a mexican cheese and grasshopper mixture wrapped in some variety of leaf. I’m still not sure how I feel about the grasshoppers but at least I’m still thinking about it- weird or otherwise!
The rest of the meal was just underwhelming- rib eye, molito goat with yellow mole, and flourless chocolate cake. All tasted… nice. (Probably the most boring adjective in the English language)
At the other end of the spectrum, we followed our noses and found the smokey corridor that is the meat market at Mercado 20 de Noviembre. You want your senses to deal with the haze quickly because as soon as you step in you’re bombarded with vendors yelling at you from all angles- the onion/jalapeno guy is asking how many of each you want, the condiments crew convincing you to get the pico de gallo and guacamole and radishes… cucumber… the tortilla lady is taking your order, and before you can sit down, you’ve got to get some drinks.
You’re already exhausted from this ordering frenzy when you remember you’ve still got to pick a meat stand- they all look the same so really you’re deciding if you’re going with the one who’s just shouted at you, or the one who shouted louder and pointed at you. I opted for the smiliest lady, got our marinaded pork, flank steak, and chorizo on the grill, then went back to the table to wait. It was an absolute feast, and cemented my view that things cooked over charcoal always taste better!
Oh and we did dabble in one last activity- something I expected to be doing in LA or NYC, not the cobbled streets of Oaxaca… a bit of celeb stalking! We were strolling to dinner when we spotted Anthony Bourdain- our favourite foul mouthed, chain smoking, globe trotting food connoisseur- we had no choice but take a detour to see where Tony was getting his nosh from! So there you go- between us and Tony, you now know all the cool kids are going to Oaxaca!