highlights of a visit to Oaxaca City, Mexico

I’ve been writing about the world of chocolate and cacao for more than 10 years now, and have repeatedly heard I’ve got to visit Oaxaca, in order to experience true Mexican chocolate. I finally made it there in January, and was really pleased to explore the highlights of this historic off-the-beaten path Mexican city of 300,000 residents in Oaxaca City proper, (also known as Oaxaca de Juarez) and a population of 650,000 for the surrounding metropolitan area.

santo-domingo-church-oaxaca
The Santo Domingo Church in Oaxaca City is breathtaking. There is plenty of gold to dazzle you!

The Church of Santo Domingo in Oaxaca (adjacent to the Santo Domingo Cultural Center) is a former convent of the Dominican friars that was built between 1575 and 1619. It took so long to complete, as the original structure was destroyed by an earthquake in 1608 and it was necessary to rebuild. The beauty and ornate baroque design of the original structure and Rosary Chapel that was added in 1731 is astounding, with much gold used throughout. As we were part of a tour group, we didn’t have sufficient time to fully explore the on-site cultural museum or browse through the Francisco de Burgoa Library, boasting 30,000 volumes dating from 1484-1940. So if you visit and aren’t rushed, allow yourself at least two hours to fully explore this site. 

I was surprised by the size of Oaxaca City, as I’d always pictured it as a small village, but instead, it is a thriving metropolis, beautifully combining the old with the new. Oaxaca is also the name of the expansive mountainous state located in southern Mexican bordered by the Pacific Ocean in the south, Veracruz in the north, Chiapas in the east, Guerrero to the west, and Puebla (our next destination) to the northwest. The state of Oaxaca is the fifth largest state in the country and boasts a population of nearly four million people. I was thrilled to have three days to explore this historic region and enjoy some of its highlights.

exploring the culinary delights of oaxaca

oaxaca-market

You will see all sorts of local delicacies at the Mercado Benito Juarez market in Oaxaca City, Mexico, including pigs’ feet and “La Chinita” dried grasshoppers.

grasshoppes-oaxaca

You will see mounds of “La Chinita” (grasshoppers) waiting to tempt your palate.

Knowing that Oaxaca is known for its culinary delights, we enjoyed a visit to Mercado Benito Juarez, the market with everything from the shocking sight of a huge mound of pigs’ feet, to heaps of dried grasshoppers (known locally as La Chinita”) which are frequently used as snacks or additions to many culinary dishes. I did try them when I was in Tlaquepaque and can’t say they were a hit with me.

What was a hit was the wonderful prawns found on many menus throughout Oaxaca. I thoroughly enjoyed this delicious shrimp offering at the Hotel Victoria Oaxaca, a lovely authentic Mexican property built into the Oaxaca hills. This is not a suitable place for those with mobility issues, as there are many stairs to climb and descend (to get to your room, to get to the restaurant, to get to the expansive outdoor pool) and no elevator, so beware of that if choosing to stay here. But I loved it, and would stay here again if given the opportunity.

shrimp-oaxaca

The culinary team at Hotel Victoria Oaxaca thrilled us with this creation of grilled prawns served in an avocado bowl accompanied by lettuce served in a cucumber cup.

We enjoyed two culinary excursions while in Oaxaca City. One was to the Mezcal Oro de Oaxaca tasting shop at FruitiCrem located in the Palacio de Gobierno de Oaxaca shopping area. We tasted five different varietals of mezcal, a smoky version of alcohol made from the agave plant, and quite different than tequila. It was certainly fun tasting them all, but I really preferred the dark amber coloured Oro de Oaxaca, and when we were later in Puebla, purchased the passionfruit mezcal, which was equally enjoyable. 

mezcal-oaxaca

It’s fun to do a mezcal tasting while in Oaxaca, Mexico.

mezcal-oaxaca

The Oro de Oaxaca five-year-old artisanal mezcal (pictured second from the right) was smooth and smoky.

