I was first introduced to Oaxaca in a magical way. Twenty years ago I went there with my family for a vacation, and we visited a house owned by artist Arnulfo Mendoza. He came from a rug-making family, and everything in his home was handmade. Chickens roamed the courtyard. His father was an old man who prescribed herbs for people with various ailments. It was unlike anything I had ever experienced. I was struck then, as I continue to be, by the timeless way the Oaxacans engage in the meaningful work of living.
Oaxaca is replete with the art of everyday life. It’s not art in a gallery. The creativity comes across in the way people dress, in the way they live, and in the way they work. It’s in the colors of the earthenware pots: dark greens; deep purples; intense blacks. It’s such a rare thing to see that happening.
This is one of the richest, most biodiverse places in the Americas. You find it when you go to the Indian market in the Teotitlán valley outside of town: squash blossoms still attached to the squash; cheese made that morning; little herbs I’ve never seen; fresh chamomile for tea. Everyone is grilling chicken or pork. You can go every day and see something new.”
Alice Waters’s latest book, Edible Schoolyard: A Universal Idea, is now in stores.
Great Value “When I don’t rent a house, I stay at Casa Oaxaca (407 García Vigil; 52-951/514-4173; casaoaxaca.com; doubles from $179, including breakfast). It’s not a fancy hotel, and the restaurant serves simple food and drink—and that’s what I like about it.”
“The Benito Juárez Market (on the corner of Flores Magon and Las Casas streets) is in the center of town. I love the hot chocolate and the little filled tortillas.”
“A favorite restaurant is Tortillería y Antojería Itanoní (513 Belisario Domínguez; 52-951/513-9223; lunch for two $8), owned by Amado Ramírez Leyva, who is part of the Slow Food movement. The menu highlights four kinds of organic corn flour—the cooks have to stone-grind it out back—and the tortillas are made on the grill, with cheese inside and maybe some herbs.”
“My friend Diana Kennedy, a food writer, introduced me to the Mendoza sisters, who were starting a restaurant in the Teotitlán valley called Tlamanalli (34 Av. Juárez; 52-951/524-4006; dinner for two $55). The guisado de pollo was so delicious—and still is.”