Mercado 20 de Noviembre: A Oaxacan Food Paradise

Join us as we navigate the bustling aisles of Oaxaca’s Mercado 20 de Noviembre, tasting culinary delights and uncovering hidden gems. From mouthwatering tamales to crispy chapulines, this is one food tour you won’t want to miss!

Mercado 20 de Noviembre in Oaxaca

Welcome to the culinary heart of Oaxaca: the legendary Mercado 20 de Noviembre!

Nestled amidst the vibrant streets of Oaxaca City, this market is a haven for food enthusiasts, travelers, and anyone keen to dive deep into Oaxacan culture.

From the delectable crunch of chapulines to the tender richness of pan de yema paired with Oaxacan chocolate, this bustling market offers a symphony of flavors that dance on your taste buds.

We wove our way through the tight corridors of the mercado eager to delve into Oaxaca’s culinary traditions and uncover the essence of this iconic Mexican marketplace!

In this article, we’ll cover what to eat, where to go, and what to expect at Mercado 20 de Noviembre. So brace yourself for a tour of Oaxacan culinary delights!

Mercado 20 De Noviembre Is a Food-Lovers Oaxacan Market

The Mercado 20 de Noviembre, often simply referred to as the “20 de Noviembre Market,” is located in the heart of Oaxaca City, Mexico.

The market can sometimes serve up to 15,000 diners per day, with over 200 establishments to choose from!

In contrast to some other markets that focus on a wide range of goods, the Mercado 20 de Noviembre is especially famous for its focus on food, both raw ingredients and prepared dishes.

Chicken butcher in Mercado 20 de Noviembre

It’s a place where local chefs, home cooks, and tourists alike can find an array of high-quality, local ingredients—from chilies, herbs, and spices to Oaxacan chocolate.

Chocolate being sold in Mercado 20 de Noviembre in Oaxaca City
Chocolate is sold by the kilogram in the markets of Oaxaca!

The market also serves as a showcase for Oaxaca’s diverse cuisines. Here, you can find everything from mole, tlayudas, and Oaxacan-style tamales to chapulines (grasshoppers), a local delicacy.

Our Oaxacan Food Tour in Mercado 20 De Noviembre

Chloe sitting at Comedor Chabelita for our Mercado 20 de Noviembre food tour
Chloe ready to eat a tlayuda at Comedor Chabelita for our Mercado 20 de Noviembre food tour!

As we stepped into Mercado 20 de Noviembre, it felt like entering a vibrant, bustling atmosphere of Oaxacan culture.

The air was thick with a blend of tantalizing aromas—freshly ground coffee, sizzling meats, aromatic spices, and the subtle sweetness of chocolate.

As we wandered through the narrow aisles, the food stalls all vyed for our attention. Every stall we passed by eagerly handed us a menu, poised to sit us down and cater to our hunger.

There’s really nowhere to go wrong – every stall is seemingly as busy as the last, filled with locals enjoying Oaxacan cuisine.

We had an idea of what we wanted – tamales, tlayudas, Oaxacan-style chiles rellenos, and pan con chocolate – but we were at a loss for where to start our tour.

Fortunately, most food stalls had a similar array of delicious options.

Drawn by the steam from fresh tamales, we zeroed in on a stall and eagerly took our seats at the counter!

Tamales Oaxaqueño

Stacks of Tamales Oaxaqueño at Comedor Bety in Mercado 20 de Noviembre in Oaxaca
Stacks of Tamales Oaxaqueño at Comedor Bety in Mercado 20 de Noviembre in Oaxaca

Our initial stop took us to the Comedor Bety food stall for a taste of tamales.

However, these were no ordinary tamales; they were Oaxacan tamales!

Unlike traditional, cylindrical tamales wrapped in corn husks, these Oaxacan variants are slightly larger and rectangular. They’re encased in banana leaves rather than the usual corn husks.

The banana leaf wrapper imparts a unique, slightly botanical to the tamale, enriching its overall flavor.

The interior of a Tamale Oaxaqueño
Chloe shows us the filling inside of a Oaxacan Tamale

The filling is where Oaxacan tamales really shine. You might find anything from a deeply flavorful mole negro with tender pieces of chicken to a vibrant mole amarillo filled with pork and herbs.

The masa in an Oaxacan tamale is moist and tender, often with a subtle, earthy corn flavor. Depending on the recipe, the masa might be infused with the rich, complex flavors of a mole sauce, or it could include other flavorings like herbs or spices.

Our Oaxacan tamales consisted of a corn-based masa with shredded chicken and mole negro.

Upon biting in, we found layers of flavor with multiple dimensions—sweet, savory, spicy, and also a hint of smokiness.

Tlayuda

Tlayuda from Comedor Chabelita at Mercado 20 de Noviembre

Next on our culinary adventure was a dive into the world of Tlayudas, and what better place to experience this than Comedor Chabelita?

Now, purists might frown upon our choice of topping—chorizo—since a bona fide Oaxacan tlayuda traditionally features thinly sliced beef.

However, this wasn’t our first tlayuda – we’d been eating them all week the traditional way. And let’s be real, who can resist the allure of spicy chorizo? (I know I can’t.)

👉 Here’s a pro-tip we picked up during our time in Oaxaca: Forget the fork and knife; the authentic way to devour a tlayuda is to fold it like a book and take a bite, kind of like eating a pizza like a sandwich!

Trust us, we initially went the fork-and-knife route, and let’s just say it was quite cumbersome (not to mention messy!)

