Another night bus, another colonial city in Mexico.
Oaxaca (pronounced Wa-ha-ca, which I embarrassingly found out inquiring about tickets at the bus station) lies in the Central Valleys of Mexico, surrounded by beautiful natural scenery including some impressive petrified waterfalls.
The city has a nice atmosphere, especially in the Zocalo, or main square, where music was playing both evenings I was there and people gathered to socialise and sip frozen fruit juices. The imposing cathedrals of Santa Domingo and Cathedral of the Lady of the Assumption are also fantastic buildings to peruse over.
But the real star of Oaxaca is the cuisine. Considered by some as Mexico’s culinary capital, all the food I had here was delicious and very cheap. I would definitely recommend a visit to the eclectic and varied markets just south of Zocalo. The first is dedicated mainly to fruits, flowers, some open meat counters (I have to admit that as a squeamish vegetarian these did make me squirm a bit….)
You can buy interesting looking cellophaned balls of white Oaxacan cheese as well as chapulines; chillied grasshoppers which are a delicacy in the region. Furthermore, a fair few stalls sell mezcal, a white spirit which, like tequila, is made from agave. Mezcal is thought to have originated from Oaxaca.
But head down to the second market and you are first greeted with a wealth of bakery stalls. The main bread on sale here is a mildly sweet roll called yema (also known as “egg bread”). Get three for five pesos, or choose from other sweet pastries and artisan breads on offer.
Just down from the bakery section and you enter a zone which was probably my favourite part of the town; the market becomes a kind of cosy food hall with different vendors serving up delicacies, locals taking their time to relax and chat over good foods and the occasional Mexican busker adding to the atmosphere. It was here that I sampled one of the most notable of Oaxaca’s cuisines; black mole. Mole (pronounced mo-lay) is a special sauce created using mixtures of chillis, tomatoes, herbs, peppers, nuts and even chocolate. A lot of the stalls were offering with rice and chicken, but I asked the kind lady at mine if there was a possibility I could get it without meat. She offered a mole with enchiladas and my word it is the best meal I have had out here – so tasty and full of flavour, and so cheap; the entire plate of food cost me 35 pesos (or about £1.40).
I also sampled quesadillas, and it is recommended to also try tlayudas; tortillas piled high with different meats, vegetables and sauces.
Another food Oaxaca is known for is the chocolate. Chocolate has had a big influence on the region since before the Spanish Conquest, with cocoa being used in medicines and the seeds even being used as money! Today the chocolate is just as rich and flavourful and is most commonly sampled as a kind of hot chocolate drink. Many of the vendors offered drinking chocolate with yema for 25 pesos, which came in a bowl without a handle and tasted deliciously rich.
My boots heavily loaded, I suppose it’s time I head on further north and discover what the mountain city of Puebla has to offer!