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Oaxaca’s deep culinary heritage is, like in many places, a result of its geography: a big valley formed by small ones, all surrounded by mountains, rich soil and warm weather. In fact, this valley reminds us of a clay pot, much like the kind used to make the area’s signature dish, mole, in which many ingredients are mixing, aging and melting together to become something new over the heat of the fire.
By publishing the stories of our local heroes, visiting them on culinary tours, or directly fundraising for them when they are in need, we attempt to honor their work and their essential role in maintaining the fabric of the city. Our purpose is twofold. Yes, we want to get travelers to some good places to eat. But we also want to make sure that some of these spots and the artisans making food there find a new audience and get the recognition and support they deserve. They are holding back the tide of globalized sameness, which is not easy work – even if it’s done unknowingly. But we believe that every meal counts and, with the help of our audience, they will add up. We are committed to their perseverance and hope that our modest efforts encourage them to keep at it. Our work is also guided by a belief in: Honest Tourism: The places where we eat and craftsmen that we feature on our culinary tours are all selected with this purpose in mind. We’d never accept a free lunch or consider a discount for our tour groups, because that would contradict our central goal, to support them. Nor do our guides receive any commissions from shopkeepers. Honest Journalism: The same principal is applied to the publishing of stories. There are no sponsored posts or even advertising on CB. The writers and photographers are paid fairly for their work on stories that we all believe in.
The cities we are drawn to all have a culinary tradition of untold richness as well as a certain tension, be it political instability, the tug between East and West, the clash between modern and ancient identities, migration, rapid gentrification, bankruptcy, or a post-colonial hangover. Our decision to get started in a city is always the result of a trip filled with many meals where we are given in intimate view of that tension, right there on the table. By getting lost in this warren of independent food purveyors struggling to preserve or adapt tradition in fast-paced urban life, we start to discover the deep complexity and true flavor of the city. At present, you’ll find our regular dispatches from Athens, Barcelona, Istanbul, Lisbon, Los Angeles, Marseille, Mexico City, Naples, Porto, Queens (NY), Shanghai, Tbilisi and Tokyo.
As travel to most of the cities where we work has resumed, Culinary Backstreets is working with a new set of safety guidelines designed for the physical well-being of our guests, guides and members of the local community that we encounter. These guidelines have been developed in line with the best practices published by governments and health officials in the countries where CB works with regard to restaurant and tour and trip operation. With these procedures in place, our guests — led by our team of professional guides, who are being trained accordingly — can explore with peace of mind. The new procedures we are instituting include:
Culinary Backstreets’ mission has always been to preserve, protect and celebrate local culinary traditions and the unsung heroes of the kitchen. Now, more than ever, we remain focused on this goal. These days, we are paying close attention to the physical, economic and psychological well-being of the local communities and the people who keep them fed. We view this as an opportunity for cities to develop a tourism model that makes sense for them and that avoids the mistakes of the past, and for companies like Culinary Backstreets to be part of that process by renewing our commitment to a more sustainable way of traveling and working. By joining our tours and trips, you are contributing to this effort, which includes:
Culinary Backstreets is offering maximum flexibility for our guests, as we realize that travel this summer and fall might involve unexpected cancellations or postponements. So that our guests can book with confidence, we are putting in place the following cancelation policies:
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Tour the Backstreets of Oaxaca With Us
Our Backstreets envoys, always searching for the next hidden gem
Born and raised in Oaxaca, María has a major in English Language and Literature from the National Autonomous University of Mexico (UNAM), with a specialization in translation. After many years of working for tourism-based projects, she now works independently, providing specialized content production services that create authentic, soulful material that aims to benefit the places where the work is being done. She has collaborated with different brands and professionals, such as Andrew Zimmern’s Bizarre Foods, Christopher Kimball’s Milk Street, Netflix, the United Nations and several European TV channels and fashion brands, as well as with chefs, photographers and film directors.
Born and raised in Oaxaca, Jalil is a professional photographer, specializing in food photography. He’s been framing that perfect photo since he was a young boy growing up in a multi-generational family where his grandmother was always in the kitchen. He’s been chasing that image and those flavors from home through the streets and markets of Oaxaca ever since. In addition to leading Culinary Backstreets tours, Jalil also contributes his photography to CB’s coverage of Oaxaca.
