Guacamole Heaven: Food Costs in Oaxaca

The last few days I was in Oaxaca, I gorged on avocados — thoughts about calories to the wind. I mashed them, sliced them, added them cubed to soup, to eggs, to chicken tacos. One day, I bought 6 avocados for a dollar and made enough guacamole to last for days. I knew when I got home to Chapel Hill it would be a cold day in hell before I would ever see an avocado for 20 or 25 cents each. A teeny weeny Haas avocado in any local NC super or organic market is costing $1.29 to $1.99 each. Must be the cost of gasoline to get it here! I roll by them in the market, looking longingly, fingering the skin to check for ripeness, then just can bear to pay the price for such a small bit of food. In Oaxaca, avocados, papaya, melon and bananas are grown locally, so they are abundant and inexpensive, even in winter (which is like early summer in California). California pears and peaches, pineapples from Costa Rica and Guatemala are readily available and are not exhorbitant. Restaurant fare varies according to where one chooses to eat, of course. On the high end, a comida midday meal at Casa Oaxaca can easily run $50 USD per person. I’d rather eat at La Biznaga or La Olla, knowing I was buying healthfully prepared food, spend about $7-10 USD for a meal (although one could eat there for as little as $4-5), and put the money I “saved” toward buying an alebrije or rug. Other good bets for meals are restaurants Marco Polo, and Maria Buena in the same price range, and at the San Martin Tilcajete crossroads, Jacobo Angeles’ new restaurant, La Azucena. I’ve taken to eating in the markets when the stall looks clean and the food is either grilled or boiled or steamed to oblivion. In Tlacolula, on Sunday market day, Stephen and I went to a grilling stall where the raw red meat was draped over metal display racks like at a butcher after we saw the long lines in front of the place. One thing I’ve learned from traveling the world, especially Asia, is that where large groups congregate, it’s got to be good food. So, we picked out our piece of meat, they grilled it, along with the onions we bought at an adjacent stall. Stephen went off to forage for bread baked that day, a hunk of Queso Oaxaqueno, and drinks. With food in hand, we strolled out to the church courtyard, plunked down on the raised concrete edge of a flower bed, and ate our “lunch-dinner” just like the locals. The cost was about $6 for both of us including everything. Delicious and no worries!

There’s a night life now in Teotitlan. It is called “Samburguesas.” Samuel is the proprietor and he unfolds his awning every evening around 7 p.m. on the side of the market that faces the church. The grilled burgers are delicious, as are the tacos al pastor. These tacos are made from grilled pork meat that is sliced off a vertical roaster, topped with grilled pineapple, and served over two small soft handmade corn tortillas. A plate of condiments is put on every table that includes guacamole, red onions, salsa fresca, and hot peppers (watch out for those peppers). You dress your own tacos. They cost about 50 cents each. Beer is available, though it is usually warm. Throughout posada season, Samburguesas is really busy, and townspeople just love the idea of getting out around 8:30 or 9 at night for cena, and it’s a place for teens to gather, too, beyond the street corners.

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