A quick roundup of local delicacies to hunt down in Oaxaca. Scroll down for an eating tour of Oaxaca.
Oaxacan Mole (pron. moh-lay)
- Negro – The most complex of the moles, the startlingly inky color is derived from charring and grinding the pasilla negro chile seeds sauce. The seeds are ground then added to as much as two dozen ingredients including cloves, cinnamon and dark chocolate which are slow cooked for depth and character. The cheapest way to try this and other moles is at the many stalls in Mercado 20 de Noviembre. Ask for this sauce on your enmolada (tortillas filled and rolled with mole, topped with raw onion and a pouch of cheese), or any time as tamales (with chicken) in corn husks or even on large crispy corn tlayudas. Also served over meats and turkey. Try these other moles as well –
- Coloradito (translates to “a little bit red”) is mellow, tinged with sweet-tartness form apples and plantains
- Rojo (red) – flavored by a variety of roasted dried chillies and sweetened with raisins and nuts (almonds, peanuts) and dark chocolate. Try enchiladas topped with red mole sauce.
- Amarillo (yellow) – Best in empanadas with cooked chicken, flavored with the herb hoja santa
- Verde (green) – fresh and the lightest of the mole family as tomatillos and jalapenos are the main ingredients. Great over chicken.
- Manchamantel – a fragrant, spicy sweet stew with ancho chilli, its oils are so intense that the name means “staining the tablecloth”.
- Chichilo (beef stock mole) – a thick, hearty beef stew
Tamales Oaxaqueño is filled with various moles and especially flavorsome. Personal favorite – Tamale Mole Coloradito with chicken as it has incredible fragrance and depth but not too heavy on the chocolate. Head for the tamale stand at Mercado Merced (aka Mercado Democracia) which serves a wide variety. Tamale carts also frequent the Zocalo. Absolute must-try is the corn husk-wrapped Tamale Rajas filled with melting quesilla cheese smoky roasted poblano. Or go for dulce (sweet) tamales which are sweetened with raisin or pineapple.
Antojito (trans. “Little cravings”) Snacks –Oaxaca’s delicate masa based snacks are are the ultimate street food although some are served at bars and restaurants specializing in local cuisine. Try these snacks at local markets Mercado Merced and Mercado 20 de Noviembre:-
- Tlayudas – wafer thin corn tortilla, the size of a small pizza, is crisped on a clay comal over coals, smeared with asiento pork lard, topped with a thin layer of black refried beans, a scant amount of shredded meat (chicken, turkey, beef, cecina spiced pork,chorizo), vegetable, avocado or infamously – roasted grasshopper. Finally topped with shredded local queso, a light mozarella-like cheese. Served at bars, market stalls and restaurants. A must-try iconic Oaxacan dish (ask for “sin aciento” to avoid lard for a great low-fat snack) !
- Empanada Oaxaqueños – A local fave, the Oaxacan empanada doesn’t resemble any other empanada you’ve met and devoured. A huge corn tortilla the diameter of a large pizza is roasted on flat griddle over coals. For my favorite version, a thin mole amarillo-with-cheese and chicken shreds is poured atop, the whole thing folded in half and cooked until the skin is semi-crisp, and the insides a melty-smoky-spicy goodness. Some vendors offer a variety of meat or veg toppings,another great version has cheese and squash blossoms. The empanada is super thin but so large that it’s still a struggle to finish. The empanadas made in Ocotlan village’s Friday market are so good its worth making the half hour trip out of Oaxaca to sample.
- Memelas –A fat corn tortilla split in half – resembling a flattened English muffin – then smeared with lard and topped with a choice of shredded chicken, chorizo, mole negro, black beans, guacamole or salsa then finished with crumbled cheese. The name translates to “pinch” because that’s what the cooks do pockmark the soft inner surface so it can hold toppings.E
- Enfrijoladas –Tortillas are fried then stuffed with meat, rolled or folded then doused in a soupy-smooth black bean sauce. The black beans are cooked with avocado leaf, a unique Oaxacan herb.