Luis was born and raised in Oaxaca in a multi-generational household where a pot was always bubbling on the stove. The kitchen table was where family, friends and neighbors gathered to talk and slurp a bowl of pozole. From childhood, Luis saw the way that food connects people. Staying close to home, he studied languages and drama and, of course, learning culinary traditions from his grandmother. Now, as a guide for Culinary Backstreets, Oaxaca is the stage and the people and cuisine of his hometown are the stars of the show. He looks forward to showing you what makes him proud to be Oaxacan.
CB’s work was started in 2009 by Ansel Mullins and Yigal Schleifer as a humble food blog called Istanbul Eats. The following year we published a book of our reviews, now in its fifth edition. That year we also launched our first culinary walk in Istanbul, a route we are still using today. In 2012, we realized that what we built in Istanbul was needed in other cities we knew and loved. We started CB that year with Athens, Barcelona, Mexico City and Shanghai as pioneering members of our network. In 2013, we added Rio and also launched our iPhone application in Istanbul. In 2015, Tokyo and Tbilisi came into the fold. That year we published mini-guides to Barcelona and Athens and also launched an iPhone application in those cities. Our Eatinerary service, which provides travelers with tailor-made culinary travel itineraries, was also launched in 2015. In 2016, Lisbon – the latest city to kindle our curiosity – joined the CB network. In 2017 we added Naples and Queens, NY – two places with very compelling stories to tell – to our roster and also published full-size eating guides to Athens and Barcelona. In 2018, Porto joined the list of cities we cover.
Where is Oaxaca?
Oaxaca is a city in the southern region of Mexico, six hours south of Mexico City. It is in a valley surrounded by different mountain chains that go all the way through the country to the Pacific Ocean. This particular geography makes it the culinary heart of the country, as the mountains hold different landscapes with all sorts of climates. It is also the birthplace of some of the most respected Mexican painters and politicians.
What are the best things to do in Oaxaca?
Oaxaca city is most famous for mezcal, food, art and the impressive diversity of indigenous cultures and languages, as it is the most diverse state in the country. It also has some impressive desert-like landscapes like the petrified waterfalls of Hierve el Agua, which are a type of mineral hot spring. Its historic sights trace the story of the city, from the native old ones like Mitla and Monte Alban, to the impressive baroque colonial churches, like Santo Domingo. In Oaxaca, celebrations are an everyday thing. The city is always witness to parades and musical performances, all of which is complemented by the bohemian ambiance found in the streets all day long. Nightlife can be even more lively, with dancing and art events spiced by the flavors of mezcal.
When is the best time of year to visit Oaxaca?
The best time to visit Oaxaca City is August to February. This long period of the year is ideal at any point, as Oaxaca seems to live under a perpetual spring. August is warm and fresh with rain, while autumn (September-December) and winter (January-February) have lovely weather with sunny days that aren’t too hot, and cool nights.
What is the weather like in Oaxaca?
Generally, the climate in Oaxaca City is sunny and dry, with some windy afternoons almost all year long. In autumn, the weather is sunny and slightly more humid, and temperatures range from 70 to 55 F. While winters can be a bit cool, it’s still sunny – not so different from autumn. Summers are more humid, and we can have some heavy rains or spontaneous but intense showers. Summers are hot if there isn’t enough rainfall. If going during March to early June, we recommend taking an umbrella or a hat, or anything that will protect you from the sun, as well as sunblock and clothes that will keep you cool.
Is Oaxaca expensive?
Prices in Oaxaca are usually lower than in big American cities, though this varies widely. Markets are cheaper than touristic or high-end places. The average price of a 3-star hotel is about $50, a cup of coffee or beer under $2, and a sit-down dinner can run anywhere from $12-50. The street food offer, for example, is superb, and prices are considerably lower than restaurants. While the historic center of Oaxaca is relatively small and most things are within walking distance, taxi fares start at a minimum of $3.
Is Oaxaca safe?
