Exploring the indigenous markets of Oaxaca

"Искусство быть мудрым состоит в умении знать, на что не следует обращать внимания." Уильям Джеймс ZMEY
Время на прочтение: 11 минут(ы)

Away from the well-trodden streets of the old town, and far from the warm glow of the lanterns at Pitiona, the Mexican state of Oaxaca reveals its true flavour to the traveller. Especially the hungry one.

The best markets in Oaxaca

  • Exploring the indigenous markets of Oaxaca

    ZAACHILA

    Once the main market of the Zapotec empire in Oaxaca’s Central Valley, Zaachila is virtually unchanged since the pre-colonial era. It is a traditional tianguis market with all its stalls set up in the open air (livestock is an exception) and vendors selling produce grown in their own small holdings. Every Thursday.

    A woman cooks her meat in the market in Ocotlan de Morelos

  • Exploring the indigenous markets of Oaxaca

    LA VILLA DE ETLA

    The favourite market of Oaxqueño chefs prides itself in selling the best local cheeses and meats. Look out for the stringy quesillo and the local speciality: fried grasshoppers – the perfect snack with an evening beer. Every Wednesday.

    Tlayudas being made in Ocotlan de Morelos

  • Exploring the indigenous markets of Oaxaca

    OCOTLAN DE MORELOS

    Famed for its nieve – hand-made ice cream – Ocotlán is one of the most traditionally indigienous markets of the region. An hour’s drive from the capital, it is probably the least visited (by tourists) of the farmers’ markets in Oaxaca. Be sure to pick up some of the black pottery for which the state is famous. Every Friday.

    Market visitors, Ocotlan de Morelos

  • Exploring the indigenous markets of Oaxaca

    MERCADO ORGANICO EL POCHOTE

    This small, tucked-away local cooperative gives the central Oaxaca City’s Benito Juárez Market a run for its money. The state’s top organic producers show off their best vegetables, cheeses and honey. Plus, the food stalls use the ingredients sold at the market, so don’t be surprised to see a boy running to fetch some more coriander for your entomatadas. Every Friday, Saturday and Sunday.

    Fruit for sale in Tlacolula de Matamoros

    WHERE TO STAY IN OAXACA

  • Exploring the indigenous markets of Oaxaca

    QUINTA REAL OAXACA

    This former 16th-century convent is indisputably one of the city’s most talked about hotels. With original features throughout, such as the nuns’ laundry fountain and hidden courtyards, Quinta Real is an impressive place to stay. The 91 grand rooms, beautiful gardens and heated swimming pool, combined with the central location and lavish breakfast buffet, make this a cool refuge from the heat and madness of a day at the markets.

    Address: Quinta Real Oaxaca, 5 de Mayo 300, Ruta Independencia, Centro, 68000 Oaxaca de Juárez, Oaxaca, Mexico


    Telephone: +52 951 501 6100


    Website: caminoreal.com


    Price: Double rooms from about £151 per night

    Templo de Santo Domingo, Oaxaca

  • Exploring the indigenous markets of Oaxaca

    HOTEL LOS AMANTES

    Portuguese architect Joao Boto Caeiro and local artist Guillermo Olguín came together to design a modern hotel without compromising the classical colonial style of the area. Each of the 10 rooms is bright, airy and contemporary, with local wood beams and calming white walls. Thoughtful design touches include old luggage trunks in rooms and artwork on the walls. The hot tub on the roof terrace is one of the best places to sample mescal as the sun goes down over the Church of Santo Domingo de Guzmán.