- Enmoladas – Corn tortillas drenched with mole negro, topped with cheese and onion.
- Chilaquiles –Tortillas or tlayudas cut into strips, pan fried. Sometimes topped with shredded chicken and refried beans then broiled with queso fresco or cotija cheese, then smothered in salsa verde and topped with cream and onions. Usually available for breakfast or a light lunch.
- Tetelas –Thin corn tortillas are spread with refried bean paste while they’re cooking on the griddle, then the edges folded in to just meet in the center to create a triangle-shaped pocket. When done, the tetelas is topped with crumbled queso fresco, a dollop salsa and velvety cream.
Barbacoa – Barbacoa chivo (goat) is a painstakingly-cooked specialty. Note that it’s not grilled, instead a whole goat carcass is steamed by being wrapped in agave leaves then roasted in an earth-covered pit. The resulting fall-apart-tender meat is served in a tortilla with sides of shredded cabbage, onions, cilantro and salsa or in a broth. Today, beef, lamb, chicken and fish are also prepared similarly. Based on local friend’s recommendations, I visited for the goat Barbacoa Lane at Ocotlan Market. I found the meat greasy and gristly , but it’s part of a day tour to a rustic, charming market 45 minutes from Oaxaca city.
Carnes Asadas – Grilled Meats
Head to Mercado 20 de Noviembre’s smoky indoor food court El Pasillo de las Carnes Asadas. The casual eateries, fondas, here specialize in grilled meat. Head to any vendor displaying raw meat and make your pick by the half or full kilo. Selections include – tasajo (salted beef skirtsteak at about ), cecina (marinaded pork) and salchicha oaxaqueña (spicy beef sausage). Find a seat while the vendor grills your goodies, one of the long tables and benches. You can also order grilled veg, salsa and guacamole sides and a basket of freshmade tortillas from the many traveling vendor.
Eat, Don’t Watch, Smut – Huitlacoche, a black fungus that attacks corn, is also known as corn smut, the gray misshapen blobs look like a mutant supervillain vegetable but Oaxacans have turned this unattractive parasite to a delicacy, prized along with a wide array of local mushrooms (setas are cultivated while hongos refer to wild mushrooms). My cooking instructor Karla cooked some smut to let me have a taste – the flavor is akin to a bland mushroom, the only problem I had with it was the texture which verged on slimy.
Stone Soup (Caldo de Piedra) – Sounds like something out of an old fairtyale, its origins the Chinantla culture in north Oaxaca. The soup was traditionally made only by men for village gatherings, by dropping heated river rocks into a pozole leaf-lined pits or hollow gourds filled with liquid and river catch. Try it at Casa Crespo. (scroll down for more info)
RESTAURANTS TO TRY (and some to avoid)
Itanoni (Review by Mrs Judy Kroon) looks like a typical “front of house” Mexican place. Plastic lawn chairs and simple tables, cement under foot and colored streamers above. Food is roasted in the kitchen located right at the front, on a traditional clay comal.
Translates to “Flower of the corn”, this renowned restaurant is based on simple yet profound sustainability principles of founder-owner Ramírez Leyva of promoting economic viability and sourcing of local produce. Itanoni uses only native corn, produced by independent local farmers, avoiding anything mass produced. So the types of corn used at this tortillera can vary- blue one day, white the next.
The small menu includes tacos and tostadas topped with a quesillo cheese, black bean puree or queso crema (salted creamy cow’s milk cheese from Chiapas) ; memelitas (thicker taco with rippled surface to hold toppings) smeard with asiento (fat from cicharron), black bean puree or queso (local white string cheese) and cream; tetelas (triangular stuffed, folded and crisp-roasted tortillas) filled with a choice of cazon or dogfish – a kind of shark – and salsa, chicharron molido (a disgusting but tasty mash of fried pork, fat and skin), mushrooms and the simple classic of pureed beans topped with crumbled, tangy light queso fresco. Each item costs 15 to 37 Pesos, a bargain given the handmade goodness.
