Mexico Travel Sketchbook: Oaxaca / Tianguis (flea markets), Cooking Classes and Crickets

 Whenever I travel, I bring my sketchbook journal with me and record my time, be it through words, quick pen and ink drawings or watercolor.  It's this practice that ultimately led to my illustrated cookbooks, which are now entire projects in and of themselves, comprised of Illustrated recipes from times cooking with people in their homes throughout Latin America. 

At the end of January, I spent some time in Mexico City and Oaxaca,  both places that make my heart sing-- as gushy as that sounds, its the truth.  The colors, the food and the culture are so warm, and full of life. I'm going to breeze through some favorite there here. 

Find me in an outdoor market, perusing the produce, grabbing a fresh squeezed carrot orange and checking out all the flowers for sale. I'll taste the different chocolates if there's samples before I buy, take in the smells, the good and the not so good of the fresh bread, the sausage or seafood over piles of ice. The outdoor market is a sensory overload, in a crazy fun way.  An outdoor market will never feel banal.

Here's a few things I learned on this trip: 

Most moles have up to 32 ingredients in each recipe. In addition, there are seven distinct varieties, all from Oaxaca, the birthplace of mole.  I learned this from the crew over at Casa Crespo, who teach cooking classes multiple times a week in Oaxaca. If you have the time, definitely take one of their workshops while there. 

The Gusano, or the Tequila Worm is distinct flavor of its own.  I picked up some sal de gusano (Worm flavored salt) from, Seasons of my Heart store, owned and operated by Susana Trilling, chef and fellow cookbook author in Oaxaca.  I had the chance meet her in her little store, and chat about small business.  Trilling also facilitates a variety of in depth cooking classes, and tours.

There is at least one open air market every day of the week in Oaxaca.  Definitely make it out to some of the Tianguis del Pueblo (town flea markets) in the surrounding communities of Oaxaca City, in addition to Mercado Benito Juarez which is open every day in El Centro.  

Even if you don't like wrestling, Lucha Libre could be for you. Trust me, if you're a culture vulture like me, you'll find it fun. It's more a fantastic production than actual wrestling.  The music, costumes, coordinated 'fighting' is more choreographed that you'd assume.  

Best eats of the trip, you ask? 

Here's a few favorites.

Restaurant Lalo: Casual cafe with really good all day lunch/brunch food. They have some traditional flavors unique to Mexico including an escamoles (ant eggs) omelette, which I actually really like. As strange as it sounds, just try it. 

Pitiona, Oaxaca: Contemporary fine dining. There was some molecular gastronomy going on here which I hadn't anticipated, but really loved.  We had the most memorable tomato soup with balls of liquid cheese inside a little sphere that exploded in your mouth.  Elegant, light, lovely. The chef is José Manuel Baños.  I'll be back. 

Casa Oaxaca: Oaxacan plates, dressed up.  We had some of the best chapulines (grasshopper) tlyudas here. Ask to be seated on the rooftop. 

Eats, in general, not to miss: 

Pan con chocolate: Oaxacan Hot Chocolate with bread. It's chocolate with a hint of cinnamon. Dunk the bread in the chocolate, you won't regret it. 

Mezcal: it will be offered to you frequently- savor the sips, the craft spirit originates in Oaxaca.  

Eat mole at least once, any or all of the seven signature varieties.  They're all very different from each other.  

Art Experiences recommended: 

La Casa Azul, Coyoacán: Frida Kahlo's home.  Need I say more? Walk through her art studio, open kitchen, and incredible garden space. Her home staged with many of her possessions, from art materials to visual archives and family heirlooms.  Deigo's overalls are even hanging on the wall.  I've been before, but this time I was able to see the newest addition to the experience, an exhibit all about her wardrobe.  I love everything about this place! Buy tickets in advance, that way you don't have to wait in line to get in.  

CASA: Centro de Artes San Augustin: A space once occupied as a textile factory is now an exhibition and workshop space. Plus the location and arctecture and setting are something to behold.  It's a great little day trip outside of the center of town, via a combi (group taxi)

Printmaking Studio Tour: There are about a dozen small printmaking studios in El Centro, and they've created a 'Passport' (Pasporte Grafico), a little booklet including a map, plus an area which you can have stamped by each studio visited.  It's a great walking tour, approach to seeing art and a way to meet many of the artist.  Many of the artists make very detailed linocuts and woodblocks.  I really enjoyed seeing the presses in action, too!