    Address: Calle de Ignacio Allende 108, Ruta Independencia, Centro, 68000 Oaxaca de Juárez, Oaxaca, Mexico


    Telephone: +52 951 501 6100


    Website: hotellosamantes.com


    Price: Double rooms from about £165 per night

    A VW Beetle on the streets of Oaxaca City

  • Exploring the indigenous markets of Oaxaca

    CASA OAXACA

    In the old town, behind an inconspicuous pale blue door on a colonial street, lies one of the city’s loveliest boutique hotels. Whitewashed rooms are contrasted by colourful art, mixing the local tradition and modern spirit of Oaxaca. With only seven bedrooms, a library and an airy terrace, this is an intimate, relaxing place, and massages, herbal baths and private yoga sessions can be arranged. Plus, the sister restaurant, sharing the hotel’s name, tops the list of the best places to eat in Mexico.

    Address: Calle de Manuel García Vigil 407, Ruta Independencia, Centro, 68000 Oaxaca de Juárez, Oax., Mexico


    Telephone: +52 951 514 4173


    Website: casaoaxaca.com.mx


    Price: Double rooms from about £150 per night

    The square outside Oaxaca Cathedral

    OAXACA: THE LOWDOWN

  • Exploring the indigenous markets of Oaxaca

    Watch out, the green one is hot,’ cautions the elderly Zapotec woman sat next to me at the wobbly, oil-clothed table. At the weekly market in Zaachila, in the Mexican state of Oaxaca, tlayuda, a tortilla dish and local specialty, is served with a choice of salsas: a spicy roja made from tomatoes, onions and chillies, and the universally more treacherous salsa verde which, in spite of its mild green shade, is guaranteed to break a sweat on an unaccustomed diner’s forehead. Despite good advice, I seem to have made a mistake. The salsa is like an electric shock; it zings through my entire body, sends my mouth on fire, makes my eyes water and the nape of my neck tingle. But after the first breathtaking bite, I am hooked.

    Worker in Fabrica de Mezcal Don Agave

  • Exploring the indigenous markets of Oaxaca

    New restaurants open weekly in the state capital of Oaxaca de Juárez. The world’s best chefs flock here to discover ancient ingredients, traditional cooking methods and unique flavours. But to experience the true soul of Mexican food it is necessary to leave the colonial walls of the city and head out to the smaller communities, to the weekly farmers’ markets.

    Garlic seller, Tlacolula de Matamoros

  • Exploring the indigenous markets of Oaxaca

    The Oaxaca markets, known as tianguis, are a serious affair. The traders choose their best produce to sell, housewives prepare endless shopping lists, children are scrubbed clean and entire families turn up in their Sunday (or in Zaachila’s case, Thursday) best. The market is not only a chance to stock up, it is also an opportunity to dress up and be seen. People-watching is a secondary pleasure, though, because I came to Mexico on a tasting mission – a tianguis is the place to sample the flavours that have made Oaxaca the go-to for master chefs.

    Pineapple seller in Tlacolula de Matamoros

  • Exploring the indigenous markets of Oaxaca

    The markets are the essence of the region. These open-air events are where to see traditional ice cream being made, smell tortilla presses churning out flat breads, watch cocoa beans being turned into chocolate paste and learn how to strip cactus leaves as the Zapotec have done for centuries. And yet a foreign face is still rare here – most travellers prefer to stick to markets in the main city. The tianguises, however, are of another world, a place to pity live turkeys held upside down in bunches and marvel at indigenous men wielding machetes against innocent pineapples.

    Peas for sale in Tlacolula de Matamoros

  • Exploring the indigenous markets of Oaxaca

    There are numerous markets across the state of Oaxaca, known for various specialties such as chicken and cheesemaking. Each one is held on a different day of the week, but the principles are similar wherever you go. The village’s main arteries get covered in tarpaulin roofs for the day and are lined with stalls bent from the weight of the produce. Every corner is occupied by pop-up tables on which you will find the best Mexico has to offer, from coriander straight from abuela’s garden to tomatillos still scented by sunshine. Dried and fresh chillies are piled high above shoppers’ heads; lime-flavoured crickets are roasted on a temporary stove; stringy quesillo is wrapped, yarn-like, at the cheese stall.

