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Food in Oaxaca: Markets, Food Stands and Traditional Cuisine


Food in Oaxaca: Markets, Food Stands and Traditional Cuisine

woman selling meat in oaxacan market

Did you know that Oaxaca is literally the culinary hub of Mexico? Just a little reference, Mexico is huge and well-known in the world for its food. Interestingly enough, inside Mexico, Oaxaca is the actual culinary hub and for good reason, this is where the majority of the food originated from. Everything in this culture of Oaxaca is pretty much based on different types of foods. You could really find this culture, this booming, this love for food and all that stuff in the mercados, the local markets of Oaxaca. Today we are gonna be talking about Oaxaca markets and the food of Oaxaca.

Before we arrived here, I did so much research on all the different types of foods, I mean there are just too many to mention, and they must have more markets than any other city or place that we have definitely visited. However, what I want to focus on is pretty much talking about 2 specific markets and then they have countless outdoor food stands and little, I don’t want to say food trucks, but like they’re like the little food vendors as well that sell a lot.

Food in Oaxaca

Some of the most important things that you will be able to taste when you go to the comedores. The thing is when you first arrive there, it is chaotic, it is overwhelming. So if you have certain foods that you really want to focus on, that helps a lot more.

Pan de Yema

Bread is a really important thing for them, and one of the most important bread that you will find all over Oaxaca is pan de Yema de mantequilla. This literally means that it is made with egg yolk and butter and it is very obviously flavorful and heavy, you will find it everywhere and it is a staple in their diets and it’s a huge section.


Everything in Oaxaca is really well known for its mole. I have an entire podcast about the seven moles of Oaxaca because it is so part of their culture. A lot of the food that you will be able to buy there has mole as part of it. Especially since the moles were Oaxacanos, which is literally a Tamale, but it has different moles and usually the mole that you will get a lot of is the black mole, which is the one that takes the longest. It also has chocolate in it.

moles in oaxaca with tortillas

Oaxaca Cheese

Oaxaca is really well known for their oaxaca cheese, which is called quesillo, which is like the string cheese that they put into a ball. It’s really cool to see, very tasty, very fresh. Then you could pretty much get in any comedor.

Chocolate and Hot Chocolate

They love chocolate and it is a very important part of Oaxaca culture. Again, I have an entire podcast all about the chocolate of Oaxaca and what it means, what it represents, and the cacaos.

The most popular thing you could do is traditional hot chocolate. That is traditional, which is with just water. However, you could also get it with milk. That is not traditional because they’ve always just had it with water. You could certainly get that, but that’s more of a modern thing to do.

woman selling ponche in oaxaca food market


There is this champurrado which is chocolate mixed with a corn base, so it’s very thick. It’s quite flavorful, pretty much everything has sugar in it. So that is another thing and you always will get the Pan de Yema, which is the bread to dip into your hot chocolate.

Cafe de Olla

I loved the coffee there because it’s Cafe de Olla. So what does that mean? Literally, it’s a coffee that is kind of brewing in a pot with sugar and they also use a lot of cinnamon for everything. The cafe de olla is really tasty. I definitely recommend you guys try it out.


Another thing you’re going to spot a lot, every single place pretty much has it, especially in the markets are the chapulines, crickets. Crickets are a huge part of their diet and it is not at all a tourist thing like ooh, look at that. You know, it’s well, it’s very common and you will see people literally, mainly the women selling it, selling hundreds, hundreds of kilos per day.

They usually just have it with salt and lemon that they cook it with or it has garlic and salt as well.

chapulines in oaxaca market


You could also get worms. Worms are another big staple of their diet you could actually get this salt with the worm already in it like it’s actually grated part of the salt so you just used it kind of like a condiment. It’s kind of bizarre.


An interesting drink that they have and it mainly comes out in the afternoons. It’s called Tehate. This drink could only be served by a woman. It is this really interesting, very flavorful drink that has cacao beans. I definitely recommend you taste it. You’ll find them in these really traditional huge types of ceramic bowls. Very interesting and I really recommend you taste that for sure. Tehate you could pretty much find that anywhere that you will be going.


Another thing that is really popular is Nieves. Nieves literally means snow, but they have their own really unique nieve flavors and it’s only in Oaxaca that you will really find these nieves. There are so many different flavors. Their most popular one is Leche Quemada, which literally means burnt milk. Personally, not my thing but then we also had one with fruits and then we had one with condensed milk. They have different fruit flavors. They also have chocolate obviously so there are many and this is something that I really recommend you guys try out as well while you are there.


Another couple of really popular things that you will get are Tayudas. Which is kind of like what they call Mexican pizza. It’s not a pizza at all. It’s this huge tortilla, huge. And they put all these different things on top of it. Usually, beans have tomatoes, meat if you’re into meat, definitely cheese, all these other things.


Then there are memelas, which are like these small tortillas that again they put l beans on it, meat, tomatoes, whatever you want.


Garnaches are kind of these small finger foods. In Guatemala garnaches, they are deep fried tortillas, but they’re quite large. And they usually have meat with them. You can definitely get them vegetarian style, but here the garnaches are really tiny. They’re probably smaller than the palm of your hand. Also very similar to the ones in Guatemala. It is a fried tortilla and whatnot that you could put on it.


