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Hopping good grub in Oaxaca

Go on a Mexican food odyssey in the colonial city of Oaxaca and chow down on spicy grasshoppers, chocolate and mole
Oaxaca is foodie heaven, so why bother with the glorious sights?
Photo Robert Bang

Mexico’s culinary credits may include cheesy enchiladas, tequila and spicy tacos, but I never saw grasshoppers on the menu at my local Tex-Mex restaurant.

But the crunchy anthropods are indeed a ubiquitous delicacy on the streets of Oaxaca (pronounced Wa-hah-ca), Mexico’s laid back colonial city in the south of the Latin American country.

Walking through the bustling streets around the Mercado Juarez, just south of the Zocalo or town square, your eyes are drawn to the large sacks, piled high with the tasty treats which locals flick into their mouths and crunch on like peanuts.

The thought of nibbling on an insect makes even the most seasoned traveller squirm, but having chowed down on a plate of stir-fried scorpions in China, a bag of happy hoppers didn’t seem so terrifying.

Coated with spicy chili and tangy lime, it was easy to see why the speciality is famed throughout Mexico.

And wrapped in a tortilla, your eyes are spared the unappetizing sight of the creepy crawly being shoveled into your hungry mouth.

But Oaxaca’s reputation as a foodie heaven is not just down to its unusual snacks.

No visit to the city, surrounded by verdant Valles Centrales mountains, would be complete without sampling the famous Aztec chocolate.

Sweet and subtly spiced with cinnamon, a hot cup of cocoa is the perfect warmer when winter sets in 1500 meters above sea level.

In the sultry summer months, however, nothing cools a Mexican heat wave like an ice cold chocolate milkshake.

For the best sugary treat in town, head to the Mayordomo in the south end of Oaxaca’s Mercado 20 de Noviembre, where you can watch the experts mixing the heavenly brown nectar in vats and buy a box of the ancient aphrodisiac to take home.

But for the ultimate in Oaxaca dining, try one of the many mouth-watering varieties mole (moh-lay) sauces.

Made with nuts, chilis and spices, mole is the piece de resistance of Mexican cuisine and is found drenching chicken, turkey or pork dishes in all the colors of the rainbow.

Where as in most cuisines the sauce is simply to add flavor the meat, in Mexico, the mole is the dish.

Although it’s often called chocolate sauce, actually only a small percentage of moles contain this ingredient.

Which is probably just as well, because the Aztec delicacy here is far too decadent to waste on a sauce.

Carnivores will no doubt balk, however, at the thought of ruining a perfectly tasty slab of meat with ladles of mole, no matter how delicious.

Fear not my meaty friend, because among the flowers, hats, shoes and sandals is the Carne Asada, where rows of hawkers shrouded in billowing charcoal smoke sell barbequed meats and vegetables.

Grab a jumbo tortilla wrap, pick your pork, beef or chorizo and chow down like a gringo with hours to live.

Of course, there’s no better way to wash Mexico’s finest food down than with a silky smooth tequila or, even better, a glass of the region’s notoriously fiery spirit mescal.

And if you’re stressing about how you’ll find time to see any of Oaxaca’s sights in between breakfast, brunch, lunch, afternoon tea and supper, have another hot chocolate and chomp on a wriggly grasshopper.

You’ll soon realize why in Mexico you are rarely more than arms length away from a tasty morsel.

After all, when in Oaxaca…eat.

For a hostel that feels like a hotel, stay at the charming and beautiful gay-friendly Hostal Casa del Sol.

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