The smell of “fresh”

It was another early start for us, boarding a 6am domestic flight from Mexico City to Oaxaca to maximize time in this culinary capital of Mexico. It’s my second time in both cities and Chris’s first, but I loved this time perhaps even more than last time because I can reflect on what I experienced in the past and see what still resonates… which is pretty much everything here. Oaxaca is colorful, friendly, rich with history, culture, and gastronomy. It is said that the national dish of mole was created here, that the seven original moles were made in this city, and that the 20+ other varieties around the country can all trace their roots back to this colorful place. The best part of Oaxaca to me is the markets; I generally do not like to compare places I’ve traveled to because to me (and Chris), that’s like saying you have a favorite child; each city and town has its uniqueness, its quirks, its own beauty, something that makes it special that draws you to it. But Oaxaca I can say with certainty is one of my favorite places for markets, next to Sao Paulo, Valencia, and Kyoto. There is something about the way the food is displayed, the way the vendors interact with their customers, the crispness and the scents of the impeccably fresh ingredients, that is so mesmerizing that sucks me in. I could probably just sit in these markets for hours, just inhaling all the scents and watching the interactions of the locals (and eating… yum) and be completely content.

Chris immediately pointed out when we’d walk into the markets how the scents of everything from the greens to the tomatoes and tomatillos to the peppers and mangoes just hit us full force. “There’s no market in the U.S. that is like that,” he said. “There’s no fresh smell like this at all.”

He was definitely right. It seemed as though these fruits and vegetables were, within hours, just plucked or dug out of the ground, brushed off, and put on display for us to witness in all their fresh, crisp glory. The perfume of mangoes, guavas, and pineapples was unmistakably wafting towards us, beckoning us to have a bite or two. We picked up some fresh yellow-fleshed guavas, each no larger than a golf ball, and enjoyed a “round” of pineapple that was, by far, the sweetest, lushest pineapple we had ever eaten. The flesh was translucent and extremely soft, and it just dripped in sugary goodness. We also shared a large cup of freshly made coconut milk, lightly spiced with a hint of canela (Mexican cinnamon). Everything just screamed of freshness, of just readiness, of “I’m ripe and ready: eat me now!” We’ve traveled to markets around the world, and all of them make the U.S.’s markets seem stale and old.

I’ve always understood, because of this, why I’ve read so many accounts of travelers who originally planned to stay in Oaxaca for only one to three days, but ended up extending their time to a full week, if not multiple weeks or months, just to enjoy the gastronomical glories that this place has to offer and the richness of the culture… that oftentimes gets lost when in the U.S.’s eyes, Mexico is marred with “rapists” and “illegals” who are trying to get into the U.S. without the proper process. But we can let ignorant people continue to be ignorant and enjoy this gorgeous culture for what it is while we are so privileged to be here.


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