Of course tacos. Tacos are just a Mexican thing, no matter where you will go. So you’ll find tacos, taquerias everywhere.


Now when you go outside of the market, there are food vendors everywhere, and of course, they also have all these different kinds of corn. They have this thing called equitas, which is so bizarre. It’s literally just the corn kernels cooked and then they put Doritos. Like crushed Doritos, mayonnaise, chili, and lemon all over it.

I am not a very adventurous eater and I could not bring myself to eat that. It just sounded really wrong. But they are super popular and they are everywhere.


My biggest, my biggest thing was marquesita. These were so delicious and you could find them again everywhere. What is the marquesita? It looks like they’re making you a crepe because of the way they start to do it with the dough and the way they kind of grill it, but it’s not.

Marquesita is obviously a sweet thing. You could have it with Nutella, strawberries, condensed milk, dulce de leche, which is like caramel. And they put this on and what for instance my weakness was the marquesita with condensed milk and strawberries. They put the condensed milk, and fresh strawberries, and then instead of the crepe, how they folded and it stays soft. They roll it into a tube and it becomes like a waffle. It’s really interesting. It becomes very crispy and crunchy and cracks a lot, but you could find it outdoors all over the place as well.

orchata food in oaxaca

Orchata Drinks

You have the horchata drinks because they also have a lot of different drinks or horchata and Rosa Jamaica which is hibiscus. Hibiscus refreshment types of drinks.

Markets in Oaxaca

Oaxaca has two main markets and they are literally one in front of the other. When you go to one, you definitely will be going to the other. The first one, which is their oldest, is over almost 170 years old, it’s called Benito Juarez.

Benito Juarez Market

Interestingly enough, that’s not really where you go for the food. That is mainly where you get everything that you’ll need for the home and artisans. It itself, but they do have food and mescal is such a big part of the Oaxaca culture that no matter where you go you will find Mezcal they have huge beautiful mezcal stands that you could have just thousands of different flavors, and everything you could imagine.

stand selling mezcal oaxaca mexico

Also if you are interested in mezcal, even if you don’t like it, just understand the culture, go and listen to my mezcal podcast because they also have really great tours or experiences. I really recommend you do it and also just to learn about the whole mescal culture because it is really interesting.

Right in front of Benito Juarez or right next to it kind of is the most important food market of all of Oaxaca and that is Veinte de Noviembre or the Twentieth of November.

Veinte de Noviembre Market

It is over 60 years old and this is literally where you could see the culture of the food of Oaxaca. There’s actually a structure to the market for the food.

When you enter it from the main entrance, which is literally across the street from Benito Juarez, you enter and your first few rows are soups, so you could buy all sorts of soups. Then they have an entire section that is just the bread.


Then you move on to the comedores where you sit and the food is made directly in front of the kitchen. It was absolutely amazing for me to see that these comedores were packed with locals. This is not a tourist thing. What makes it so cool is that it was just packed with locals and it didn’t matter when you came.

Could have been during the weekday, could have been on a weekend, could have been a holiday, packed and bustling and there is food being made everywhere.

Paseo del Humo

Then you also have the world’s most famous section, which is called paseo de humo, which is literally smoky Alley. When you go in it is literally super smoky. why? This is where all the meats are grilled for you.

pasillo del humo in a oaxacan market

Market Structure

In the market, there’s a very detailed structure. This is how it goes, first, you go over to the meat and they have all sorts of meats, therefore you include sausage and chorizo and all these other meats. What you do next is you buy per kilo and you could do a mix of all the meats or just one specific meat and then they literally grill it for you right there so you do not have to pay yet. You then move on to the next section which is the tortillas.

From there you go on to the condiment section and this is where you have like pickled stuff, guacamole, veggies, and stuff like that you will be putting on with your tortilla with the meat. There’s absolutely no silverware for this. Everything is done with a tortilla, so you will be using tortillas. Then you could pay and take it to go. Or you could sit down in a comedor, and enjoy it. This is the drink section, so you could only sit at the table, if you will be ordering drinks, if you’re not gonna be ordering drinks, you need to pay for everything else and then leave.

The turnover rate is really quick, really fast like this is the local stuff and the prices are super low prices and you get a lot for your money.

grilling oaxacan food in a market

Comedores or Food Stands

And that leads me to another interesting observation: we have the comedores, which is like where you sit down and they make the food for you, and then you have the food stands and you’ll find them all over the markets in the food stands. You are not allowed to cook there though. You actually have to cook all the food at home, and bring it there. You could only warm it up.

In The Comedores, on the other hand, you cook everything from scratch, and then you sit there. The food stands you don’t sit there. You could eat standing there, but chances are you’ll just buy it and walk away with it as well.

man eating oaxacan food in a market


So one thing I will tell you about Mexico and Oaxaca, is you’ll never starve there at all. Somebody asked me, because I am vegetarian, So what do you think about Mexican food? I’m like, it’s fried food with cheese. You can never really go wrong with fried food with cheese. But obviously, it is much richer. It has spices. I mean the chilies, the moles, everything. So if you guys have a strong palate. Or if you’re interested in adventurous food. This is definitely the place for you, and I so recommend you take at least an entire day to go visit the markets. Eat at the markets, and really see what that whole area is all about.

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