Eating our way around Oaxaca
10.09.2012 - 14.09.2012
Oaxaca (that’s Wuh-HAH-kuh) is to Mexico what Melbourne is to Australia. It’s where people go to eat and get their culture fix. And for five glorious days in September I was among those getting their fix. We arrived early in the morning after a gruelling bus ride from Palenque. All up it took 16 hours and about 8 Hollywood movies dubbed in Spanish. To stretch our legs we took a spin around the historical centre.
— Santo Domingo Church.
The historic centre consists of dozens of streets lined with brightly coloured colonial buildings and monumental cathedrals and stately government buildings. Restaurants, cafes and street vendors selling the local delicacies are in abundance and there must be an art gallery on every street corner.
— The restored buildings are beautiful but I think the derelict ones are more interesting.
The city’s central park is where it all happens. It said to be one of the most beautiful in Mexico and is full of kids playing, couples smooching, shoe shiners and balloon sellers. At night the fairy lights are switched on and the Mariachi bands move in, making for a carnival like atmosphere. The rise in smooching couples is also exponential. I swear, Mexicans must be among the world’s most passionate lovers.
— Musicians serenade couples with their repertoire of love songs.
— The park was also the scene of a tent embassy type demonstration. The indigenous people behind it were protesting land, health and employment issues.
— Amazing mural inside the Palacio del Gobierno. It depicts Oaxacan history.
Brayden came down crook on our first day in Oaxaca, giving him a free pass to spend a couple days in the hostel room while I ticked off the city’s museums and art galleries. He always came good at dinnertime though. The cynic in me thinks Oaxaca’s famous cuisine may have something to do with it.
— The scary but stunning zapoteca skull in the Oaxaca Regional Museum. It was found at an archaeological site of Monte Alban.
— The lovely Alcala St.
If you ever go to Oaxaca, you must try mole. Pronounced mol-lay, it’s a kind of sauce and the most famous version is this chocolatey-chilly variety that has you licking your plate to get every last morsel. It’s incredibly complex to prepare, consisting of almost 20 ingredients and usually poured over meat. I’d read there was 7 moles typical to the region and so set myself a challenge of trying them all. Oaxacan cheese is also a must. It’s similar to mozzarella and comes in long ribbons rolled into a ball.
— Mole sauce inside a tamale.
On our last day in Oaxaca, Brayden made it out of his sick bed to join me on a mini-bus tour of a couple of interesting places just outside of the city. First stop was El Árbol del Tule said to be ‘the world’s biggest tree’. I was almost star-struck meeting it. The trunk circumference measures 58 metres and said to about 1500 years old! I think technically it’s actually ‘the world’s stoutest tree’ but that sounds far less impressive. Regardless, it’s one behemoth of a tree.
— With a trunk girth of 58 metres it's hard work to photograph. I stitched together three photos to get this shot.
— The monster tree is located in the church grounds in the town center of Santa Marie del Tule.
Our tour ventured further into cowboy and cactus country until we came to the famous weaving village of Teotitlan del Valle. Here, almost everyone is a weaver and the methods used to produce their woollen rugs haven’t changed for centuries.
— Villagers learn to weave at the age of six.
— Cactus and flowers are used to die the wool.
We eventually made it to the archaeological site of Mitla, once home to thousands of Zapotecas. It’s a complete contrast to the ruins of Palenque, where were last week. It’s a lot newer and the architecture is very different. The Zapotecas didn’t go for the pyramid style and opted for more simple buildings which they covered in geometric stone mosaics. The best thing about Mitla is you can play tomb raider, with a couple of tombs open for anyone to explore.
— Mitla was occupied right up until the Spanish arrived and spoiled the party in 1521.
— Not for the claustrophobic! Do I look like Angelina Jolie in tomb raider?
— This colonial church is built right into the ruins.
On the way to our next stop, I told our guide how I’d set myself a challenge of trying all seven of Oaxaca’s famous mole sauces and was about to fail. We were leaving tomorrow morning and I had tried just one (catastrophe!). The guide was so moved by my predicament he took a detour to a nearby all-you-can-eat buffet specialising in Oaxacan cuisine. Not only was I able to fill my plate(s) with all seven varieties, I got to try other regional specialties such as grasshoppers. Delicioso!
— Different varieties of mole.
— Fried chapulines (grasshoppers) are a favourite snack in Oaxaca. They're marinated in chilli and lime and are rather tasty.
The finale of our tour and time in Oaxaca was at a Mezcal factory. Mezcal is a cousin of tequila, made from a type of agave plant. We were shown how the plants are harvested, roasted, mashed and then left to ferment. Then came the best part, the tasting. Brayden and I must of tried about 10 varieties. Some made you pull a face, others made you want to do the Mexican hat dance. We left feeling light headed, just as well I had a belly full of grasshoppers and mole to soak it up, otherwise things could have got really embarrassing.
— The agave plant looks like a giant pineapple.
— Fermenting agave...doesn't smell real good.
— There were 20 varieties of mescal up for tasting.
Next stop Mexico City. We’ll be there for Independence Day and I hear on the grape vine an almighty fiesta is planned.