Ordering was confusing, neither menu nor staff having any English and we didn’t know the drill. Basically everything is wrapped in variety of corn tortillas of different shapes and crispness, and made from a specific corn meal . The flavor of the corn was amazing (celebrity chef Alice Waters has written about the food served here).
My husband and I had the stuffed triangular tetela, grilled until the cheese and bean pureed were melted, then thw whole thing was split along one edge, and filled with cool crema. Really the edges were so crisp and chewy and perfect. We also ordered small open/topped tortillas, cheese and black beans with cojita. And a side of Tasajo, grilled beef rolled in a tortilla. We tried the lemon drink with herbabena and the pudding-like chocolate champurrado, thickened with corn meal. Tasty and interesting. Mainly the experience was fun, seeing everything made, and the great the taste. I hope to go again and understand better what I have. The cost – 150 Pesos (about USD 9).
LOS DANZANTES (Review by Mrs Judy Kroon)
Lunch in the courtyard of Los Danzantes was lovely. On Wednesday and Friday, this upscale Oaxacan restaurant has what we personally call the “budget special”. You must reserve, sometimes a couple weeks, ahead as seats for this deal are limited. Our special cost only 145 pesos. We started with a bread basket with their wonderful herb biscuits and fresh hot tortillas. With that came a trio of a flavored butter, Pasilla pepper dip, and another dip. This seems to go to everyone.
Our drinks choice was lemon with chia seeds. A small shot of their own branded mescal came too. A thick red soup with some corn kernels were served in a cute clay mug with a side of biscuits and tortillas. Our main dish was a large stuffed pepper with a tasty mixture of fish, tomatoes, onions. You might guess this was a homey dish in a pot that got a very fancy treatment here.mDessert was a delicious peanut cookie, crisp but tender, with mocha cream, a bit of whipped cream, and chopped nuts. Perfect, accompanied by coffee or tea.
Note that the regular a la carte menu is much more expensive but still reasonable, with starters priced from 85 to 145 Pesos; main course from 145 to 285 Pesos. (Patrons ordering off the menu were given large striped cloth napkins, we had paper!). I enjoyed watching young Mexicans ordering large and interesting looking platters – one involved a do-it-yourself taco made by pouring on a little dish of grasshoppers.
Still working on that myself. Main Courses on the a la carte menu feature innovative twists on local ingredeints – Chicken breast Stuffed with Goat Cheese, accompanied by huitlacoche (mushroom-like corn fungus) sauce with sautéed the corn and dried tomatoes; Seed-crusted and Seared Tuna; Rib eye Steak with a Stew of local mushrooms. In the evening the courtyard is lit by candles and it’s beautiful.
One of the better of the few touristy restaurants I visited, Biznaga comes with a cheeky caution- “Very slow food! Thank you for your patience”. Menus (with prices) are conveniently written up in huge chalkboards mounted overhead.
The quiet yellow-washed courtyard is a lovely space, even though it shows slight signs wear along the base of the walls. The long and well-stocked wooden bar wood, lovingly polished to a high shine, encourages you to kick back and drink the afternoon away. Indeed, not only does the food take time to be prepared, you need perseverance to flag down the bartender and few waiters on duty.
Relax …. sip on your cocktail or indulge in mezcal tasting from the wide selection here while you wait. You’ll be richly rewarded with umami-laden and refined versions of local specialties. All the items on the menu have whimsical names. The starters are so large, enough for two. My favorites were –
Don Checo – Tamal de Guajote en Mole Negro con Frutas Secos (Turkey Tamal in mole negro with dried fruits). Instead of corn husk, this tamal is wrapped in banana leaf Oaxaca style, the fluffy masa perfectly complemented by a rich, smoky salty mole sauce. Served with a side of black bean dip
Sierra Juárez – Tlayuda de queso de Cabra y Chorizo (Goat cheese and sausage tlayuda). Melted briny cheese and fatty, spicy, deep-flavored local chorizo is sandwiched between two crunchy thin tortillas, with a smoky roasted salsa. Judy, her husband Keith and I only spent 380 Pesos sharing this light but excellent dinner, with cocktail/beers.
