Those moments of luck in your life when you decide to tack on a side trip after a conference and it turns out to be a plan so cunning it’s worthy of a tail (if you’ve never watched Black Adder then that will most likely go over your head).
Oaxaca Mexico; (yes, its actually pronounced Wahaka, very Kiwi) the home of Mezcal, incredible food and a depth of culture one can almost drown in it. I can thank my wife for randomly choosing Oaxaca, God knows where that stroke of brilliance came from but it was an epic decision. We had 6 days there and we didn’t want to leave. It blew away all my pre-conceived notions about Mexico within the first 48 hours.
Let’s start with some history before we get to the primary reason for the trip; food and Mezcal. Oaxaca’s culture is thousands of years old starting well before JC commenced his world tour. The Zapotec dudes turned up centuries ago and built incredible Mayan like hilltop city’s with structured government (of course the priests played top dog) and cultivated all number of vegetables and fruits. They studied the seasons, the stars, measured time to help decide when to plant what, and they were true visionaries after smoking weed and magic mushroom induced hallucinations. The early Zapotec seemed to have disappeared off the face of the earth leaving behind their incredible cities; no one knows why. We spent half a day at Monte Albán and its pretty epic.
I figure some dude took just one magic mushroom too many and predicted an horrific event so they all fled elsewhere. I met someone a few weeks ago who predicted the same fate for USA (not sure if mushrooms were involved). Thank God Trump is building that wall. It’ll keep them all out of Mexico as they exit the chaos which isn’t a bad thing given both the historic centre of Oaxaca and Monte Albán are UNESCO World Heritage sites and they need looking after!
Today you can still feel the depth of culture left behind by the early Zapotec and with that, it’s been translated in their incredibly welcoming nature and their food. And believe me when I say the food is truly amazing. There is a transformation taking place making Oaxaca one of the important culinarily destinations in Mexico.
It’s part of modern day family life with colourful markets selling high quality produce bought in every day from the surrounding villages that is so cheap it makes you want to weep (and enhances my hatred for our overpriced shit supermarkets at home – arses). The restaurants are bringing together tradition and modern day cuisine that make eating here an epic experience.
The mole’s, salsas, beans, tortillas, tostadas, enchiladas, cactus, guacamole topped with fried grasshoppers, tamales, fresh fruit and vegetables were out of this world. If your preference is more carnally focused, the preparation of beef, chicken, pork and fish will make your mouth water. And cheese, an addition to almost everything, was their deliciously salty and stretchy local quesillo.
So now let’s get to the real reason for the visit. Mezcal! We’ve always been reasonably avid Tequila drinkers but in recent years after discovering Mezcal, there’s been a slow and enjoyable transition – to the point that I now find Tequila a little clinical. The major challenge we faced however, is that trying to find decent Mezcal in New Zealand seems to be an unachievable quest, not dissimilar to that of solving the mystery of the disappearing Zapotec. So we went to the source. Oaxaca is the birthplace of Mezcal and the most important region in Mexico for this delicious drop. We focused mainly on the artisan producers in small villages crafting some of the best Mezcal in all of Mexico. We were lucky enough to spend time with Eduardo “Lalo” Ángeles at his traditional distillery Lalocura in Santa Catarina Minas sampling his passionately and traditionally made single and blended Agave varietals. Eduardo is in the top handful of Mezcal producers in Mexico and highly respected in the industry.
The process of selecting the Agave based on variety and age, cooking the piñas in an underground wood fired pit, the grinding by hand, fermentation in open barrels before a double distillation in clay pots was truly magnificent to see. Eduardo is focused on the sustainability of the industry and is incredibly active in the community. It was a privilege to meet him and his Mezcal was like drinking nectar from the lap of the gods…
So we are back home now, we have a suitcase full of amazing Mezcal lost somewhere between Houston and New Zealand (thanks again Air New Zealand – airline of the year. If you lose my Mezcal bad shit will happen) and we miss you Oaxaca. We learnt some great lessons about passion, culture, and the hedonistic pleasures in your wonderful and drop dead amazing Mezcal.