Oaxacan cuisine is among the most diverse and delicious in all of Mexico. On your stroll through Oaxaca’s world-famous markets you will pass colorful displays of fruit and vegetables, many of them unfamiliar to visitors from colder climes. Vendors will greet you with a friendly “¿Que le damos?” or call out their offerings: “¡Tamales!” “¡Chapulines!” “Tortillas!” Before you see them, you will smell them: the steaming pot of tamales, the piles of aromatic herbs, the stack of ripe mangoes just begging to be eaten.
The most emblematic dishes of the state of Oaxaca are mole (sauce), extra large crispy tortillas called tlayudas, a type of string cheese called quesillo, and spicy fried grasshoppers, known as chapulines. You may sample these dishes in any of Oaxaca’s numerous marketplaces, but the most convenient for tourists to visit are the two markets located in Oaxaca’s city center. Taking up two blocks to the south of the zocalo, the Benito Juarez market contains handicrafts plus stalls selling fresh produce, piñatas, herbs and even clothing.
The 20 de Noviembre market, which has food stalls and a section devoted to carnes asadas (grilled meat), occupies the block south of the Benito Juarez market. A carnivore’s paradise, the grilled meat section is a main attraction here. Enter from the east side on Miguel Cabrera street and you will immediately see the smoke and smell the grilling meat. Stalls on either side of the wide aisle sell raw meat. The adjacent grills are ready with red-hot coals, making the temperature inside this aisle several degrees warmer than the rest of the market. Select the cut of meat you desire and have it grilled to your specifications while you wait. Purchase chilies, side dishes, tortillas and drinks from other vendors, and have a seat at one of the available booths to enjoy your “picnic.”
Just south of the 20 de Noviembre market on Mina Street, you’ll find several chocolate shops where you can see cocoa beans ground with sugar, almonds and cinnamon to make traditional Oaxacan chocolate. The sweet, heavy aroma of chocolate permeates the air for several blocks. Follow your nose.