In general, Oaxaca is a very safe city. Like in any place in the world, if you are not looking after your belongings or you are displaying expensive photographic equipment, you can always get undesired attention. In general people are friendly and a smile and polite words will always get you far.
What is the best food in Oaxaca?
One of the most famous dishes in Oaxaca city is Tlayuda It is a crispy, 30-cm folded crispy tortilla with black bean paste, string cheese, cabbage, avocado, salsa and grilled meat (beef or chorizo) and pork lard (both of which are optional). Mornings cannot go by without a hot water chocolate with a piece of egg yolk bread and some memelas, enfrijoladas or entomatadas. Oaxaca is also famous for its seven varieties of mole, which you should definitely try, at least the yellow, the black and the green one. Make sure to add snacks in between meals: some plain grasshoppers and roasted garlic with a glass of beer or a mezcal. The sherbet-like ice creams and fruit-flavored waters are always a good option on spring and summer days.
Where is the best place to stay in Oaxaca?
The Historic Center and the neighborhoods of Jalatlaco and Xochimilco are the best areas to stay in Oaxaca City when you are visiting for the first time. They are close to most restaurants, shops, cafes, historical sites, galleries and nightlife, and they are well connected in terms of transportation. However, if you are acquainted with the city, you might want to explore the northern areas of San Felipe and Colonia Reforma. These two neighborhoods are quieter than the centro and have interesting markets and spots to explore. San Felipe is closer to nature and a lot of people often rent cars to move across the city. Colonia Reforma has the best of two worlds: It is close enough to the center, but also close enough to San Felipe’s green areas and main routes to some of the most interesting villages and nature around the city.
What is the COVID-19 situation in Oaxaca?
Just like the rest of Mexico, Oaxaca City has quite a high vaccination rate of about 65-75%. There are no official mandates in place, but some shops, galleries and other spaces require the use of masks indoors. Using the mask in the streets is optional and many people still choose to do it. There are no further requirements for traveling to Mexico or Oaxaca.
Can Americans travel to Oaxaca?
Americans are welcome in Oaxaca, there are no special visa or Covid requirements in place for short-stay tourists.
Can I fly directly to Oaxaca?
It is relatively easy to fly into Oaxaca City, it all depends on your origin city. While there is a direct flight from Houston, most international flights require connections through a bigger city. You can either fly into Merida, Cancun, Guadalajara or Mexico City, and then fly directly to Oaxaca. Make sure to check the flights, as some of these destinations only offer one direct flight into Oaxaca. Once in Oaxaca’s airport, the best way to go to the city is by either the collective airport shuttle or in private taxis. You will find them waiting for the passengers right in the parking area of the airport.
What is the best restaurant in Oaxaca?
Options in Oaxaca city are countless, but some of our favorite spots are as follows. For breakfast: the Sanchez Pascuas or the Merced Markets, as well as the Memelas de San Agustin street stall, Pan con Madre and Oscuro Brebaje Café. Lunch can be super exciting if you make sure to visit Levadura de Olla, or a great lunch street stall, the tacos del Carmen. For dinner, make sure to visit Ancestral, Origen, or Crudo.
Are there beaches in Oaxaca?
The state of Oaxaca has breathtaking beaches that open into the Pacific Ocean. Warm emerald waters wait for you at the end of a windy road of dreamy cloud forests. Some of of these beautiful tropical spots are Puerto Escondido, Huatulco, San Agustinillo and Mazunte. You can get to many of these in 6 hours by car or 8-12 hours by public transport. There are also a couple of direct 30-min flights in a small airplane, but tickets’ prices can fluctuate considerably due to the scarce offer vs demand. Another good option is to fly to the Oaxacan coast directly from Mexico City.
Is Oaxaca suitable for children?
Although the center of Oaxaca is mostly flat, with the exception of the steep streets surrounding it, the city is not very stroller-friendly. It does have an interesting offer of libraries for children and a couple of plazas and parks that have space for kids to run, or enjoy the small but lovely public playground. High seasons (Holy Week, Guelaguetza, Day of the Dead and Christmas) can get extremely crowded, but the rest of the year the amount of people walking and enjoying the city is far from overwhelming.