PEZ- Fresh seafood and good beers, what more could one want?
Pez serves up a limited variety of dishes but does them extremely well. This is the place to go to to scratch your FISH TACO itch! So what if it’s not Oaxacan? It’s a deep-fried but decent quality seafood alternative to moles and grilled meats. The small, unpretentious yet pleasingly decorate and clean restaurant serves a just three kinds of taco – marlin, cod or shrimp, chili relleno and shrimp or marlin with cheese a la plancha, from noon to 8pm daily. The fish is deep fried in light batter to a high, flaky crunch, you top with any of the half a dozen salsa and other condiments set out on a long table. Great value at only 30 Pesos per taco; 35 Pesos for a la plancha dishes.
Address – Calle Pino Suarez 304, Centro. Tel – 951 132 6915
It was a shocking disappointment after reading rave reviews online – my bland meal seemed from another planet to the flavorful Oaxacan cuisine I had so far. Granted, my choices were limited by Oaxaca Sabe, a 250 pesos for three-course meal menu (over a dozen restaurants citywide participate in the weeklong promotion every March, offering individual menus).
There was hardly any dressing for my salad starter – Ensalada Tomates Criollas, Quintoniles Cenizos (wild greens) Arugula. And the main course – Mole Amarillo con Flores de Clabaza Rellenas de Requeson – was insipid. The deepfried stuffed squash flowers were a little overflavored with the herb epazote but the greatest let down was bland mole, nothing close to the fragrant, bold, spicy 30 Pesos roadside version I had in Ocotlan market. The vaguely malt-flavored Panacotta de Tejate was smooth and creamy but nothing special. Unfortunately the good service, pleasant waiter and rooftop table (there several indoor and outdoor seating areas) couldn’t make up for the food.
Address – Calle de Reforma 402, Centro. Tel – 951 51 66668
Dinner here was slightly better than La Olla’s but only one of my three dishes was memorable. Again I ordered off the Oaxaca Sabe three-course menu for 250 Pesos, but one would imagine restaurants would decide to show off their best on a much-advertised promotion targeting tourists (most of us have access to Tripadvisor and a critical bent).
My starter of deepfried quesilla and poblano fritters, with a side of coarse salsa of onions chile de agua and tomato, were crisp and freshly made but bland. I was startled that the main course came in a tiny bowl. Full marks for drama though – the Caldo de Piedra (Stone Soup) “cooked” tableside by carefully adding white-hot lava rocks to the bowl of raw shrimp in tomato and chili broth. The liquid comes to a high boil, steaming and sputtering as the rock loses its heat and darkens. An awful t image of hot stones searing my tongue popped into mind, but the waiter removed them before serving the soup. The tangy, briny broth is a perfect counterpoint to the crisp-tender shrimp.
The only reason to visit or linger is to enjoy a decent drinks menu and a fantastic view of the west-facing facade of Santo Domingo and people watching the street and plaza below.
Address – Ignacio Allende 107, Oaxaca (just west on the street facing Santo Domingo)
Tel – 951 516 0918
Perfect, but pricey, for all ye who fear possible Montezuma’s Revenge at street stalls yet eager to try antojito snacks. This clean, hip and design-conscious restaurant-bar also boasts a menu has tries to represent iconic Oaxacan street food with some tourist-targeted high end cuisine, with the exception of moles and tamales. A sample of its a la carte menu – grilled (nopales (cactus) topped with chapulines (grasshoppers), prime rib and marrow patitas (pickled pork feet with oregano and olives). I found the Torta de Chochito (pulled pork) with the salty meaty filling sanwiched in sweet bread surprisingly good for all its simplicity; and the crispy-tangy Blue Corn Tlayuda with chapulines was all right for my first meal in Oaxaca.
