My visits to Oaxaca used to be packed with a full list of things to do, or more correctly of places I had to eat and drink at. But this year, that wasn’t the case. I’ll admit, there were a few places I’d seen over the year on @Oaxacking’s Instagram feed that I was curious about, but if I added those things to my list of “places I wanted to return to” I knew that I’d never hit them all. But I have a new confidence in Oaxaca which stems from knowing with each visit, I’ll return. It takes a lot of pressure of feeling like I “have to” get to things off my shoulders and in this new, relaxed focus in Oaxaca, I’ve found myself being a part of some great adventures.
And so my vacation goals in Oaxaca have changed over the years, and while I have been fortunate to meet many wonderful people, there are a few that I am grateful in being able to call on each year I’m in town. I know my desire to return is in great part due to their generosity and hospitality.
This year, I knew I wouldn’t have a problem filling my 2 weeks in Oaxaca, but what I didn’t realize was how integral Omar would be in keeping me busy. After spending the most awesome Sunday with Omar, I was happy when he invited me out again during the week to attend a mezcal tasting at Cuish, where Maestra Reyna Sanchez from Miahuatlán would be presenting some of her mezcals.
I knew I wouldn’t understand most of what was going on in the evening, but that didn’t matter to me. Not being able to understand Spanish doesn’t stop me from just “being”, and Omar does a great job of keeping me in the know of what I need to know.
On our way to Cuish, Omar wanted to stop for a few tacos. Street eating? Yes please! Located outside the Benito Juarez market, Omar mentioned he’d been coming to El Compadre since he was a kid. Funny enough, I recently re-watched the episode of A Cook’s Tour, from 2002, where Anthony Bourdain was in Oaxaca and he ate at the same stand.
We arrived at Cuish early for the event and were able to sit around sipping mezcal quietly. I’d been to Cuish last year for a tasting, and was surprised to see that they’d upgraded and expanded into their space upstairs.
Like I’d figured, I didn’t understand much of what was being explained at the event, but I enjoyed sipping the wonderful mezcals while people watching at the same time.
After the event, Omar, his awesome friend Frank and I stopped at Sabina Sabe for a drink. I had been wanting to go there and I’m glad I did because it was everything I wanted. Good cocktails, great mezcal selection with an awesome vibe. Will return again (already have)!
Right from the beginning of my time in Oaxaca, I told Omar that I wanted him to don his “Oaxacking” hat for me one day to take my group on a tour as he had the year before to check out some mezcal palenques, and do some more exploring outside of Centro.
We started our day at a restaurant Omar really wanted to take us to, Tierra del Sol Casa, which happens to be in the former home of Oaxacan singer Lila Downs. It was a very pretty and delicious way to start the day.
After breakfast we were off in the car towards the countryside with our first destination being Santiago Matatlán. I’ve said it many times, the more I learn about mezcal, the less I know, which is why I enjoy getting out to visit different palenques to see the process and get to chat with the Maestro Mezcaleros.
We returned to Palenque Mal de Amor, where we saw their facilities had been upgraded from the past year. We did a brief tasting of some mezcals we remembered enjoying the year before and tried a few more. I found I still liked what I did in the past but there were a few others I enjoyed as well. Happy to know my tastes are broadening.
We had a sneak peek into Illegal Mezcal‘s production facility and it was a great example of the growth of the industry into “America” and how Illegal is catering to a different market with their mostly aged mezcals they had sitting in barrels.
Our next stop as at 5a Generación, where the current Maestro, Octavio Jr , who is the 5th generation Maestro (hence the name), gave us a tour of his production.
I decided to purchase a bottle of tepextate, a wild agave which takes over 25 years to mature.
Our next stop was to try out some pulque. I’ve seen a gain in popularity in pulque in Oaxaca recently, (due in part to its hipster following), so I was interested in learning more about it.
Pulque predates mezcal and tequila as an alcoholic beverage and is made by fermenting aguamiel which is the sap/nectar collected from the maguey plant. Fermentation happens quickly, from a few hours to a couple of weeks and the result is a funky frothy almost viscous beverage.
We were back in the car and onto the back roads above Tlacaloula. I love getting out into the country in Oaxaca. The beautiful views with the rolling hills always makes me feel peaceful. I have a strange connection to Oaxaca that gets amplified in the country.
Our next destination was to visit the Mateo family in San Marcos Tlapazola to check out their wonderful terracotta pottery. I love this simple unglazed, low-fired pottery and couldn’t help but leave the Matteo family studio with quite a few pieces for home.
Our last stop was lunch at Reyna’s! Omar got us another invite into the Mendoza home for lunch prepared by the lovely Reyna. I was so happy to be back for a meal. Reyna is so welcoming and her food feels like an honest expression of Oaxacan cuisine.
As we drove back towards Centro, I was feeling “shiawase” about my days in Oaxaca. “Shiawase” is a japanese word translated into happy… fortunate… lucky… It’s also the same character (幸) as my Japanese name. I was named appropriately. I have spent my life seeking moments of shiawase. In Oaxaca, I feel shiawase.
I am fortunate to live a life filled with amazing experiences, but I am cognizant that these come because I have opened myself up to take chances rather than trying to control my plans. I’ve also worked hard to surround myself with positive, like-minded people. Omar has been this for me, and more so. He reminds me to relax and slow-down to a Oaxacan pace of life and to not worry so much.
Omar as Omar has been wonderful for me personally and for that, I am grateful and will continue to try to find to the Oaxacan zen for my everyday life as he encourages me to do. Omar as Oaxacking has taken me on marvellous tours catered to my desires with seeing Oaxaca. I highly recommend anyone going to Oaxaca in search of a unique experience to reach out to him.
And as a bonus to end the night, Omar took me for a visit for churros and hot chocolate with LaChurroCleta, who sells his goods from his bicycle. How awesome is that?
I didn’t do a great job capturing the images I wanted to on my day out with Oaxacking, so I thank Omar for letting me use his Instagram photos documenting the day!