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Sips and Snacks in Oaxaca

By Brian Rogers | 6 Comments » January 10th, 2008

The relaxing town of Oaxaca, about 165 miles southeast of Puebla, has an eclectic mix of local culinary treats. With only two days to spend in this vibrant city, we went on a local food binge that filled our stomachs to the brim. From grasshoppers to chocolate to mezcal, give your taste buds a lickin’ with these photos…

Our decision to visit Oaxaca was not by coincidence; its reputation preceded it. I had grown up knowing only the name of this place thanks to a poster in my friend’s living room. I spent many a bleary-eyed morning, after a late night Sega Genisis filled sleepover, trying to imagine how to pronounce that first syllable—O-a…x? (”wah,” as it turns out)  More recently it was the teacher protests and subsequent shutdown of the city in 2006 that brought the town to my attention. And then I heard about the culinary treats that one might find on the quiet streets of this town. Since our arrival 24-hours ago, Thushan and I have spent as much time as possible eating, tasting, and sipping our way from one end of town to the other.

We began with a hamburger on the street: about $2 for the burger, a slice of ham, cheese, tomato, onion, avocado, chili peppers, and pineapple, all wrapped up in a toasted bun. Not only is it a great deal, its also a reassurance that some of the things our culture exports to other countries aren’t so bad after all.

In the morning, breakfast included two steaming cups of hot chocolate from Oaxacan grown cacao beans ground just around the corner. When we visited a nearby market in search of the sweet treat, we found Felipe Osorio Venancio, a peculiarly enthusiastic chocolate maker who gave us the low down, from start to finish. Beginning in the evening, when the air is cool in his at home “factory,” he mixes together the ingredients: a kilo of cacao beans, 2 kilos of sugar, and, for his flavored varieties, an ounce of cinnamon or two ounces of almonds. The mixture gets shaped into long bars, hardens over three hours or so, and then, around eleven at night, is cut into smaller bite-sized morsels. After more hardening in the cool air, he wakes up in the wee hours before sunrise to package it up and get it to the market. It sounds like a rough schedule, but he assured us that he gets help from the rest of his family, who take turns doing the night shift. The result is a gritty, almost anise flavored chocolate with visible grains of sugar. Quite good.

Realizing that Felipe was an unusually talkative fellow, we decided to probe his knowledge about another Oaxacan snack favorite: chapulines, or toasted grasshoppers. Sure enough, he was ready with the answer. The fertile ground of Oaxaca has been planted with fields of corn for centuries, and with the corn came grasshoppers, naturally. As the unsuspecting grasshoppers nibbled on the stalks, farmers would pluck them up in bags. After sitting for a day, the grasshoppers are boiled, changing their color from green to red, at which point they are spiced with garlic, onion, and a pinch of chili powder, and toasted over a fire. Voila! Did we then go and try these crunchy morsels? Of course! Did we enjoy them? Well, lets just say that in terms of flavor they hit the spot, but texture goes a long way, and we just aren’t used to that…crunch.

A tasting adventure would not be complete without a local drink, so we found some mescal, which is similar to tequila—only stronger. Made from the larger variety of the agave cactus, which grows in the hills here, mescal is sold on almost every street in the central (tourist filled) center of Oaxaca. Each bottle has a worm sitting at the bottom, which is not arbitrary—the prickly spines of the agave cactus is where the worm calls home. We got to try a sample (or two), and found the 38% alcohol content beverage to be a force to be reckoned with. Thushan’s favorite was the cappuccino flavored version, but I preferred the smoother añejo (aged one year).

As we wandered back to the hostel, our stomachs felt just as they should after a great adventure—full, but tired. We were ready to process, literally, all that had happened, so we went off to sleep.

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This entry was posted on Thursday, January 10th, 2008 and is filed under exploring. You can follow any responses to this entry through the RSS 2.0 feed. Both comments and pings are currently closed.

6 Responses to “Sips and Snacks in Oaxaca”

  1. Susan Says:

    Your writing of Mexico brings back great memories of our trips to Tulum and Merida. Can smell all that fabulous food which we miss so much. Enjoy!

  2. Kim Says:

    Always LOVE Thushan’s picture journals…you boys have fun, now…ya hear??? Can’t wait to see where you go next:)
    Happy New Year!!!

  3. Auntie Bette Says:

    This site is FABULOUS!! I’m totally hooked…. You’re doing a fantastic job… Thanks SO much for “taking US along”, too !! I especially love seeing all the culinary “treats” presented so masterfully in your gorgeous photos (appreciate your including their cost). Can NOT believe you ate grasshoppers….but if not now….When? Keep up the wonder-FULL work, and Safe Journey !!!

  4. Janet Selcer Says:

    Hey from Boston:
    My Uncle George ran a gourmet shop in the Terminal Tower building of downtown Cleveland in the 1950’s and 60’s. He sold fried grasshoppers there too. So you never know where the exotic will pop up, now, do you?!

    You go, Brian!


  5. the czar Says:

    The globe isn’t promoting this enough. You should be on top of the travel page. As is, you have to dig to find it.

    You should put the grasshopper photos on the top of the post. They’re the meat of the story. Pun.

  6. Bruce Says:

    Thank you for all the food photos. I hope there are more soon!

About LongJaunt Equal parts lighthearted jaunt and in-depth journey, this intimately documented trip around the world has one goal: to bring you along for the ride.

Thushan Amarasiriwardena

, former Senior Multimedia Producer at The Boston Globe, has always loved telling a great story. Combining his eye for visual story telling and his technical background in computer science at North Carolina State University, Thushan has reported on business, sports and travel for The Globe. You can find his site here.

Michael Kurtz

, graduated with a degree in Ethnomusicology from the University of Massachusetts at Amherst. His thesis research focused on the intersection of race and music in Northeastern Brazil. He worked previously as A&R and Production Coordinator for Putumayo World Music, an international music record label based in New York City. You can find his site here.

Brian Rogers

graduated from the University of Massachusetts with a degree in Spanish and Latin American Studies, and has traveled extensively in Latin America.

Alicia Conway

is LongJaunt's home base chief and a Technical Producer for The Boston Globe. She joined and contributed with the team out in England, Kenya, Tanzania, The Netherlands and Thailand.