Items range from a small, tangy cheese torta for 57 Pesos to a tasting platter of eight items for 210 Pesos. You can’t really go wrong here – everything is made well and served tastefully. The bar serves beer, wine and mescal. But you can find similar dishes at the Merced (aka Democratica) and Benito Juarez Markets for a third to half the price. Without the fancy surroundings though.
This gorgeously spare restaurant is visually trendy and clever with well placed lithographs here, lush greenery there, that I had high hopes for the food. But my meal turned out to be wildly inconsistent.
Its menu was interesting, departing from traditional Oaxacan fare with dorado ceviche, pozole verde de cerdo (pork stewed in spicy tomatillo sauce) and Veracruz-style lengua de rez (braised ox tongue in a light tomato-beef broth). I went for the menu of the day. The shredded jicama and butter lettuce salad, dressed in a mustard vinaigrette, was delightfully crunchy-tender while the icy orange juice and mescal cocktail, dipped in gusano worm and chilli salt was absolutely delicious. Plated colorfully, and visually striking.
But unfortunately, the tasty pork roll stuffed with apple and raisins main course was way overcooked (the dried out meat is obvious from my photo).
Comida Corrida at restaurants and hole-in-the-wall eateries
Comida corrida is a great way to dive into traditional local cuisine for a deal. The three-course lunch at set price begins with soup or salad, a juice or agua fresca, followed by a meat dish-and-tortillas, main dish and ends with a dessert. For locals it’s the main meal of the day, served anytime from1 to 6pm.
Several trendy restaurants offer comida corrida only one day of the week. Look for the sign (that may also say “menu del dia”) listing the set meal.
One of the top restaurants La Olla (Address- Reforma 402, Centro. Tel – (951)51-66668 offers a healthy version daily 1.30-4pm:- salad or soup, two options for the main course, a dessert or espresso or mescal shot for only 115 Pesos.
Another is El Huateque (reviewed here by Mrs Judy Kroon) which serves a reasonably-priced comida corrida and al la carte from Tuesday to Friday (75 Pesos) and al la carte on Saturday, Sunday. It is a walk up the street from the Zocalo. When looking for a good comida corrida, search for the blackboard in the doorway or on the sidewalk with a price and list of options. Then appraise how the place looks – Is it clean, busy, pleasing? Is the menu decent and good value?
At El Huateque the comido corrida’s tortilla soup comes in a large bowl. My husband’s meal included fresh, all natural juice, soup, pork in tamarind sauce, a lovely salad, and we both got roasted plantains. The pork was so good it convinced me to return for more. The weekend a la carte menu was also good. The mixed salad (yes, you CAN eat salad in Mexico) was a meal on its own, loaded with lots of goodies. Our chicken and apple sandwich came on thick slices house made wholewheat. Finally, the almond mole with chicken was outstanding; the mole negro, also with chicken, was good. Address – Macedonio Alcala 901-C. Tel – (52)95113251
Really cheap comida corrida at Alameda, 508 Independencia, two blocks west of the Zocalo. This hole-in-wall serves decent quality and huge menu of tacos del cazuela (meat topping slow cooked in clay pots). The tortillas are freshly made from masa dough when you order. The tinga del pollo, in a tomato and chilli sauce was delicious but as with most cheap corrida vendors the soup and dessert were bland but the meal cost only 50 Pesos.
ETCETERA (Oaxacan Cafes, Chocolate, Sherberts & Icecream)
Jardin Socrates (aka Socrates’ Garden or Plaza)
Independencía #107, opposite Mier y Teran street. About three blocks’ walk northwest of Zocalo.
