Vibrant culture, beautiful weather, a landscape that spans from soaring peaks to cerulean surf, and one of the ultimate food and drink destinations on the planet. Welcome to Oaxaca.
After a short flight from Mexico City, I arrive and am immediately captivated by this extraordinary place. I take in the vibrant colours and warm heat from the midday sun bouncing off the many rooftops throughout the old town.
I arrive to my abode, a colonial style terracotta façade that hides the boutique Hotel Escondido Oaxaca. Cooling off with a refreshing basil and citrus ‘Mezcalita’ I sip while wandering through the charming, minimalist, 12 room property. A peaceful haven from the bustling city with a pebbled Zen garden and a rooftop pool oasis.
The rugged and often difficult to cultivate landscape in the region of Oaxaca has allowed for the best preservation of native ingredients in all of Mexico. The resulting unique and varied gastronomy makes Oaxaca the culinary capital
of Mexico, known for its seven types of ‘mole’, ‘chapulines’ (grasshoppers), chocolate, and of course, mezcal.
Mezcal is increasingly becoming the Mexican drink of choice, and the unique smoky flavour is a sought-after cocktail ingredient at the world’s top bars. Like a good tequila, Mexicans prefer to drink mezcal straight. While mezcal and tequila both come from the agave plant, tequila is made specifically from blue agave, and only in the Mexican state of Jalisco, while mezcal is produced in several designated regions of Mexico, including Oaxaca, and using various types of agave plants. Tequila’s popularity in past decades means that land previously used to cultivate a wider variety of crops is now being used exclusively for blue agave production, which is increasingly causing
a burden both to farmers and to the land on which blue agave is grown. As a result, mezcal offers a more sustainable alternative.
I walk through the busy old town towards Mercado Benito Juárez; an enormous local market in the heart of the city. I grab a local delicacy, ‘chapulines’, – crispy, toasted grasshoppers seasoned with lime juice, salt, and chiles. Snack in hand, I take in the aromas and colours, rows of mangoes and papayas, chorizo and steaming-hot quesadillas, hand-woven baskets and traditional colourful blankets.
I had heard a lot about Cooperativa 1050°, a studio where artisans from the community come together to display their pottery creations. I found the perfect cacao mugs and got carried away buying far too much fragile pottery, but the unusual designs and colours of the natural clay were unlike anything I had seen before. Conveniently, the heavenly smell of chocolate drew me to a local chocolate producer nearby, where I learned all about cacao production and got to try some Oaxacan hot chocolate…I had to find something to put in my new mugs!
The quality and variety of ingredients in Oaxaca allows for a truly unrivaled food experience. One of my favourites, Criollo, whose head chef incidentally also started Pujol in Mexico City, uses local and seasonal ingredients to create authentic Oaxaqueña cuisine. The seven-course tasting menu changes daily but always includes snacks, a salad, catch of the day and desserts. Located within a stylish, bohemian UNESCO heritage house, guests enter the courtyard dining room via the kitchen as tortillas are freshly prepared on one of four wood-burning ovens. We feasted on comfort food classics including tamales filled with Oaxacan cheese and homemade mole.
In Oaxaca there is naturally not a more perfect digestif than mezcal. We head to sophisticated cocktail bar, La Selva to try their signature ‘jungle in a glass’; a perfect blend of house mezcal, agave, chile, and lime. If one were to distil and bottle the essence of Oaxaca it would taste just like this.
Kiera’s guide to Oaxaca
Los Danzantes – for seasonal local dishes in an airy and leafy courtyard right in the centre of town
Ancestral Cocina Tradicional – for creative Oaxacan dishes in the artistic Xochimilco neighbourhood
Criollo – for plates using locally sourced ingredients in a garden setting – don’t miss their Sunday brunch!
Casa Oaxaca – for the best view over the main square in the old town – reserve a seat on their rooftop terrace
La Selva – Sophisticated bar with beautifully crafted seasonal cocktails
In Situ – Pared-back, unadorned space promoting mezcal culture
Sabina Sabe – Mezcal bar named after mythical Mazatec medicine woman, María Sabina
Mezcaloteca – Hosts educational tastings in a cozy library setting
Hotel Escondido Oaxaca – Beautifully designed earthy and minimalist boutique hotel in the old town
Flavia Luxury Hotel – A boutique hotel perched above the city with spectacular views over Oaxaca
Majagua Hotel – Right in the city centre featuring sophisticated simple and organic designs
Casona Sforza – an architectural masterpiece only a short flight or a full day scenic drive to the Pacific coast of Oaxaca state
Mercados: ‘Benito Juárez’ & ‘20 de Noviembre’ – Fresh local produce, prepared foods, crafts, and textiles
Archeological Ruins: Monte Albán & Mitla – Explore these historical spots and check out the incredible views over Oaxaca
Chimalapa Cacao con Origen – Learn all about cacao production and rituals
Cooperativa 1050° – Shop for unique artisanal handicrafts made by local potters