A stroll through the Central de Abastos, the city’s oldest open-air market, is like a journey through the encyclopedic contributions that Mexico—and, more specifically, food-obsessed Oaxaca—has made to the global pantry. Vendors hawk dried chiles, rope cheeses, and the seven varieties of mole for which the region is known. On Saturdays, villagers from outlying towns cook up lamb barbacoa and tray-size tortillas at informal stands. Chef Alex Stupak of New York City’s Empellón Cocina loves getting lost amid the bounty. “Try to find a stall that sells tejate, an amazing cold drink made with white cacao and mamey sapote seeds,” he suggests. Also on his list: sal de gusano, a powdered mixture of salt, chiles, and roasted gusano worm, typically served on orange slices as a mescal chaser.
Bring It Back: A molcajete and tejolote, or stone mortar and pestle ($8), is the ultimate souvenir.