Look for wide steps up from the main road to the plaza, lined with pastry stalls. A half dozen shaded outdoor stalls in the plaza sell helado (sherbet), nieves (ice cream) and paletas (icepops) – El Lirio immediately to the left at top of the steps is one of the largest. Like the juices, local ices is delicious because of the variety and high quality of local exotic fruits. Some of the flavors come in both ice cream and sherbet forms, and unfortunately with food coloring. Mango is my absolute favorite, but other lovely and unusual local flavors you might want to try – tamarindo (juiced tamarind pulp – addictively tart!), maracuya (passion fruit), membrillo (quince), guanábana (soursop) and rose (made from petals). Or try safer flavors of coconut, vanilla, chocolate or caramel; note that “tuna” flavor is the red fruit of a cactus, nothing to do with the fish. 30-35 Pesos for a tall glassful.
Big plus eating here is a relaxed local ambience in a quiet plaza before dropping into nearby small and charming churches or the stunning neighboring Basílica Menor de la Soledad (Our Lady of Solitude). Check out nearby shops loaded with enough icons, sculptures and Catholic paraphernelia to start your private chapel.If you prefer more antiseptic surroundings, stop by one of the La Michoacana Gelato takeout outlets, at Calzado Madera #115, Local 19 Centro for a cheap but tasty 14 Pesos ice pop or ice cream.
There are dozens of coffee shops around Oaxaca, some serving juices, breads and breakfasts others pastries through the day with good coffee. Most open at 8am.
Latitud 17 Cafe
Allende 215B, Centro. Two blocks west of Santo Domingo Church; along Allende, at Porfirio Diaz junction.
email – firstname.lastname@example.org
Really great coffee (try the signature and velvet smooth “cinque” – three parts espresso and two parts milk) and juices at this cosy-hip cafe, opened late 2015, by owner-barista Esteban. Erudite and passionate about local coffee, he scouts and sources his own beans. One of his suppliers, from the Pluma Hidalgo coastal highlands 15,000 meters above sea level to the northeast of the state, provides one of the most aromatic brews I’ve tasted in a city proliferating with amazing cafes.
The beans are a mix of small, co-operative and independent farms which like corn, is a trend towards sustainability and farm-to-table production benefiting farmers, local business and visitors. Best news is that most coffee growers here are leaning towards organic.
Esteban creates his blends based on flavor, quality, consistency while maintaining fair trade practices. I begged for a 2kg bag of roasted beans and still enjoying its gorgeous fragrance a month later in Hong Kong.
Serves fantastic fresh baked selection of artisanal pastries and breads, selling out pretty quickly. Open at 8.30am, if lucky you’ll hit the almond croissants just as they come out of oven. The pastries tend to be on the browned side but good, fresh, made with heart. They also have cooked breakfast menu and sandwiches.
Limitations? Tiny space -only six bar stools and narrow bar counter to eat off, and the place is SUPER busy. Also the coffee is only allright.
WHERE TO EAT, MARKET STALLS, RESTAURANTS, HOLE IN THE WALLS
Mercado de la Merced (also called Mercado Democracia)
This clean market is a cosy, charming and relatively comfy place to cover most main Oaxacan “must eats” (US celeb chef Rick Bayless snacked at and raved over Fonda Florecita located here). Most vendors open for business early, some at 8am to 9pm. Located in the middle class Barrio de la Merced, this cosy market’s several fondas (informal eateries) serve a whole range of unpretentious, cheap and delicious breakfast, lunch and a la carte meals from 7.30am until late afternoon. Sundays is the main market day offering a wider selection of eateries.
The eateries are located in three distinct areas:-
- Indoor dining hall There are about a half dozen fondas. For breakfast, try the hot chocolate or café de olla (cinnamon tinged brewed coffee) in bowls with ubiquitous Huevos Rancheros with chorizo and salsa or the decadent suggestions below.
