Elizabeth and I went to Oaxaca over Thanksgiving, and had a wonderful time.
We thoroughly enjoyed Oaxaca. We saw amazing things, ate great food, and the people were warm and welcoming.
There’s a bunch more pictures on flickr.
Here’s a few highlights of our trip.
Cooking Class at El Naranjo
Andrew Peterson is the chef/owner of the restaurant, and he does a great cooking class. We went with him to the market, and we peppered him with questions – mostly “What’s That?’ (over & over). He gave us lots of information about the different chiles, the spices, as well as the plethora of fruits & vegetables. We bought fresh vegetables, spices, meat, and fish. We tasted chocolate, cheese, and a chocolate milk (of sorts). Then it was back to the restaurant, where we spent the afternoon cooking. We made a couple of salsas, an aqua fresca, a black bean soup, estfado (an almond mole) over chicken, and a dessert. Andrew is super knowledgeable, and made it a fun experience. We snacked on the fresh salsas, as well as chipillinas (fried grasshoppers) while we cooked the rest of the meal. We then enjoyed some wine, and ate the dinner that we had all prepared. It wasn’t a busy night in the restaurant, so Andrew hung out with us, and we shared some mezcal and talked for a few hours. Not only did we gain knowledge about traditional Oaxacan cooking, but we gained a friend as well.
Visiting the villages
We entrusted Roberto Gavida as our “personal car and driver” – and we enjoyed our time with him. We booked him for 3 days, and visited many villages, and sights. We saw a bunch of amazing chuches, artisans (black pottery, woven rugs, woodcarvings, potters, the famous Aguilar sisters), the Tule tree, Mitla, Monte Alban, and markets. We also got a private tour of a small, but highly regarded mezcal factory (Mezcal Mistico). We sampled a bunch of different mezcals, and learned a lot from Eric, the owner. This was definitely not your typical tourist tour.
Roberto is super knowledgeable, and we were glad we chose him.
We visited Mitla first, which was pretty cool. Later we went to Monte Alban, which is amazing. It was surreal to walk through this city that is thousands of years old. Its also fascinating to see how advanced they were, especially in astronomy and other sciences. It was one of the more “touristy” things we did, but I would highly recommend it.
The food in Oaxaca was amazing!
Don Juanito is a little taqueria, and their pozole was excellent. We just kinda stumbled into this place, and it ended up being a great find.
In the market at Zaachila, we had bbq goat and bbq sheep tacos – so good!
La Biznaga is one of the more popular, hip restaurants. The food was great, although the service was a bit spotty.
We had dinner one night at Los Pacos. We had the entire restaurant to ourselves. They bring out samples of 6 kinds of mole, so you can try them all. I ended up ordering a combination of a few different moles. Delicious.
And of course, the dinner we made during the cooking class at El Naranjo was fantastic.
Lunch at Mercado 20 de Noviembre is an experienced not to be missed. They hand you some chiles and green onions, and you pick your meat from one of the meat vendors. They then cook everything up for you immediately. The old ladies will sell you as many delicious tortillas as you want, and the young girls will sell you salsa, guacamole, radishes, pico de gallo, etc. Wash it all down with a couple of cervezas. All for about $10 US. Crazy good. This is Mexican fast food at its finest.
Mens Health recently had a good article on eating in Mexico, and he described eating in the market much better than I ever could.
I am the most popular person in Oaxaca, Mexico, and all it took was a fistful of green onions.
I’m standing in the Mercado 20 de Noviembre, this southern city’s central market, being buffeted by catcalls and charcoal smoke. “Oye guapo, ven aqui.” “¿Vas a comer? ¡Come con nosotros!” To the dozens of people selling fresh meat and tending live fires, the onions in my market basket mean just one thing: I’m here to eat.
Now it’s just a matter of where.
Everyone has an opinion. A man in a Def Leppard shirt flexes his biceps. A young girl grabs my hand. A woman my mother’s age whistles seductively. I go with the musclehead, who puts away his guns and uses a giant cleaver to chop off a few pieces of air-dried beef called tasajo, plus a chunk of chili-rubbed pork. He tosses both onto a wood-fired grill and then buries my onions and a few chile peppers directly in the embers before fanning the flames.
While the meat sizzles, a tiny, old woman with skin like a sun-dried tomato sells me a stack of warm tortillas from a wicker basket. Then she snatches the fan from the brawny butcher and takes over the cooking. She calls out to a crew of young girls in aprons, and a cascade of condiments materializes before my eyes: a pile of fresh radishes; a bowl of thin, burgundy-colored salsa; a scoop of guacamole from a mortar the size of a bathtub. “Listo,” she finally declares when she sees a nice char on the beef. It’s lunchtime.
All of this costs less than 10 bucks for two people (cervezas included) and tastes as good as anything I’ve eaten in months. This is how real Mexican food comes together: quickly, fiercely. Each ingredient is simple, fresh, and assertively flavored. And the aftermarket upgrades are left to me. Want more heat? Take more green salsa. Want to cool it down? Try a slather of guac and a squirt of lime juice. More texture? That’s what the raw onion is for, senor.
One of those great vacation moments
One afternoon while out with Andrew from El Naranjo, we ended up at this little roadside stand where they sell grilled chicken that is so freakin’ good. We just stopped to get some chicken to go, but before you know it, the husband and wife who own the place brought out cervezas with the chicken, as well as tamales, some kind of fruit that we hadn’t seen before, as well as some fried wheat pinwheels. They made us sit at the table, and they sat down with us, just to enjoy the conversation. When we asked about the fried snacks, they brought us back into their kitchen, and showed us how they were made. They have 10 kids, and they were so happy to just talk with us, and show us how they cooked. I tried to give them money for the food, but they refused. They would have none of it. They made us promise we would come back to see them if we returned to Oaxaca – no problem there. This was just one of those super vacation experiences, when you go off the beaten tourist path, meet real folks, and bond over food.
Hotel Casa Pereyra
We stayed at Casa Pereyra. is a very cute little place, just a few blocks west of the Zocalo.
Passing through the door, you’re welcomed into the courtyard, filled with plants, flowers, and a fountain.
We stayed in room #4, right off the courtyard, which has two floors. The downstairs has a small kitchen (sink, stove, oven, microwave), and a living area.
Upstairs, a full size bed, sitting area, and bathroom. There’s also a set of double doors that open to a Juliet balcony overlooking the courtyard.
There’s free coffee available in the courtyard every morning, along with 2 bottles of bottled water in the room every day.
They also have free wireless internet access. Because its in the heart of the city, it can be a bit noisy at times. And on a couple nights, the band next door player until 10:00 at night – and they were LOUD! All in all, a good place to stay. IIRC, it was around 75 pesos/night. Update: 750 pesos/night.
We visited Mezcal Mistico in Tlacolula. The owner, Eric Hernandez makes some great mezcal, and we toured his “factory”, which is completely old-school. A big old fire pit in the ground, a horse that goes in circles turning a stone wheel to crush the leaves, a still that looks like something a country moonshine maker would use, and open topped barrels for aging. He then let us taste half a dozen different mezcals that he makes. The first one was like rocket fuel, but they got better as we went on. I liked the aged one, and we walked away with a bottle of his finest. This is the real deal – no tourist show here. Eric is passionate about his mezcal, and it shows. This was a very cool place to visit.
There’s a bunch more pictures on flickr.