A visit to Oaxaca City would not be complete without a visit to MAYORDOMO Las Casa del Chocolate. We visited the MayorDomo factory in Oaxaca Centro and watched the chocolate maker create a custom blend of cocoa for a customer. She wanted some almonds and cinnamon ground with the cocoa nibs to suit her own preference. But you can also add sugar, chili peppers, or vanilla bean to create your own fresh-ground cocoa for drinking at home, or buy the pre-made blocks of cocoa to take home and add milk or water to make your hot chocolate, or use the cocoa powder to create your own chocolate or baked goods. 

majordomo-chocolate-oaxaca

If you’ve got room in your suitcase, you can purchase your own custom blend of cocoa at MAYORDOMO in Oaxaca to take home with you.

I hope this post has whet your appetite for a trip to Oaxaca City, Mexico. I’m glad I finally made it there. Have you been?

 

Doreen Pendgracs

Known throughout the Web as the "Wizard of Words", I've been a freelance writer since 1993. I'm currently researching and writing volume II of "Chocolatour: A Quest for the World's Best Chocolate". Volume I was published in September, 2013.

33 Responses

  1. Donna Janke says:

    This post has certainly whetted my appetite for Oaxaca City. I have not been. I’d pass on the grasshoppers, but would enjoy sampling other items and touring the Church of Santo Domingo

  2. Emese says:

    Looking at your Mayordomo photo I can smell and almost taste their chocolate. When I spent a long weekend in Oaxaca City, I had to stop each day at one of their shops for at least a drink of their hot cocoa, or even a lunch of mole. I can still smell the aroma of chocolate in the streets of Oaxaca where one of their shops was in the vicinity. You are braver than I am if you tried the grasshoppers – I almost did; the Mercado was filled with them, but in the end, I had to pass. Couldn’t bring myself to do it. Thank you for bringing back memories of my trip; great post, and beautiful photos.

    • Thanks so much for your comment, Emese. Oaxaca had been on my bucket list for year. I was thrilled to finally get there as it is indeed such a fascinating destination. As we can’t really travel right now, sharing memories is the best we can do!

  3. Patti Morrow says:

    I spent around 10 days in Oaxaca in 2016, from the city to the coast and everywhere in between. It’s one of my favorite parts of Mexico, and I would visit in a heartbeat for even more adventures (but not pig’s feet!).

  4. I love your photography! It makes me feel as if I were there and I especially enjoy your photos of churches. I love exploring churches and I always appreciate the architecture as it brings me back in time.

    Your picture of pigs feet brought a smile to my face and I immediately knew what they were. I remember my grandmother cooking them. My maternal grandparents were Portuguese and that was a common ingredient in some of the dishes that she prepared. My grandfather was born in the Azores and I know he was a strong influence on what she would cook.
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    • Very interesting, Sherryl! I didn’t know you had Portuguese heritage in your blood! I’m of Ukrainian heritage, and my family used to use pig’s feet to make jelly meat. They sure used every part of the animal in those days, and I see that in third world countries, they still do! Thx for the kudos on my photography. I have so many pics and just try to post a few to illustrate the different things I experienced or am talking about. wish I could post more. Thx very much for stopping by to comment. 🙂

  5. Laurel Sarginson says:

    Thank you for this post, Doreen. It brought back wonderful memories of our own visit to Oaxaca city, several years ago. We certainly enjoyed lots of the same aspects as you did, and I haven’t noticed Rob trying to get more of those grasshoppers. He had bought a little bag of them and pawned most of them off on a curious German backpacker. I wish we had seen more of the chocolate scene, but certainly enjoyed the moles, and the hot chocolate made right at our table in the restaurant. Now that we are back in Mexico, I have bought organic chocolate powder and made my own mole ( it took me two weeks to find all the ingredients…) which was proclaimed a success, despite the fact that I lacked a mortar and pestle to grind the spices etc. properly….. anyway, glad you had a successful visit !

