Oaxaca: a whole new world of culinary delights, and a new friend to boot

1st-4th March: We’d been looking forward to Oaxaca for ages, we’d heard so many good things about the city. Although our stay was all too brief, it didn’t disappoint.

As is our wont when taking a break from the bikes, we spent much time checking out the local cuisine – for which Oaxaca is a very special place indeed. Perhaps most famous are the moles (pronounced moh-lay) – mulicoloured thick sauces that are usually served with meat (in our experience chicken). The most famous is mole negro – a smoky, savoury tastebud sensation with a hint of chocolate. It is the most complex, and labour intensive to create – we were told that sometimes there are up to 200 ingredients! Amongst the hubbub of the covered market we settled in at a long table at a no-nonsense comedor and got involved.

The market was a great place to while away a few hours slowly filling our bellies. For dessert we found hot chocolate – who cares if it’s 25 degrees outside! A piping bowl of chocolate with ground almonds and cinnamon served with spongy sweet bread, who could say no?

Then there are the grasshoppers. A quick search on the internet about Oaxaca and you are bound to come up with a bunch of blogs with pictures of people eating this regional speciality – chapulines. So, sticking to the theme then…

In Oaxaca grasshoppers are eaten because they are considered clean and nutritious – also because they are abundant and they don’t taste ‘alf bad either. They contain a lot of protein, are easy to catch (apparently) and without refrigeration can be preserved for a long time. The grasshoppers are caught directly in the cornfields, in plastic bags. Once gathered they are left there for 48 hours, then they are washed and boiled. Once boiled and red they are strained and fried in a pan with loads of oil. When browned they are strained and seasoned with salt and lemon, and chili of course. Easy, no?

People from the countryside sell chapulines in the market from big, red mounds precariously heaped into baskets. We bought some and ate about four each. They were crunchy, lemony and a bit spicy – with a little bit of unidentifiable liquid at the end. Not sure I’m a fan yet, but I’d eat them again. Beware of legs stuck in your teeth though!

Prying ourselves away from eating, we met up for a drink (Oaxaca is famous for mezcal too!) with Fallon, from Portland, Oregon. She had been hanging out in Oaxaca for a while and was keen to continue her trip south with us. We were excited to meet another cycle tourist – our first encounter with another of our kind since Baja California. Always good to meet new friends, and especially ones with wheels!

Fallon had been staying at the home of CIPO, getting involved with a few of their projects – an organisation that fights for the rights of indigenous people in the state. CIPO is one of the organisations that supports the teachers’ union who recently clashed with police in the city. Oaxaca is one of the poorest states in Mexico, and most of the rural and urban poor are found within indigenous communities. Organisations such as CIPO are vital in enabling these communities to lift themselves out of poverty, and to prevent the exploitation of their lands, crafts and labour by those that are more powerful, and probably better educated.

Our last night in Oaxaca was spent camping in the peaceful garden at the CIPO centre, chatting to Yolanda – a woman from one of the pueblos outside of the city – and enjoying champurado (another chocolate drink!) and communal cooking.

Fried grasshopper sellers in the market

Delicious little critters!

The indoor grill section - it was like entering a hot, smoky, meaty cave. Not for veggies.

Zocalo

Morning in the CIPO garden

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