    Market visitor, Ocotlan de Morelos

  • Exploring the indigenous markets of Oaxaca

    The shopping experience is accompanied by home-grown musicians armed with guitars. In Zaachila, the cacophony of vendors touting their fresh produce mixes with the ubiquitous renditions of ‘La Cucaracha’ and the piercing sounds of whetting steel (here, the local expertise lies in knife sharpening).

    Fabrica de Mezcal El Rey de Matatlán

  • Exploring the indigenous markets of Oaxaca

    On Wednesdays, at La Villa de Etla, Andrea Luna Bautista sells her world-famous queso Oaxaca surrounded by the market’s pop-up kitchens. She is a third-generation cheesemaker, having inherited a small holding from her mother, and has taken on the challenge of promoting local artisanal food to the wider world. Every Friday she runs the El Pochote organic market, a small coop on the edges of the historic centre in Oaxaca City, where each stall is a step in a journey across the state’s varied food scenes, from the lemony ginger of the Pacific shores to the high mountain honey of the Sierra Madre. Though here it’s not all about food – there are also vibrant silk scarves for balmy valley evenings and hand-woven ponchos for chilly highland climates. In October, Andrea will take a few of her fellow artisans on a trip to California where they will be promoting their craft to a much wider audience. ‘I am excited about flying, I have never been on a plane,’ she says, ‘but I am most excited about sharing my beloved Oaxaca with people in California.’

    Rug seller in Tlacolula de Matamoros

  • Exploring the indigenous markets of Oaxaca

    Back in Etla, Andrea’s other cheese, queso fresco, the Latin American cousin of ricotta and feta, is used liberally on the quesadillas at the stall nearby. A group of local women sit around a large stove where the proprietor skilfully flattens the blue-corn dough, spreading bean paste and freshly shaven cactus (known as nopales) on top. The customers, seated on mismatched, colourful plastic stools, choose their toppings – meat is always popular with chicken and pork vying for the top spot. Courgette flowers and cubed pumpkin are also available for a lighter bite.

    Andrea Luna Bautista and her husband make queso fresco

  • Exploring the indigenous markets of Oaxaca

    A stream of mobile merchants flows around the diners through the main arteries of market. They sell pastries, plaits of garlic and, of course, agua fresca straight from plastic bags with straws. The choice of flavours induces instant fear of missing out – it will take me more than a day to try them all. Beyond the traditional tamarind and agua de jamaica (dried hibiscus flower) options, there’s sweet strawberry, refreshing pineapple and comforting coconut, as well as the more unusual soursop, prickly pear and alfalfa flower. And Mexicans do not skimp on servings – a normal cup is a whole litre and it’s a fraction of the price found in the city.

    Oaxaca City at night

  • Exploring the indigenous markets of Oaxaca

    Each town and market has at least one curandero, or healer. Ask any shopper and they will point you in the right direction. In Zaachila, you need not even ask. Here, the traditional methods fuse with modern technology as the curandero carries a wireless amp system. With an in-ear microphone and a huge speaker at the front of his stall, the curandero informs the passing crowds of the benefits of the seemingly magical ‘jugo de moringa’. If the tales were to be believed, the drumstick-tree juice will cure indigestion, impotence and circulatory problems. At Ocotlán market I briefly find myself in the middle of the battle of the airwaves as one curandero’s moringa promotion mixes in with another’s paean to the extraordinary qualities of hemp balm.

    Market visitor in Ocotlan de Morelos

  • Exploring the indigenous markets of Oaxaca

    Late in the afternoon, when the pineapples are running low and all the fish is sold out, the shoppers head to the snow stalls, grabbing a cup full of ice cream and a gaznate – a pastry filled with cloud-like meringue – to enjoy a moment of chat and shade. In Oaxaca, the most popular ice cream flavours are burnt milk and dragon fruit. Both are sweeter than condensed milk spiked with icing sugar – I make a mental note to brush my teeth doubly well this evening. Another favourite, especially among the youngest marketgoers, is mango snow doused in spicy salsa and sprinkled with chilli salt. No wonder traditional Mexican cuisine was the first to receive UNESCO Intangible Cultural Heritage recognition, when from school age the locals are encouraged to experiment with all key elements of complex taste – sweet, salty, sour and spicy – and all in one cheap snack.

