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Mar 24, 2013 09:20 PM

How to approach native mercado vendors in Oaxaca City?


I am going on a culinary trip or gastro-tourism venture to the Mexican state of Oaxaca. I am looking to do some serious culinary research and hopefully get some useful tips or little "Secret recipes/obscure ingredient leads" from the natives. I was wondering if anyone has experience with this. I am a serious cook of Mexican descent and speak perfect Spanish, so I wonder if it might be better to take a "peer Mexican cook" approach or a "clueless harmless tourist" approach?

Maybe some of you have already tried this, if only out of curiosity? I just don't know how guarded some of these cooks must be about sharing their all-time family traditions with strangers.

I will probably end up playing it by ear in the end, but still. Just wondering if I might get some help here. Thanks in advance guys :)

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  1. All time family secrets or treasured recipes? Probably not so much. Suggestions, tips, and basic dirctions for preparations? More likely. Most indigenous chefs I've met, observed and listened to are extremely proud of their talents and have been willing to share up to a point, but give away their trade secrets? Not so much. But then again, I am not of Mexican descent, and my Spanish is pretty far from perfect. Speaking Zapotec would probably yield more information than Spanish, and those indigenous cooks are all pretty well aware that each cook has her own "sazon".

    Good luck and enjoy your adventure.

    1. Be sure and have tlayudas. The best are at Tlayuda Libre. All for the high cost of 25 pesos. Cooked over coals on the street.You can watch and learn how to prepare them.

      1 Reply
      1. re: bob k

        25?! I paid 50 pesos for a tlayuda at Libres. At another street place I paid 40. Still cheap but any less and there must not be anything inside.

        I must confess I am not a fan of tlayudas. They are too dry and hard to chew for me. I prefer tacos and memelas. Fantastic tacos de lechon are 1/2 block up from Tlayudas Libres on the corner in the white trailer/caseta.

      2. From my experience living in Oaxaca, you need a long personal relationship before you will get inside information. You may get some information, have some questions answered because they are being polite and friendly to tourists.

        This may come across as rude because of this format but I don't want to sugar-coat reality .There have been numerous others like you wanting secret recipes/obscure ingredients leads. Some have gotten the secrets. If there is no reason to benefit from giving away the bank, so to speak, the natives will not. And I don't blame them.

        1. Honestly, much of the secrets are just locally sourced ingredients that you won't find or just taste differently elsewhere. A lot of the cooks you come across in Oaxaca aren't deviating far from standard recipes, it's the ingredients.

          Many of the dishes that people make aren't even different in terms of ingredients than one might use in the "gastronome" world, but simple things like the corn being totally different in Mexico makes the dishes much different.

          Lastly, I'm very familiar with Oaxacans and have spent more time there then any place outside San Francisco. They're a very guarded bunch. They'll gladly treat you nicely since they like tourists, but in a million years, they'd never give secrets away. That is, if they have any--my opinion, most don't, it's just local ingredients and context.