We ate our way around some of Oaxaca’s plentiful taquerias and food stands. Second breakfast (after the omlettes served by Concepcion) was at Oaxaca’s number one rated restaurant, a bakery conveniently located only a couple blocks from Casa Giron. The owners were both there, two young Mexican men who spoke perfect English and made us some great sandwiches on ciabatta and focattia and served them with a mug of homemade kombucha.
The large and impressive Temple of Santo Domingo was nearby, so we stopped there. In my opinion, the edifice and its insides were much more impressive than the Cathedral we had seen the day before, and it appeared to be a hangout spot for both vendors hawking goods and university students who were handing out free maps of Oaxaca to anyone who looked slightly foreign. As it was a Catholic church (and really, they all probably are in Mexico) there were several of those “pay a bit, light a candle” stations, except with a modern twist – you could drop in either 2, 5, or 10 pesos into a slot on the front of a box, and then one of about 40 electric candles on the top would light up and flicker dimly. Christine and I agreed it was a rather tacky replacement.
We were walking back down one of the main streets when I saw a sign that called out to me – tacos for 5 pesos each, or about 33 USA cents. Both of us were a bit taken aback by the thumping club music emanating from the establishment, and the emptiness of the place, but it seemed to be a dance hall that didn’t really do much business until the late hours, so we tried the cheapest tacos we’d ever seen….they were about as spicy as the “Porky” tacos in the airport, which I’m starting to realize now is probably a bad thing, but the taste was also BBQ chicken, so it was at least recognizable. At some point I tried to ask in Spanish “what bird meat is this” but Christine told me I said instead, “which airplane meat this?”
At that point, I started wondering what the taco quality gamut might run. If five pesos was the lowest, then what about ten pesos? fifteen? We were doing so much walking around the city (about seven miles by the end of the day, I estimated later on) that I was bound to be constantly hungry. After reserving our spots for a two-day overnight bike ‘n hike, we came across a little taco cart called El Flamazo which had amazing smells coming off from it. I couldn’t resist taking a seat at the cart and ordering a “plata” of five tacos for 38 pesos. What meats do you have, I asked, and the three young men running the cart told me that my choices were tasejo, tripe, and cabeza; head meat. Christine was looking at me nervously, and I knew why; it was a street cart in Mexico, which meant that the water quality was going to be suspect. Everything was cooked but the cilantro, but the smells were so wonderful I threw caution to the wind and ordered two tasejo (which is just ‘regular’ muscle meat,) two tripe (stomach/intestines) and a single head meat taco…which I guess I’m assuming is cheek meat? I suppose it could come from any part of a cow’s head that has meat on it. They came to me smothered in fried onions and cilantro, with (of course) two lime slices on the side. They were absolutely amazing and I made numerous attempts to tell the high-school age workers that in my broken, mangled Spanish.
Next to us, a somewhat-off looking guy was arguing with one of the employees about how much money he should pay. It seemed that he was short 10 pesos, or about 60 cents. My meal was going to be 38, so I paid with a 50 peso bill and told the employees I would pay for the guy’s last ten, too. They refused and made the guy pay anyway, so I tossed them the 10 as a tip (the man begged the remaining two pesos off me, which I gave him, to the eye rolls of everyone else at the cart. What can I say? I was filled with delicious taco and probably would have kept giving small change to people all night if pressed). The young man reached under his cart and pulled out a t-shirt bearing the logo for El Flamazo and gave it to me, saying “for you.” I told him I would wear it proudly, and asked if they had other carts around the city, or if this one moved. I was told that there were 3 other carts, run by other brothers in the family. Now, my Spanish isn’t so good, and they might have been kidding us, but when I asked how many other brothers they had, they said “there are twelve of us, three each with a cart.” Maybe they meant “hermanos” in the metaphorical sense – aren’t we all brothers on this taco-cart of a planet? – but maybe they actually meant 12 biological brothers running delicious taco carts in Oaxaca.
I don’t know, but I got a sweet shirt out of it, which I’ll be wearing today when we go to Monte Alban, the archeological site a few kilometers to the southwest of the city.