    Chilies for sale in Market visitors Ocotlan de Morelos

  • Exploring the indigenous markets of Oaxaca

    Not only are whole towns transformed into markets, but the entire population of nearby pueblos arrives to strut around town. The market day is the day to be seen. The visitors spend most of it strolling up and down the shaded avenues: they buy a week’s supply of juicy oranges, bright tomatoes and shiny peppers. But most importantly they bump into neighbours, friends and family to exchange the latest news and village gossip. Mothers breastfeed infants as they watch their eldest play with toy cars, fathers take sons to watch the cock fights, sisters queue for freshly made tortillas and teenagers hang out in the main square awkwardly enjoying their spicy mango sticks.

    Fabrica de Mezcal El Rey de Matatlán

  • Exploring the indigenous markets of Oaxaca

    I get offered a chilli mango stick of my own. It is a revelation – the mango is soft and nectarous, the chilli hot and refreshing, the salt moreish. Then the seller at the stall next door is amazed that I have never heard of chayote – a type of squash used in local salads, aguas and side dishes. He has grown his in the back garden and today has come to sell the excess. Next in line is the banana merchant who delights me with a gift of a single red banana. Its flavour is like fruit concentrate – more vibrant and intense than anything I’ve had before. I get to see garlic cloves as big as a grown man’s palm and heaps of tiny limes, barely bigger than a thumbnail. I find, quickly desire, but ultimately resist the urge to buy a pestle and mortar sold by a young man sat on the street curb. It would require checking in as overweight baggage on my flight back to London.

    The streets of Oaxaca City near Plaza de la Cruz de Piedra

  • Exploring the indigenous markets of Oaxaca

    As I walk away I see a Mexican family leaving the market with eight bagfuls of produce (at least one of them balanced effortlessly on the mother’s head) accompanied by four goat kids and a chicken. They pack themselves up onto the back of a pick-up truck joining other, unrelated passengers who probably did not anticipate sharing a ride with a joyfully prancing animal. They are heading back to their homes to put a rich, thick mole sauce on the stove and to return to their daily lives, until next week, when the frenzy of food, fragrance and flavour will begin again.

    Market visitor in Ocotlan de Morelos

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  • Exploring the indigenous markets of Oaxaca

    Fabrica de Mezcal El Rey de Matatlán

  • Exploring the indigenous markets of Oaxaca

    Entomatada and enfrijolada at El Pochote organic market

  • Exploring the indigenous markets of Oaxaca

    Store holder in Ocotlan de Morelos

  • Exploring the indigenous markets of Oaxaca

    Street vendor in Oaxaca City

  • Exploring the indigenous markets of Oaxaca

    Cactus, in Oaxaca City

  • Exploring the indigenous markets of Oaxaca

    Onion sellers in Tlacolula de Matamoros

  • Exploring the indigenous markets of Oaxaca

    A view into an art gallery in Oaxaca City

  • Exploring the indigenous markets of Oaxaca

    Market visitor in Ocotlan de Morelos

  • Exploring the indigenous markets of Oaxaca

    Tlayudas with orange mole and chicken in Ocotlan de Morelos

  • Exploring the indigenous markets of Oaxaca

    Market visitor in Tlacolula de Matamoros

  • Exploring the indigenous markets of Oaxaca

    Bananas for sale in Ocotlan de Morelos

  • Exploring the indigenous markets of Oaxaca

    Traditional dancer performing for tourist in Oaxaca City

  • Exploring the indigenous markets of Oaxaca

    Volador coffee shop in Oaxaca City

  • Exploring the indigenous markets of Oaxaca

    Market visitor, Ocotlan de Morelos