    • Hi Laurel and thanks for stopping by. Congrats on making mole! I’d bought a bag of fresh-made mole sauce at the market in Oaxaca. But as we weren’t checking our luggage (carry-on only whenever possible) and it was a fresh/soft mole in a bag versus a hard, powdered or commercially vacuumed packed version,) it was confiscated at one of the airports we went thru. Do you recall what kind of mode you made? I’ve now learned how many variations there are and it’s quite intriguing.

  6. It was fun to follow your journey via Facebook and now to read this overview. I’m glad that you got to experience a beautiful and refreshing place–with great chocolate!

  7. Hurrah and congrats for finally getting to Oaxaca. I haven’t been there yet, despite several family members extolling its virtues. I love your mix of photos and culinary experiences here.

  8. I would have imagined Oaxaca City to be small, too. But in a foodie’s world, looks like it’s big time! I think I’d skip the pig’s feet. I’m not averse to the grasshoppers and would certainly imbibe in mezcal and tequila. But my main goal would be the Mexican chocolate. It sounds scrumptious!
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  9. Karen Warren says:

    I’m not convinced I’d try the grasshoppers, but the shrimps and the mezcal look good! And I always think of Mexico as the home of chocolate…

    • Hi Karen. Indeed, Mesoamerica was home to the Olmecs, Mayans and Aztecs, who all held cacao in high regard. They drank cacao and considered it a power food. But they did not make chocolate. It was the Spaniards who first made contemporary chocolate when Cortez brought back cacao beans from his travels.

  10. Doreen, it’s good to have you back from your hiatus. Looks like you had plenty of adventures, while you were away. can’t wait to catch up on all of the fun like this trip to Oaxaca City in Mexico. Keep up your sweet stories.

  11. Margaret Anne Fehr says:

    So glad to be part of our ‘fab four’ tour to Oaxaca and beyond! So many great memories! The entire experience was so authentic and I really got a sense of how chocolate and chocolate making infuses the Mexican culture. While I love a Mexican beach vacation, this side of Mexico really gave me a deeper understanding of the history and how rightfully proud the country is of their heritage. Wonderful trip, wonderful travel companions!

  12. Oaxaca has been on my to-do list for a while. I too am surprised to hear it is a big city, because in my mind’s eye it has been a dusty village with great mole sauce. I love the idea of custom-blending some cocoa so will be sure to stop in at the MayorDomo factory you describe.

  13. Sheryl Poirier says:

    I’d like to add a nod to the staff at the Oaxaca Victoria hotel. They were fabulous! All the waiters and front desk employees spoke English and were happy to help. The restaurant service matched or exceeded anything I’ve experienced in higher end restaurants at home and the free shuttle to downtown Oaxaca was a bonus!

  14. Pat says:

    That shrimp dish looked awesome! Happy to see you including info for the mobility challenged.

  15. JANET MAY - HEWSON says:

    It’s amazing what’s a “snack” in some places. I heard grasshoppers are a very good source of protein. I’m not sure I would try. I love how adventuresome you are!

  16. Betty Jackson says:

    Oh Boy, You had another great travel experience . I wish I was mobile enough to tag along with you on one of your explorations. Finding chocolate at it’s best sure is interesting.

    • Thanks so much for your comment, Betty. And I’d LOVE to have you along on a chocolate journey with me. Not all of them are super active, and one of the gals in our group has seen even more years than you. 🙂

  17. Linda Paul says:

    I’ve never been to Mexico. I was particularly interested in your Mezcal tastings. I’ve always been a bit confused about whether Mezcal was a form of Tequila or not. I’ve also heard that culinary styles across Mexico vary greatly, some areas focusing much more than others on hot spice. Did you find a lot of hotly spiced foods in Oaxaca?

    • Hi Linda and thx for your comment. Oaxaca’s food is generally not too spicy, although you can get a “salsa picante” on the side to spice it up! Tequila is a mezcal, as mezcal is the more generic name given to any distilled liquor made from an agave plant. Mezcal is not a tequila, as tequila is only made from the blue agave plant. Mexico is an amazing country with many variables from region to region. Stay tuned for more! 🙂

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