Mexico / Perfect Days

Experiencing more Oaxaca with Oaxacking

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.

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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.

Oaxaca Oaxacking tacos El Compadre

Oaxaca el compadre tacos cabeza

Oaxaca el compadre tacos

Head meat tacos are the perfect snack. I wish I had street eating like this at home…

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.

Cuish Oaxaca mezcal

oaxaca mezcal

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)!

Sabina Sabe Oaxaca mezcal

 

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oaxaca sabina sabe moscow mule

Omar suggested I try the mule, which was a refreshing change from all the mezcal I’ve been drinking.

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.

Oaxacking Tierra Del Sol

Choose your own adventure salsa.

Tierra del Sol Oaxaca breakfast

Memlas, tetelas, and ribs oh my!

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.

Matatlan mezcal Oaxaca

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.

Mal de Amor Mezcal Matatlan.jpg

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.

Susy Bando Illegal mezcal.jpg

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.

matatlan mezcal pinas

A worker unloading the baked piñas(heart of the agave plant).

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Octvio hacking at the baked  pina…

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… to offer us a taste. It was sweet and still warm, reminiscent of chewing on a piece of sugarcane.

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Octavio explaining the fermentation process.

Matatlan mezcal Oaxaca 5a generacion

We then went on to tasting directly from carboys filled with various types of mezcal.

I decided to purchase a bottle of tepextate, a wild agave which takes over 25 years to mature.

matatlan mezcal 5 generacion

Octavio’s highly technical bottle filling technique.

 

Mezcal Matatlan 5a generacion

My first bottle of Tepaxtate! My tastes are definitely changing, or perhaps becoming more refined according to Omar.

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.

"Oaxacking Pulque"

Omar getting an explanation of the short-aged pulque which turned out to be more pleasant than the rank older-aged one.

 

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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.

tlacaloula oaxaca

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.

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I take after my father-in-law Henry in my love for this pottery.

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Henry appreciating being warmly welcomed into the Matteo’s studio.

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.

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Reyna Mendoza Oaxaca Teotitlan cooking

Squeezing lime on cucumbers and jicima. I don’t know why I don’t do this at home.

Reyna Men

Reyna Mendoza Teotitlan sopa azteca

Sopa azteca is one of my favorites, and I’ve come to learn there are so many renditions of this dish.

Reyna Men

Chicken segueza is simply soulful. But it’s the knowledge of the amount of time and work that goes into making this delicious dish seem simple that I truly appreciate.

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Mandarin nieve is the perfect refreshing way to end a wonderful meal.

Oaxaca Matatlan

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?

Oaxaca La Churrocleta

Perfect way to end the evening

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!

 

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