Just four hours south and to the west of Mexico City is the city of Oaxaca (waa-haa-kuh). This is a place so rooted with arts and enriched with culture, colonial architecture and culinary cuisine that you feel immediately immersed the moment you step foot onto the old cobblestoned streets.
In February, we ventured to this very unknown (at least to us) and surprisingly unique city. It’s a city that is influenced by 14 different first nations and 15 languages, a city whose intrinsic culinary passion goes far beyond farm-to-table. Oaxaca is located in the epicenter of three valleys that meet, creating special farmed ingredients for one of the world’s truly most incredible fares.
From the “rico” street tacos and the morning street tamales, to the unparalleled evening dining experiences at any of Oaxaca’s restaurants, the city’s vibey, lo-fi, dark-modern restaurants are sleek with low lighting. The restaurants sit in colonial buildings — leaving you to wonder what sits behind those walls. Well, those old walls are enclaves to exquisite courtyards and rooftops full of energy, passion and purpose. There is an innate attention to detail, from the vegetables picked that morning and plated especially for you that evening, to the infamous three-day preparation of just one of their seven mole sauces. There was not one meal there that did not feel specially picked just for me.
One of the greatest parts of the Oaxacan culture is their gratitude for everything —the earth, their families, and the ability to host you and share their love for their own distilled local spirit: mezcal. Mezcal is the smoky tequila that is all the rage in restaurants around the world, but for Oaxacans, it’s something much different. It’s not tequila, it’s mezcal! Tequila is usually made only from the blue agave, while mezcal is cooked and distilled in small farms using one of 150-plus species of agave, called maguey, which must come from this specific region. Much like champagne is to France, mezcal is to Oaxaca.
If you know me, then you will know why one of my favorite things I learned in Oaxacan culture is when drinking mezcal, they say, “For everything that is good, drink mezcal; for everything that is bad, drink mezcal. If this is a matter of the heart, drink one gallon of mezcal.” www.flexmls.com They then say “un beso,” which means “kiss the mezcal.”
But the city is more than just mezcal and mole; there are so many more fascinating parts and places of Oaxaca — from the Zapotec rug village Teotitlan de Valle, to the Barro Negro (black pottery) Village of San Bartolo Coyotepec, to the valley of mezcals that makes this special place stand on its own.
So, from me to you: Here is a taste (or may I say “un beso”) of the place that will live forever in my heart as one of the most incredible journeys of my life.