The first thing I noticed when biting into the tlayuda was the unmistakable crunch of the thin tortilla, almost reminiscent of a thin-crust pizza.

Next, the spiciness of the chorizo melded with the base of refried beans, lending a rich, earthy undertone.

Finally, the subtle crunch from the lettuce and the juiciness of the tomatoes brought a refreshing lightness, cutting through the richness and providing a balanced, rounded flavor profile.

Overall, the balance of rich and refreshing flavors in the tlayuda made it one of my favorite Oaxacan foods since I could see it being something that I could eat anytime.

Oaxacan-Style Chiles Rellenos

Oaxacan Chiles Rellenos at Mercado 20 de Noviembre
While the Oaxacan chiles rellenos don’t look like much on the outside, it’s what’s on the inside that counts…

👉 Oaxacans offer a different take on chiles rellenos! Instead of stuffing their chiles rellenos with cheese, Oaxacans fill theirs with shredded meat.

We ordered chiles rellenos at Comedor Los Jarritos and they honestly did not look very appetizing. When we received the order, I looked at it and said: “Wait, is that it?”

However, we were delightfully surprised when we sliced into our chiles rellenos to find that it was full of a shredded beef mixture!

Slicing into a Oaxacan Chiles Rellenos

The moment I took that initial bite into the stuffed pepper, it instantly became clear why this dish garners so much attention.

First to greet my palate was the outer layer, feather-light and airy, followed by the smoky softness of the chili pepper’s interior, contributing a mild spiciness and a hint of sweetness.

But the true culinary delight lay within—the shredded beef filling. This flavorful core carried a whisper of spice and was enrobed in a tomato-based sauce, rounding out an extraordinary taste experience.

Pan de Yema con Chocolate

Pan de yema con chocolate in Oaxaca

We sat down at Comedor Laurita and ordered pan de yema con chocolate as the final dish to finish off our food tour.

Okay, so maybe we should have eaten pan de yema con chocolate first! After all, pan de yema con chocolate is traditionally eaten as a breakfast item. And who can argue with that? I’d drink chocolate for breakfast every day if given the chance!

But what is pan de yema anyway? And how is it different from normal bread?

Pan de yema (meaning “yolk bread”) uses egg yolks (“yema” in Spanish), which give the bread its richness, color, and name.

The yolks lend a creamy, almost custard-like texture to the bread, making it tender and soft. The use of egg yolk results in a crumb that is finer and more delicate than that of typical bread.

Pan de yema is slightly sweeter than normal bread, placing it somewhere between a bread and a pastry in terms of flavor profile.

The moment I took that first bite, the tender crumb of the pan de yema instantly melted in my mouth. It had a slight sweetness, with a distinct, almost velvety texture that set it apart from other breads.

But it gets even better. Dipping the yema in hot chocolate brought a flavorful counterpoint to the bread. The chocolate was not too sweet, and a hint of cinnamon added another layer of complexity to the dish.

Chapulines

An assortment of chapulines from a street market in Oaxaca City

Okay, so maybe we weren’t done with the food tour after all. How can one claim that they’ve eaten Oaxacan food without trying perhaps one of their most famous (or infamous) foods – chapulines!

Chapulines are a type of grasshopper that are eaten in certain parts of Mexico, particularly in Oaxaca. They are usually harvested from corn fields and are a good source of protein.

After being cleaned and washed, they are typically boiled and then fried. Once cooked, they are often seasoned with flavors like garlic, lime juice, and chili powder.

Right outside of the mercado, we walked by a street vendor selling chapulines in all sorts of flavors. Seeing that this would be the perfect capstone to our Oaxacan food tour, we knew we had to try some.

Usually, chapulines are sold by weight, and most folks buy a bag or two at a time. However, we just wanted to try some, so we handed the street vendor 50 pesos and they handed us a small handful of chili lime-flavored chapulines!

I was super excited to try them! Chloe—not so much.

Upon biting into them, the first sensation was the crunch followed by chewing into an earthy substance. It reminded me of chewing a dried plum. However, they were quite tasty! Layered in there were the tangy, zesty flavors of lime and chili.

I totally get why these are a go-to snack; they’re like little flavor bombs. But they had a knack for getting stuck in my teeth—a minor inconvenience easily washed away with a sip of water. But that’s a small price to pay for such a unique, taste-tingling experience!

History of Mercado 20 de Noviembre

The Mercado 20 de Noviembre was constructed over a 20-year period, from 1862-1882.

The market was named to commemorate the start of the Mexican Revolution on November 20, 1910.

So you might be asking yourself: Wait, since the market was built before the Mexican Revolution, how did it get its name?

The truth is that even though the market was constructed before the Mexican Revolution, it’s not clear what the market was called before the revolution.

What we do know is that this market was established as a formal market in the 20th century, though the tradition of open-air markets in Oaxaca goes back much further, reflecting pre-colonial traditions that have been sustained and adapted over centuries.

Over the years, the Mercado 20 de Noviembre has expanded and modernized, but it has never lost its authentic touch.

As you walk through its aisles, the scents, colors, and sounds create an atmosphere that transports you back in time, all while offering the comforts and variety of the modern age.

Mercado 20 de Noviembre remains one of the best places to truly experience the heart and soul of Oaxacan cuisine.

Trey Lewis is an outdoor enthusiast. Whether its hiking knife-edge ridges or just fishing by the river, Trey isn't afraid to get dirty in search of the next adventure.

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