- Teresita’s most popular dishes are Enchiladas Coloradito, tortillas bathed in a fragrant mole or try the lighter Enchiladas Verde with Tasajo (thin-sliced cured beef) or with Cecina (grilled chilli pork), Entomatadas (panfried tortillas coated with a roasted red tomato-onion-chili sauce) and Enfrijoladas (folded or rolled tortillas filled and covered with a fragrant, velvety bean sauce flavored with avocado leaf, then topped with cheese).
- Rosita is famed for its Chilaquiles Rojos en Cazuela; try the green version (Verde) as well. The tortilla strips for this dish are fried on the spot, buried in the spicy brothy sauce thick local sour cream, sprinkled with white onion and cilantro then broiled in a clay bowl. Served with crusty bolillo rolls and a side of black beans.
- Florecita for Memelas, Empanadas Huitlacoche with Quesillo (the local delicacy, mushroom-like corn fungus, is cooked in a wafer thin tortilla, mole sauce and crumbled cheese), Tlayuda (a light openfaced sandwich or pizza with a crisp corn cracker base) topped with black beans, avocado and cheese with or sans tasajo or cecina.
- East-facing entryway with smaller fondas serving Antojitos (translates to “little cravings”) Regionales – these addictive snacks include Oaxacan tamales (filled with mole), empanadas and memelas.
- Outdoor Barbacoa – Grilled Chivo (a whole goat is grilled in an underground pit lined with Maguey, agave leaves, the meat shredded) is served with salsa and shredded cabbage in a tortilla. Tasty although on the greasy side, one tortilla cost only 30 Pesos.
If you’re lucky, a Marimba duo will serenade your meal though much of their charm lies in their zeal rather than skill. After filling your belly wander the bakeries and stalls selling cheese, fresh produce and meats, nuts, honeycombs, spices, flowers, and fruits. You can also pick a blend of fruits (my favorite is guava-pineapple-mango) to be juiced, in takeaway plastic cups from juicing stalls.
Pasillas Carnes Asadas at Mercado 20 de Noviembre Market
This is the famed Grilled Meat Alley, as much gourmet paradise as an eating-adventure. Located the Mercado Mercado 20 de Noviembre conveniently less than 10 minutes walk southwest of the Zocalo. Service begins at 9 am, and ends in the evening. For a Carne Asadas meal, head to one of the glass-fronted stalls, pick a your meat by the half or full kilo:- cecina (chilli-marinaded pork, tasajo (paperthin cured skirtsteak) or salchicha oaxaqueña (spiced beef sausage). While it’s being fresh-griled on coals for you, find a seat at a long bench and table. Order accompaniments – salsa, grilled onions, guacamole – separately; and a basket of tortillas from a wandering vendor.
Ocotlan Friday Market Mole Amarillo Empanadas
Yes, I’m telling you to wake up before 8am, hop on a shared taxi at Mercado Abastos (scroll to bottom of page on how to get to there), take the 40 minute trip to the Friday market at Ocotlan, 43 kilometers south of Oaxaca. Your tastebuds will thank us both when you bite into a steaming fresh, giant Oaxacan empanada. The crisp fragrant (in a toasted-popcorn way) shell is folded in half to enclose the slightly charred, smoky, melted filling of mole amarillo, shredded quesillo and chicken with flecks of onion-cilantro-chilli. Absolutely, wonderfully addictive. I’d kidnap and whisk home the elderly cooks with their mad tortilla-making skills if I could sneak ‘em past Hong Kong immigration. This is one Oaxacan snack I dream about and wake up to drool on my pillow.
Oh yes, where to get it? Just to the right of the main entrance (facing the Zocalo) of the market building. The other outdoor stalls might obscure the two empanada, but ask around. They were already doing brisk business at 10am, I’m not sure when they open for business.
The plus to visiting is the colorful, fascinating and bustling rustic market where artisans and farmers from surrounding villages peddle their wares from live turkeys and goats to machetes and plaster saints. But beware snatch thieves.