So before we get to the Mezcal we start with hot sauce. We met Chris’ great friend, Juan Carlos, in a town outside Puebla called Cholupa. They were having some kind of party there and the streets and traffic were crazy full. But we met Juan Carlos and had tasty dinner full of Res Lengua, which is beef tongue. It is so good. I highly recommend it. We had breakfast the next morning with JC but then we had to head to Oaxaca for the real drinking.
The drive to Oaxaca was beautiful. The cliffs are red rock like Arizona and Utah. And a short but very intense rain storm hit us and then made a grand rainbow. I don’t know what happened to my pictures, I don’t have enough iCloud space and our MacBook died, so you’ll have to imagine everything for yourself.
We got to Oaxaca and our hotel was in the old timey part of town: bumpy cobblestone roads, lots of churches, tiny streets with even tinier sidewalks, etc. Hotel Casa Arnel was pretty sweet. It came with a roof top deck, laundry, terrible breakfast and a funny young boy who never went to school but did walk his pet around the hotel.
We arrived a couple days before Halloween weekend and the Day of the Dead celebrations were just getting underway. They pretty much partied straight through from Friday afternoon until Monday afternoon. Costumes, street parties, dog Halloween costume contests (completely true story and right outside our hotel). Our favorite dog costume was a Doberman pinscher who had a skeleton outline painted on him very precisely and perfectly. He was amazing.
And one night a stage was set up outside our hotel and we watched a play from the rooftop. I have no idea what the plot was but there was a large man in a ball gown and a blond wig, and a Rudy-like man a la the Boosh with a giant headdress sort of visible in this picture.
But Day of the Dead was not the only reason we were in Oaxaca. We came there to drink mezcal and eat mole. I believe I succeeded in having some mole in every meal. It is so much better than any other Mexican food I’ve ever had and I love it. We also had some picante hot chocolate which was super tasty as well.
The mezcal was delicious. Our first night we went to Mezcaloteca, a small boutique mezcaleria where a lovely man practiced his English giving us a tasting of three mezcals each. He explained everything about the different varietals to us and we stayed there talking with him for hours. After a while a buddy of his stopped by with a water bottle full of some fresh mezcal he had just grabbed from a local distillery. We luckily got a taste of the water bottle mezcal and it was awesome. Because it had literally finished distillation that day it tasted so fresh and green, unlike anything else we have ever tasted. We also sampled some different wild agave varietals that I’ve never had before, and found out that some of the wild varietals, like one of my favs, Madrexuishe, are often used as a fence for people’s property because it grows quite tall. I want to have a mezcal fence with two rows staggered in age so that when the front fence row is ready to harvest the second row can be my fence and the first row can be a tasty beverage.
We also tried to distinguish the pronunciation of the “x” in various different Mexican words, but we were pretty much told it’s always different and there are no rules. Madrexuishe is also spelled Madrecuishe, and there’s another varietal that is similar called Cuishe (or Xuishe). Oaxaca (pronounced wahaka) has a different “x” sound, as does Xoxocotlan (chocho-kotlan, but with a Jewish/Scottish “cha” sound, not “ch” like chair). So we just guessed randomly when pronouncing words.
The other super cool thing we learned was how long it takes some of these different agave varietals to mature. Arroqueño, Chris’ favorite varietal, takes up to 16 years! That means before you can even make the mezcal you have to wait 16 years for the plants to grow. And they’re wild, not cultivated, so they’re just chillin in a field somewhere. The value when compared with time invested is more similar to a Scotch that’s been barrel aged for 16 years, but it isn’t advertised on the bottle like that so most people don’t know how special it is.
In Situ- massive selection with super knowledgeable people, including a lady who seemed to be running things. She accidentally told us an Arroqueño Chris had ordered was 700 pesos when it was actually 70 pesos, so that was at first a giant shock, and then a delightful surprise.
Los Amantes- mui pequeño tiny little spot serving a few of their own bottles. Very nice, a bit pricier than elsewhere and better on a less busy night as it is tiny.
Zandunga- restaurant with good selection and prices.
La Biznaga- another restaurant next door to Zandunga and pricier but still good.
We did some other great stuff in Oaxaca because it’s a great city and we loved it. It’s the first place we went in Mexico where we really felt like we could stay there. And it’s surrounded by amazing scenery. We went to an ancient Zapotec site called Mount Alban, where a matriarchal society ruled ages ago.
And afterwards we went to a place where they make Day of the Dead and other random souvenirs out of wood. They’re all handmade and hand painted and some of the really big stuff is impressively carved out of one piece of wood.
A couple days later we wanted to do a similar trip to some other ruins and what is called The Petrified Waterfall, an extremely old spring that has so many minerals in it that it leaves deposits as it trickles out, making a giant waterfall hundreds of feet high.
I don’t know more about how it really works because we didn’t have a guide. We didn’t know we weren’t going to have a guide. When we were at the Etnobotanico Jardin earlier in the week a man had given us a pamphlet about the tour we wanted to take. This man was not a total stranger, he was the proprietor of a fancy restaurant where we had eaten (La Olla, it was amazing), so that made him trustworthy in my mind. However, we were meant to meet him in front of the restaurant at 9am. At 9:05 we called him and he said he’d be there in ten minutes. He picked us up ten minutes later and drove us literally half a block, then told us to get out and another guy would pick us up at 9:45, or maybe 10. At quarter past another van showed up and no one spoke English. Later we discovered he was trying to charge us three times as much as we had agreed upon. So the moral of the story is pay the extra 100 pesos to your hotel to sort things out. But this is what the waterfall looks like.
But remember where we met the shady restaurant proprietor? It was at the Jardin de Etnobotanico, which is amazing. There’s an English speaking tour Tuesdays, Thursdays and Saturdays at 11am and you can only see the gardens with a tour. The Spanish tours are every day and half the price. But it’s well worth the tour. They’ve taken native plants from all over Oaxaca and replanted them there. There’s a cactus there that’s over 500 years old. And this is another plant that people use as a fence. Some of these guys are only ten years old!
So everything was cool and pretty, the mole and the mezcal were epic, and we love Oaxaca. Tune in at some point in the future to hear how bloody hot the Oaxacan coast is and thanks for reading. I promise it won’t be so long til the next one.