Join Culinary Backstreets

Sign up with email


Already a member? Log in.

Log in to Culinary Backstreets

Trouble logging in?

Not a member? Sign up!

In Oaxaca, a state where gastronomy is almost a religion, there are some extraordinary dishes that are prepared only for special occasions because of the complexity of preparation. Mole chichilo, for example, uses more than 30 ingredients, and its preparation can take up to 3 days.

But there are spectacularly tasty (and complex) dishes that can be had anytime. One of these is caldo de piedra (stone soup) from the Tuxtepec region. On our last visit to Oaxaca City, we visited a restaurant a few miles outside of the center whose rendition of this soup blew our minds.

The place is located on the road that connects Oaxaca City with El Tule, a small community whose claim to fame is that it’s home to one of the largest trees on earth. Caldo de Piedra – named after the soup for which it’s famous – is both unpretentious and inviting: it’s a large hut with a palm roof, dirt floors and rustic wooden tables. The back of the restaurant is lined with two spacious wood ovens, a long concrete counter and a large comal (griddle) over a wood fire where tortillas are prepared by hand. The whole atmosphere feels like the kitchen of a grandmother at the turn of the last century.

The menu features just a few items: quesadillas, empanadas and three different types of caldo de piedra – fish, shrimp or a mixture of both. The soup, of course, is the star of the menu. To prepare it, all the ingredients (shallots, garlic, cilantro, epazote, tomato, salt and your choice of seafood) are placed raw in a large jicara, a bowl made from the fruit of the calabash tree.

The next step is to drop a hot fist-sized stone into the bowl to cook all the ingredients. The stones are heated for two hours in an oak fire. “It is very important to use the right firewood to get the right temperature,” said Victor Gachupín, the owner’s son. The stones must reach 300 degrees Celsius to be able to cook the ingredients thoroughly. One stone is often not enough, so a second and sometimes a third stone must be placed in the bowl.

The preparation of this dish is a spectacle – but the soup itself is also much more than that. It’s traditionally been prepared by the men of the Chinanteco ethnic group (located in the north of Oaxaca) to honor the women, elderly and distinguished members of their society. Men make all the hard preparations on the basin of the Papaloapan River, while women enjoy the day with their children in the river. Using heated stones instead of cooking the soup directly over heat is a pre-Hispanic tradition that comes from that part of Oaxaca.

Since 1996, when they opened the restaurant, the Gachupíns have used only ingredients they grow themselves and tools brought from their native town, San Felipe Usila. The stones are hand-picked from the basin of the river and sent to the restaurant.

Like with the other ingredients used, the Gachupíns use only the “freshest” stones – the rocks can withstand the heat and the change of temperature, but after one use they are no longer strong enough to be heated up again.

Caldo de Piedra

loading map - please wait...

Caldo de Piedra 17.054050, -96.650650 Carretera al Tule Km. 11.9 (Directions)
Location: Carretera al Tule Km. 11.9, Tlalixtac de Cabrera, Oaxaca
Telephone: +52 951 517 8318
Hours: Mon.-Sat. 10am-6pm; Sun. noon-7pm

Ben Herrera

Related stories

May 12, 2017

La Gaspacheria: Souper Fruit Salad

Mexico City | By J. Alejandro
By J. Alejandro
Mexico City -- On sunny afternoons in the sleepy neighborhood of Narvarte, crowds of adults huddle around the glass counter at La Gaspacheria, eyes aglow as they consider possible toppings. While the scene evokes children at an ice cream parlor, the ingredients before them strike the uninitiated as a strange mix. Jicama. Hot sauce. Onion. Cheese.…
May 25, 2017

Atila del Sur Comedor: Oaxaca's Guerrilla Kitchen

Oaxaca | By Margret Hefner
By Margret Hefner
Oaxaca -- Oaxaca, consistently ranked as one of the three poorest of Mexico’s 31 states, can also claim the title of having the country’s worst school system. Demonstrations and rallies by students, teachers and unions are a regular occurrence in Oaxaca City, causing frequent gridlock in the center of town. The walls of the city…
May 29, 2017

Suju Dining Rokkaku: Miso Central

Tokyo | By Fran Kuzui
By Fran Kuzui
Tokyo -- Many people think of miso as the soup that gets tacked onto every Japanese meal. We can still remember our first experience of Japanese food in the West, when the waiter brought the soup at the end of the meal, and someone thought he’d forgotten to serve it at the beginning. Any self-respecting…