Food in Oaxaca Felix Wong

Molés. Tlayudas. Chapulines. These are all typical Oaxacan fare, and quite tasty too. Even the chapulines (fried grasshoppers) were “not bad”—the ones I tried were crunchier than a potato chip but in dire need of more salt.

Using an abundance of chile peppers and avocados in nearly everything, Oaxacan cuisine is extremely flavorful and often spicy enough to make you cry for milk. During our first few days in Oaxaca, we played it “safe” and ate exclusively inside restaurants, but after Day 3 and reassurances from a German student named Killian about the sanitation of food cooked atop carts on sidewalks, we ate primarily street food. This was a good call as street food was not only cheaper, but often tastier. It also provided a more authentic, do-as-the-locals-do experience.

One downside to Oaxacan food is that it makes Rush Limbaugh’s eating habits seem healthy. Oaxacan meals are fried in lard and are very meat-centric (beef, chicken, and pork). After six days in Oaxaca, Sarah proclaimed “I need to get some roughage” and “I don’t think I could live in Oaxaca” because we hadn’t eaten a significant amount of vegetables during all that time. We ended up going to a restaurant called Biznaga just so we could devour some salads.

Corn tortillas are also used in abundance although the area is starting to experience a dearth of corn due to a labor shortage (too many men have fled to the U.S. or Canada in search of higher-paying work). With everyone eating primarily meat and corn in lard you might guess that locals have a weight problem, and you’d be right. There were few people who looked seriously obese but most people seemed to have enough blubber to easily survive a couple weeks of no eating.

That said, food in Oaxaca is truly delicious and probably not any more heart attack-causing than Mexican food served in the U.S. (excepting items from Taco Bell’s faux-Mexican Fresco menu). I was reminded of this when I went to Los Camales, an authentic Mexican restaurant in Fort Collins (a town noted for good Mexican cuisine), and ordered a plate of flautas. While the quantity of food and calories was certainly greater as it included rice, beans, and heapings of sour cream and guacamole, it was much less satisfying than flautas in Oaxaca. The Oaxacan flautas were crispier and meatier and not drenched in sauces to make up for their lack of flavor. The street-side flautas in Oaxaca were also cheaper (e.g., 10 pesos or US$0.75 each vs. three for $9 at Los Comales), but that of course is due to a devalued peso and third world conditions.

All in all I’d consider Oaxacan food to be a tasty treat once in a while but not something to be eaten everyday. Spare your arteries and the grasshoppers too.

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Making mole in Teotitlan del Valle.A tlayuda at the El Descanso restaurant in Teotitlan del Valle. This one was not very good -- too cold and soggy and microwaved.Widhar's sopa azteca at El Descanso in Teotitlan del Valle.Fish stuffing (left) and tortilla chips was an appetizer at Zandunga in Oaxaca.  We also ordered ganaches (bottom right).Mole rojo en Zandunga.Chapulines (fried grasshoppers) are popular in Oaxaca.  I tried one; it was crunchy and not bad.Our favorite street food vendor in Oaxaca de JuPosole de res (a Mexican soup with beef) from our favorite street food vendor in Oaxaca.Tacos de puerco (pork tacos) from our favorite street vendor.  The pork was mostly fat; the tacos de res (beef tacos) were better.A street vendor in Oaxaca grilling a tlayuda.Deserts from another street vendor.  We had the flan (top), and another day tried the pastries that were like cake with a cookie on top (on the bottom shelves in the photo).A panaderThe pastries we got at the panaderAmaranth/chocolate cookies, dried apples, fried bananas, and trail-mix-like bars made great hiking snacks, courtesy of our guide Marie of Tierra Ventura. (December 21, 2009)Papas y frijoles con salsa rojo (potatoes and beans with red sauce) at the restaurant in San Miguel Amatl (December 21, 2009)The making of tlayudas in San Miguel Amatl (December 21, 2009)Bread, scrambled eggs, and black beans for breakfast at the restaurant in San Miguel Amatl (December 21, 2009)Atole was a warm, porridge-liek breakfast drink consisting of oats, cinnamon, chocolate and brown sugar. We were served this at the restaurant in San Miguel Amatl (December 21, 2009)Tea with apples (ponche) at a restaurant in Capulalpan de M?ndez. (December 21, 2009)A soup made from squash at a restaurant in Capulalpan de M?ndez. (December 21, 2009)Ron's beer over ice and an appetizer made from j (December 24, 2009)Our salads, including my Costa Chica salad (bottom right) with salm (December 24, 2009)Tamales oaxaque?os at a mercado in Oaxaca. (December 24, 2009)After removing the banana leaves and opening the tamale oaxaque?o. (December 24, 2009)Enchalada con pollo at a mercado in Oaxaca de Ju (December 24, 2009)The usual breakfast at Hostal Pochon -- the hostel we stayed in -- consisted of bread, tomatoes, omelets, and black beans with some queso fresco. (December 26, 2009)My last meal in Oaxaca included this flauta from a street food vendor near La Iglesia de Santo Domingo. (December 26, 2009)Empanadas being made for us from the street food vendor near La Iglesia de Santo Domingo. (December 26, 2009)A few days after returning to Fort Collins, I had lunch at Taqueria Los Comales. (December 31, 2009)Alas, the flautas here weren't nearly as good as the Oaxacan ones, being less crisp and tasty and buried under sour cream, lettuce, beans and rice. Much more expensive too. (December 31, 2009)

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