Seeing Oaxaca through the eyes of the Brit
Whenever we told people we were going to Oaxaca, whether foreigners or locals, they would always say “ahhh, the food is amazing in Oaxaca!” Every time they said that, our expectations built that little bit higher, so it’s understandable that the first thing Brianna and I wanted to do once we were there was eat.
Our culinary exploration started at a streetside taco stand near the indoor market on the evening we arrived. Packed with a bunch of Mexicans standing on the pavement devouring taco after taco and three hombres working furiously behind a steaming stove – their sweat undoubtedly adding to the flavour – we knew we had found our first stop.
Once we had a few hard shell (tostados) and soft shell tacos (the tostados won that round), we were off to find something of a sweeter variety.
Empanadas are famous throughout Mexico, and in Oaxaca we managed to find some stuffed with homemade pineapple jam making them the perfect after dinner treat.
Obviously you can’t come to Mexico without drinking tequila. Well, in Oaxaca you can’t leave without trying mezcal.
Mezcal is like an unrefined smokier version of tequila. I’ll try and describe it to you. Imagine inhaling so much smoke from a bonfire it makes you cry, followed by a burning sensation all the way down your throat, no doubt similar to drinking unleaded petrol. Immediately after this is the feeling of someone putting their hand through your skin and into your abdomen, gripping your stomach, squeezing with all their might. That’s mezcal.
Anyway, it is the drink of Oaxaca and there are a number of small distilleries dotted around the city. Much like a vineyard, anyone is welcome to pop in and try the different flavours, and Brianna and I had increasing amounts of fun trying out a few of the local favourites. It might not be pleasurable, but it is extremely effective (if you catch my drift).
Brian is always on the lookout for what he calls “alternative content” to film, so when we found out Oaxaca sells a few delicacies of a more delicate nature, it was down to me to try them all.
For me, there’s always a slight sense of trepidation before eating crickets and other insects purely down to the fact that you’re not going to find them even on the most alternative menu, but they’re actually not that bad.
Crickets are usually fried with a lot of salt and BBQ seasoning. Get yourself a cerveza and they’d be the perfect bar snack.
However, not the perfect bar snack are live maggots. Why anyone be selling live maggots completely beats me, and as fishing isn’t exactly the most popular sport in the middle of Mexico, it leads me to believe that they are indeed being sold purely for pleasure.
Well, I can assure you there isn’t anything pleasurable about them. I was expecting my maggot to be utterly tasteless, so imagine my surprise when I found it had the metallic taste of blood. Not ideal with a belly full of crickets and half-drunk from mezcal.
Other than eating, I was in Oaxaca to see Monte Alban, some ancient pyramids just outside the city.
To get to Monte Alban I caught a bus from Oaxaca for 50 pesos (approximately €3) and it only took about 30 minutes to get there.
Monte Alban, much like Teotihuacan, is another pre-Columbian archelogical site in Mexico. Found high up in the mountains (at 1,940m), it was initially founded around 5oo BC and was once a major city. Being to high up in the mountains, almost tucked away, it was easy to see how the city remained shrouded in anonymity for years, and almost to signify that I was the only person there.
Even though Oaxaca is famous for food, its cobbled streets and brightly painted buildings – now faded with time – give the city an old colonial feel to it, almost timeless.
Oaxaca isn’t a city you just taste; it is a city you need to feel. Just avoid the maggots.
One place we didn’t have time to visit was the beach, and after seeing the best beaches in Oaxaca I am absolutely gutted. These beaches look incredible – you wouldn’t think these are close to the city of Oaxaca!
Seeing Oaxaca through the eyes of the Broad
Yes, Oaxaca (pronounced wa-hah-kah) is a UNESCO world heritage city, filled with stunning churches, cultural sites and vast markets. But there is one very important thing associated with the city that trumps everything else: delicious street food. Trying all the different cuisines was one of the things I was most excited about for this whole journey, so needless to say I didn’t want to miss this colonial town.
We arrived on a Sunday afternoon and the city was very quiet. The streets were empty and the storefronts closed. We dropped our bags and went on the hunt for tacos. Once we got to zocalo, the city center, we found out where everyone was hanging out. A colorful Sunday market was in action, with rows upon rows of souvenirs and trinkets, vendors selling ice cream and freshly pressed juice, all to the soundtrack of a mariachi band playing Elvis songs.
We made our way through and eventually found the food street: el 20 de noviembre. We stopped at each vendor, eating tacos, quesadillas and taquitos; each more delicious than the last. Everything was handmade. We watched our tortillas being pressed by hand and then cooked on the grill. The ingredients are simple: cheese, beans and spicy meats that were full of flavour.
Apart from the food, Oaxaca is also known for the huge Juarez market. Entering from one end, it’s easy to get turned around in the maze of goods and groceries. You can buy jewelry, belts and bags alongside pig hearts, hot peppers and crispy, fried grasshoppers. After a while the smell of the butcher shops left me gasping for air but soon after we were on the hunt for more tacos.
While wandering the city the following day, Brian and I made our way to a vantage point overlooking the city. As Brian shot time-lapse, I watched the dark clouds roll in; perfect for time-lapse, not great for getting stuck in. Nevertheless, Brian spotted a cross in the distance and him being the brilliant photographer that he is, he suggested we make our way to this unknown location so he could take some photos.
We decided we would risk getting rained on and started off in what we thought was the direction of the cross. Climbing steep streets, we realized we would have to start asking people where to go. We didn’t know the name so we began asking, “cruz blanco?” and were pointed on. After making a few wrong turns, and then finding a secret path that took us across a creek and into another little area of the town, we were finally close.
Just as we got to the gravel road that would hopefully take us there, it started to rain. We did our best, climbing up rocks and through fields of goats, until we finally reached the summit. By this point, it was pouring rain but nothing could dampen our sense of triumph. We laughed as rain dripped off our noses and we hurriedly snapped some photos.
Overlooking the whole city, the Cruz del Milenio was the perfect example of what I love most about travelling; You never know where you’ll end up. Wandering the city turned into climbing up mountains turned into torrential downpour turned into one of my favourite moments from the trip so far.