Playa del Carmen, Cancún and Cabo are great vacations for the sand, sun, and surf. But if you want true the Mexican experience then you have to leave the bikinis behind. Why not go to the artsy, ancient, high-altitude city of Oaxaca (pronounced “wah-HAH-kah”) in southwestern Mexico? In the stateliest of Spanish colonial traditions, Oaxaca City, population 3.8 million, is an architectural gem filled with museums, festivals, handicrafts, pre-Columbian ruins and baroque churches encrusted with gold.
More importantly, it’s the culinary capital of Mexico, packed with inexpensive markets and elegant five-star restaurants serving some of the tastiest food in the world. Oaxaca is one of the safest states in Mexico, and if you’re still missing the water, Oaxaca has hundreds of miles of glorious Pacific beaches.
1. Willy Wonka's dream vacation
Oaxaca is the only place in the world that has such a strong and visible cacao consuming culture. Cacao is being sold in all the outdoor markets called mercados, and there are even several international companies based in Oaxaca that are dedicated to just selling cacao and chocolate products. Cacao drinks are plentiful and popular here in Oaxaca. To name a few that you will find are chocolate Atole, tejate, atole de chocolate (champurrado), tascalate, and popo.
There is perhaps no more important place in the world for chocolate than Mina Street near the city’s central market, also known as Chocolate Street. It’s home to some of Mexico’s biggest names in chocolate, as well as family owned shops where everything is made on the premises. Hot chocolate is treated with the seriousness of fine wine in Oaxaca. Chocolate Mayordomo is the place to get your chocolate fix. It’s a family business that has everything that you want and need to satisfy your craving. Their chocolate is prepared entirely with natural products such as cocoa, cinnamon, almonds, and sugar. This is a must-visit store to buy your chocolate.
Facebook: Chocolate Mayordomo
2. For the adventurous eater
Chapulines are one of the most popular snack foods enjoyed by residents in Oaxaca. They are rust-colored grasshoppers that are usually served fried and seasoned with chili, lime, garlic, onion, and/or salt. They are an old food tradition in these parts as a cheap and plentiful protein. And just to be clear of what you’re eating, these are whole, toasted grasshoppers. They are more of a snack and are not recommended to eat as a large meal. Visit a traditional Oaxacan restaurant such as Casa de la Abuela. Here you can order Chapulines as a side dish and dine on Mexican cuisine.
La Casa de la Abuela
Address: Miguel Hidalgo 616, Centro, 68000 Oaxaca, Mexico
Facebook: La Casa de la Abuela
3. We put that sauce on everything
In Oaxaca, with their traditional Mexican cuisine, they use what is referred to as mole sauce. It is the generic name for a number of sauces originally used in Mexican cuisine, as well as for dishes that are sauced based. There are seven types of mole sauces: Negro, a typical savory-sweet sauce and the one most frequently found on American menus. Rojo, which is a red mole, also known as mole poblano, and it uses many of the same spices and base ingredients and also contains chocolate. Coloradito, this mole translates to “a shade of red,” and is somewhere between rojo and negro. The Amarillo mole sauce is all the goodness of the first three moles without the sweet stuff. Verde is white on the outside, green on the inside and it’s actually a pumpkin seed. The Chichilo is a little more intense and is typically used for braises. And last but not least the Manchamantel mole sauce, which is called the tablecloth-staining mole sauce. It is bright red chorizo grease, with tomatoes and ancho chiles. You do not want to be wearing white when eating this mole sauce.
Los Pacos Oaxaca is well-known for their traditional Mexican cuisine and their mole sauces. They have a wonderful menu to try your palate with mole sauces.
Los Pacos Oaxaca
Address: Belisario Domínguez 108-1 Col. Reforma, Oaxaca, Mexico
Facebook: Los Pacos Oaxaca
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4. A crispy Mexican pizza
The tlayuda (also spelled clayuda) is near synonymous with Oaxacan street food. It’s the city’s preferred snack for after-hours munchies. These giant, slightly crispy tortillas are spread with asiento, or pork lard, and refried beans and often topped with shredded lettuce, tomato, quesillo, and salsa. You can also have it with different meats like chorizo, tasajo (thinly sliced beef), and cecina (thinly sliced pork). It basically resembles an Oaxacan pizza of sorts.
Tlayuda is the ultimate street food, because they are actually made on the street. Literally! The tlayudas are cooked on the sidewalk over a charcoal fire, making them extra charred. Then the tortillas are folded and then served to you. They can be a messy to eat but they are delicious. Tasajo, chorizo, and cecina are the common accompaniments to the tlayudas but you can also be offered a choice of three salsas too. A popular location to find this street delicacy is Libres. They have several street grills going so that you can see your tlayuda being made.
Address: Calle de Los Libres 212, Ruta Independencia, Centro, 68000 Oaxaca, Mexico
5. Three beverages that you can't go home without trying
There are three distinct beverages to have while in Oaxaca. These three beverages are truly Mexican and cannot be duplicated although several bars do try.
The Champurrado is a Mexican atole, a hot drink thickened with corn and flavored with just about anything. The variety combines chocolate and masa. It can be thick or thin, and more chocolatey or corny flavored depending on who has made it. It’s not as sweet as you might assume it would be. But then you’ve probably never assumed chocolate and corn would go so well together either.
Tejate is known as the “Drink of the Gods”. This pre-hispanic drink prepared from maize and cacao is native of San Andres Huayapam, which is located five kilometers (3.1 mi) from the city of Oaxaca. You will find it in the streets and markets of Oaxaca. You’ll see the tejateras, which are women that stand behind huge clay pots and prepare this drink. Popular culture says the Tejate is the perfect remedy to relieve a hangover. Also, the Tejate suppresses hunger because of the nutrients it provides from the ingredients.
By now most of us are acquainted with, if not all-out bewitched by, mezcal, the first alcohol of the Americas, and the wine of the Aztecs. This ancient spirit that can be drank all night and never seems to give a hangover, is a distilled alcoholic beverage made from any type of agave plant native to Mexico and is found in almost all restaurants and bars in Oaxaca.
All three of these beverages are not hard to find and can be ordered at many restaurants, bars, and cafes in Oaxaca. Try all three to get the real Oaxacan Mexican beverage tour.
Stretchy and elastic waisted pants are needed in Oaxaca
Eating your way through a vacation is the best kind of vacation, especially if you’re in Oaxaca. People here take pride in the food and beverage that they prepare, as it is a part of their history and culture. This is not a place where you will find a Taco Bell but then again why would you want to with this type of true Mexican cuisine. Enjoy!!
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