If you happen to be in Oaxaca on a Sunday, making a trip to the traditional Tlacolula Market and eating everything in sight is a must.
The heart and soul of Oaxaca’s food culture can be found in the hustle and bustle of local markets. We spent much of our two weeks in Oaxaca, a place some call the “food capital of Mexico,” market-hopping and eating everything in sight.
Tlacolula Market, a traditional Sunday market located 45 minutes away from Oaxaca’s city center, was hands-down the best that we visited in the region. If you find yourself in Oaxaca on a Sunday, do yourself a favor and check it out — you will not regret it.
Table of Contents
- What to Expect at Tlacolula Market
- What to Eat at Tlacolula Market
- How to Get to Tlacolula Market
- Other Fun Food Markets In & Around Oaxaca City
What to Expect At Tlacolula Market
Tlacolula Market is one of the oldest continuous markets in Oaxaca and across Mesoamerica. Taking place every Sunday in Tlacolula de Matamoros, a city 45 minutes away from Oaxaca’s city center, thousands of vendors, shoppers, and tourists flood in from neighboring cities and villages to engage in the bustling commerce.
Tlacolula Market is largely organized by offering and sells everything you’d expect from a traditional Mexican market. There are sections for fruits and vegetables, baked goods, meats, chicharron, textiles, and crafts. And, because you’re in Oaxaca, edible crickets and critters.
At the market, you’ll see villagers dressed in colorful indigenous clothing—bright headscarves, skirts, and these days, masks. The overall experience is chaotic in the best way and a real treat for the senses.
What to Eat at Tlacolula Market
Barbacoa is a stewed meat dish traditionally eaten on Sundays in Mexico, and there is a whole section of Tlacolula Market that is dedicated to the delicacy. It is a real highlight of the market, and you absolutely must try it.
We ate at Barbacoa Juanita, a stall that has been in the market for over 80 years, passed down in the same family generation after generation — four so far!
Barbacoa Juanita specializes in borrego and chivo (lamb and goat) barbacoa. The goat is cooked until tender in a deep red broth, seasoned with chilis, garlic, onion, and a vaguely cinnamon-like seasoning (maybe hojas de aguacate, avocado leaves, which is said to taste like a mix of anise and licorice). It is served with consomé—the broth drippings of the goat that I dream about at night . The lamb is more simple, relying on the flavors of the tender meat and subtly enhanced with salt, garlic, and onion.
Both are delicious. 10/10 recommend.
At Tlacolula, vendors sell chicharrón in massive, tasty sheets. The piece we purchased was from the head of the pig, and included ear, nose, and cheek. Yum! #VegetariansLoveMe
Nieves, a water-based ice cream, is a favorite dessert of Oaxacans. Here I’m trying tuna nieves — but not the kind of tuna you think! Tuna is actually the flower of the cactus. If you like sorbet, you’ll like nieves.
Tejate is a Oaxacan drink from pre-Hispanic times made from cornflower and cacao. It is served with sugar syrup and tastes like lightly sweet, watered-down chocolate milk.
Pan de Cazuela
Pan de cazuela, or casserole bread, is baked in a wood oven with chocolate and raisins. It tastes like a lightly sweet wheat bread with a hint of cinnamon.
There is an entire section dedicated to baked goods in Tlacolula Market that you can eat your way through.
In Tlacolula, you’ll find an entire area dedicated to carne asada vendors. Pick your favorite meats from the selection along with chilis, cactus, and more, and they will grill everything on the spot for you.
How to Get to Tlacolula Market
There are a few ways to get to Tlacolula Market depending on your budget.
Taxis are the easiest way to get to the market, though not the cheapest. A ride to Tlacolula Market will run you 200-300 pesos one way depending on your bargaining skills.
“You can get a colectivo for Tlacolula by walking up to Niños Heroes de Chapultapec and over to the baseball stadium (Estadio Eduardo Vasconcelos). At the east end of the stadium there’s a northbound street which ends at Niños Heroes, and taxis, colectivos and buses to Tlacolula come by often.”
A colectivo should cost around 25 pesos per person.
Other Markets In & Around Oaxaca City
Tlacolula is by no means the only market you can visit in Oaxaca.
Mercado 20 Noviembre and Mercado Benito Juarez are located right next to each other in Oaxaca’s center.
Mercado 20 Noviembre boasts a variety of restaurants and is a great place to sample Oaxacan mole. We tried mole coloradito at Comedor Típico La Abuelita and really enjoyed it. There is also a grilled meat hall, the pasillo de carne asada, where you can experience the best of Oaxacan barbecue.
Mercado Benito Juarez is the perfect stop to pick up fresh groceries, local Oaxacan crafts, and Oaxacan specialties like chocolate, coffee, and mezcal.
Mercado de Abastos is a massive market that sells everything you can possibly imagine. A word of warning—petty crime has been reported in the market, and the sheer size of it can be intimidating if you are on your own. Anthony Bourdain went to Mercado de Abastos with a local guide in the Mexico episode of Parts Unknown—a very good idea. I’ve been twice at this point and have not been able to enjoy the market simply because it is hard to know where to start.
The Friday market at Ocotlán de Morelos, a town one hour away from Oaxaca, is another traditional Mexican market that is worth checking out in Oaxaca. Ocotlán is known for its black pottery, and the market sells farming tools, leatherwork, and metalwork on top of its standard market fare.