Thinking back on my recent trip to Oaxaca, Mexico for the kick off meetings for the new Mexico Today program, I noticed that I was gravitating to everything starting with ‘Ch’: cheese, chocolate and chapulines. Even Mexico’s soccer star Javier ‘Chicharito’ Hernandez was playing in the Copa de Oro at the time (insert girlish squeals here)!
I could name dozens others like chilaquiles, churros, chicle, champurrado (delicious Mexican hot cocoa) and so forth. Whatever the coincidence was, my taste buds and I will never forget this trip to Oaxaca, Mexico. (Note to readers, any mention of chilaquiles will put me in a frenzy!)
As I excitedly peered out the airplane window on our descent into the city of Oaxaca, I noticed the low sun popping through the clouds, perfectly spotlighting the ruins of Monte Alban, one of the most famous archaeological sites in Oaxaca (and in Mexico).
Mexico always has a warm, spiritual way of welcoming guests and this was no exception. I stepped off the plane, handbags thrown over my shoulder, and walked toward the airport. In the near distance I started to hear the melodic sounds of traditional marimba, along with a sweet symphony of tropical birds outside.
After the immigration officer stamped my passport, I was hoping he would have asked me my reason for visiting (like they do in the California cheese commercials). I would have told him it was the cheese, the Oaxacan cheese, and about a dozen other things that started with ‘ch’.
Upon arriving to the beautiful host hotel Camino Real Oaxaca, I was pleasantly greeted with a picturesque array of traditional appetizers including a local favorite, quiche de chapulines (fried grasshopper quiche). Hesitant upon first glance, I obliged and bit into my first experience of chapulines. Crunchy. New. Unique. Not your average snack where I come from, but nonetheless, tasty.
Cheese, chocolate and chapulines can be found all throughout Oaxaca but in particular, in the main local mercado just blocks from the center zocalo that I visited.
Cheese, Oaxacan cheese in particular (or quesillo / queso Oaxaca) is a mild string cheese made with cow’s milk and used for all types of Oaxacan food. It is popular in tortas, quesadillas or on tlayudas, a popular, larger sized quesadilla-type food which we sampled on a visit to San Martin Tilcajete, a small town just outside of Oaxaca known for it’s colorful wood carvings. A few of us ventured down to the main local market to see the goods. Stall after stall, I noticed fresh Oaxacan cheese (packaged in balls). What a delicacy!
Chocolate, spelled the same in Spanish, is everywhere in Mexico. In Oaxaca, you can get the full experience of how chocolate is made in one of the many factories such as Mayordomo, Soledad or Guelaguetza located on the famed Mina Street (Calle Mina). I remember on a past trip to Oaxaca, I just let my nose lead me to the factory. The tantalizing aromas of the cacao and cinnamon were enough to put my serotonin levels in overdrive. I tried Mayordomo chocolate on this trip, courtesy of Mexico Today. You just have to try it – it’s that good!
Chapulines, a.k.a. fried grasshoppers, are in fact, abundant in Oaxaca. When I asked why Oaxaca was so plentiful with grasshoppers, I learned that alfalfa crops are actually one of the biggest industries in Oaxaca because the grasshoppers are attracted and migrate to the alfalfa fields in droves. They are then caught and prepared for sale in the markets. Heaps and mounds of chapulines, artistic in their own right, line the corners of the zocalo, mercardos and stalls and are generously offered by warm indigenous woman in traditional clothing, whose smiling faces could tell a thousand stories.
Oaxaca is rich in color with stunningly beautiful architecture, ancient sites and cathedrals, indigenous warm cultures, languages and dialects, and flavors so intense, you, too will fall under its magical spell.
Oaxaca….until the next time we meet…