Imagine eating in a place like this: thick smoke covers the entire room, tons of people are walking by offering you different goods, there are no plates, you have to eat with your hands, insects are part of what you are eating. All these and more can be experienced at the Mercado 20 de Noviembre in Oaxaca.
Oaxaca markets are famous worldwide. They are the places to savor the best dishes and ingredients of the state in their purest form.
The Mercado 20 de Noviembre is located two blocks south of the capital’s zocalo. It is not my intention to sound cliché but visit at least once to get a minimal taste of how things work in Oaxaca (minimal taste since the cultural and gastronomic offerings in Oaxaca in very wide).
One Sunday afternoon, we visited with local friends. Therefore, I observed them moving in their city. I just went with the flow and agreed with their decisions.
Based on what I experienced, here is some guidance on how to have the best possible lunch experience.
Step 1: Buy a bag or two of chapulines
Chapulines are grasshoppers cooked in a comal with different seasonings. They can be eaten as a botana (snack) or as tortilla fillers (in tacos, quesadillas, etc.).
At the Mercado 20 de Noviembre, you are going to see mounds of chapulines flanking some of the entrances. To be sincere, I am not inclined to eat insects but I ended up trying them since my husband and friends were pushing me. I was worried about crunchy pieces sticking in my throat. I am a texture person (do not necessarily oppose to the flavor). But thanks to the experienced cookers, the chapulines had a beef jerky texture and a great flavor. We ended up buying two bags of medium sized chapulines: one with garlic flavor, the other one with lime and chili flavor.
Step 2: Select the meat
Enter the market and find the meat hall (mercado de las carnes). Almost all vendors offer three things: chorizo, cecina (pork pounded thin, covered in chili sometimes) and tasajo (beef pounded thin). Closely, inspect the meat color when trying to select a vendor. When in doubt, go to where the line is longer. We ordered a kilo of tasajo (13 pieces) and half kilo of chorizo. The meat vendor is in charge of grilling your meat.
Step 3: Select a legume stand
While your meat is cooking, walk a few steps where the legume stands are located. If you buy from one of them, drinks, vegetables or other sides, they give you a table to eat. This is the place to order tortillas, grilled green onions and chilies.
Step 4: Order sides and Mexican coke
Once at your table, a guy working for the legume stand will start to take your drinks order. He will also show up with a tray full of sides. You can chose from guacamole, avocado, tomatoes, radish, cucumbers, nopales, pickled vegetables, lemons and more. Put in the table what you want and the guy will take the rest.
Start with an appetizer of chapulines or nibble on some of the sides.
Step 5: Prepare your taco
The meat arrives very quickly (check if it is totally cooked, especially the chorizo). Put a napkin over the corner where you are going to eat (there are no plates in here) and start assembling your taco over it. With your hands, break the tasajo into pieces; add chapulines and any of the sides. Repeat as long as you have meat.
Step 6: Enjoy your meal
Appreciate what you are eating since you are trying the freshest ingredients in Oaxaca. You can always end your meal by buying fruit or sweet bread. Or, there is the option to cross the street to the Juarez market to have traditional ice cream an agua fresca made with natural ingredients.
Would you have lunch in a place like this? Let me know in the comments section below.