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Anatomy of a Trip, Oaxaca: Food



Street Food


While I didn’t partake this trip, vendors selling food from carts on street corners definitely have a following.  Sitting down at a table seems easier to me but if I return to Oaxaca I plan to seek out adventures beyond my current comfort zone, including food adventures.






My First Meal


I had a rest after my midday arrival in Oaxaca, then the lovely Carlos directed me to a nearby restaurant which he described as “healthy”, El Gran Gourmet.  A simple place with a confident name, it was filled with families for afternoon “comida”, the main meal of the day.  The menu was unfamiliar, just as I'd hoped, no one spoke any English, which in my now woozy condition, hardly mattered to me or the helpful waiter.  I saw 2 items that had the words chile relleno in the description, one said queso, which I knew, so I ordered the other, "de picadillo”, consulting my Mexico food dictionary as I waited.  It was described as a somewhat sweet meat mixture.  Every chile relleno I'd ever had was green with cheese inside.  My order arrived in moments and the large batter-fried chile was larger than I'd expected and a deep beautiful flavorful, but not spicy, almost black, red.  Filled with the wonderful picadillo and accompanied with simple rice with a few vegetables mixed in, even in my stupor I was absurdly happy and now was convinced I would find just what I'd believed I would when I chose Oaxaca for my first major trip south, wonderful food.






Mole (MOH leh) in the Morning


Food was a huge motivator for me when I was deciding where I’d be traveling on this trip.  Not usually much concerned, I wanted things to eat that I hadn’t had on other trips and in my researching, when I realized mole negro was a specialty in Oaxaca, the decision was made.


Most revelations, in my experience, turn out to be simple truths.  What I discovered on my first morning on this trip, is when you order orange juice in a restaurant in Oaxaca it’s always fresh squeezed, a small miracle.  You’ll see in many of the food photos, I took full advantage of my discovery.


The first week of my stay was near the ZÓcalo and it seemed the logical direction to go as I emerged hungry mid-morning.  I discovered immediately that tamal de mole (tamales) is a breakfast food and I indulged twice the first week and also ordered a chicken mole for lunch one day.  As you know if you’ve eaten mole negro, the flavor is deep and intense and, after eating it 3 times in the first few days, I’d very nearly over-dosed.


 Tamal de Mole, Terranova on the ZÓcalo




More mole, at Primavera, also on the ZÓcalo






More Breakfasts


After I moved to the neighborhood I preferred, north of the ZÓcalo, there were many more choices nearby of places I liked to eat.  Right on my way to the library where I was volunteering, Pan:Am Panaderia became my usual stop for breakfast.  With a huge selection of the best croissants this side of Paris, my usual was a large one with a savory filling, orange juice squeezed to order and a latte.  The young women who worked there were charming and spoke no English, so taught me what I needed to know to order in Spanish.







Just around the corner from my new digs, a favorite at any time of day, again in large measure because of the charming staff, was Cafe Nuevo Mundo.  With a nice selection of salads and sandwiches, the kitchen is also perfectly willing to cater to special requests if they have the ingredients, most appreciated.


Cafe Nuevo Mundo






 Huevos Campestres at Cafe Nuevo Mundo





The tradition of “comida”, eaten anytime between about 1:00 and 5:00 in the afternoon, was an easy one for me to adopt.  At home, when life doesn’t interfere, I have breakfast mid-morning and then my main meal early to mid-afternoon.  So that’s what I did in Oaxaca, with a snack in the evening, often a sandwich or croissant brought home and enjoyed with a cup of tea, using my trusty heating coil.


Many restaurants in Oaxaca offer a daily special which can be a terrific deal and which I took advantage of 3 times in 2 mid-range establishments.  The first such was in a recommended restaurant very near my hotel, priced at $125, about $7.50US.  It included a hefty shot of mezcal, shown  below  with fruit water and a vegetable appetizer.  Then a salad and the entree, beef in a green chile sauce.  And an espresso to finish a very pleasant experience seated in La Biznaga's covered courtyard, repeated with friends another day.


The Daily Special at La Biznaga









 Pleasant restaurants next door to one another, La Biznaga and Zandunga






I took a taxi one day to the huge market, Mercado Abastos, just beyond Centro to the southwest of the city center.  I took a taxi and on the return trip decided to take advantage of having a driver to go to El Morocco in the northeast of Centro.  It, too, offered an "Especial del Dia" and that’s what I ordered.  First was a deep green spinach soup, then a cold entree plate with a pungent parsley and mint salad, a savory couscous with olives and tomatoes and sliced roasted chicken.  A lovely bitter-sweet chocolate cake and espresso to finish.  I enjoyed it very much and walked home through a neighborhood I hadn't visited until then, just north of the Oaxaca lending Library.


Comida at El Morocco 







During a second dinner at La Biznaga, with Janet & Jeff from Portland who I'd met in my wanderings, they kindly invited me to join them for an outing to the famous archeological site outside the city, Monte Alban.  A chapter on that spectacular place will follow another day, but I want to mention lunch at the visitor center restaurant.  Seated under an umbrella on a patio, we enjoyed one of the prettiest settings of the trip, trees blooming, hummingbirds feeding in the flowers and views of the valley through the foliage.


Sopa Azteca with cheese, avocado, chiles and unidentified crunchy things, 

with a Tamal de Mole Negro to share, at the Monte Alban Visitor Center. 





I’d been disappointed early in my stay to find that the El Pochote Mercado Organico, very near my first accommodation east of the ZÓcalo, was closed indefinitely.  It’s sister market, a small one in the Xochimilco barrio to the north of centro, operated on weekends and I was particularly interested in visiting it, for the walk through an old, but new-to-me, part of the city and for the ambiance of a more intimate market.  I wasn’t disappointed and was particularly pleased with the soup I had, eaten at communal picnic tables.  There was no menu, just a bowl on a table at the stall where it was cooked, described as chicken broth with cheese, greens and other vegetables, including a piece of corn still on the cob.  It was delicious and the pink spoon was a positive addition to the experience.


Soup at El Pochote Mercado Organico in Xochimilco






I cannot finish without mention of the restaurant closest to my hotel, the Gourmand Deli, below.  It had a variety of options and because of the proximity and friendly staff, I fell in regularly.  I found I didn’t want to do without a latte in the morning and they were, sadly, lacking a pukka coffee machine, but otherwise I could always find something I wanted to eat when I wanted a break from Mexican specialties.





A salad and my Mexico food dictionary at Gourmand Deli.





I confess, my food experience in Oaxaca was not exhaustive.  On my own, I’m not comfortable eating at upscale establishments, so that segment of the food scene is not represented here.  But if one’s eating habits are more casual, as mine generally are, there is an abundance of cafes, restaurants and specialty coffee shops everywhere one goes in Centro.  After 3 weeks of exploring, I didn’t scratch the surface of what’s on offer.  I hope to begin to remedy that another time.



 Next week, Mercado Benito Juarez.




 Click here for links to all episodes of 'Anatomy of a Trip: Oaxaca'



To read others of PortMoresby’s contributions, click here.






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Comments (4)

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I wish it were possible to quick two 'Likes' up at the top! Sometimes reading about food leaves you hungry...this is so good I feel as if I've eaten it and am now full!



The best part of every trip is realizing that it has upset your expectations

I think it was definitely the right place for me, Rob.  And not entirely because it was so inexpensive but, in addition, it was inexpensive.  Including abandoning my prepaid lodging and paying for another for 2 weeks in a modest nice hotel, the private mezcal tour and all other expenses, I spent about $1000 for the 3 weeks, not including airfare.  That was $340 on Aeromexico.  I think a return visit may be in my future.  The 1 thing I'd change next time is I'd find an apartment instead of a room.

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