Ocotlán's Weekly Treat
Published on Monday, 19 March 2012 06:20
By Brendan Missett
Each Friday, the center of Ocotlán de Morelos, located about 35 kilometers south of Oaxaca, mushrooms with activity. A series of small encampments spring up on the normally peaceful sidewalks and plazas in preparation for one of the region’s oldest and largest markets. As with many of Oaxaca’s markets, the environment is not so much commercial as festive.
During the short walk from a parking space to the center of Ocotlán, it’s not uncommon to pass tethered turkeys, freshly varnished furniture, scarves, ceramics, baskets, flowers, alebrijes, sombreros, saddles, knives and razors, chapulines, cacao, cookware, woven sacks, shirts and blouses, hammocks, and every type of fruit and vegetable that the region bears. The result is a swirling color wheel, accented by the tortoise shell pattern on watermelon rinds, the blush of bagged tomatoes, and the flower-hued fabrics that are carried throughout.
The day begins early for both residents of Ocotlán, and the indigenous artisans who come from surrounding towns to sell their produce and their wares. The market begins to jump during the lazy dazzle of early morning and continues through the afternoon. Many visitors use it as an opportunity escape with a few bargains and heaps of fresh food, as well as to spend a few hours socializing in the vibrant town. The truly wise will leave some extra time to enjoy the mezcal that wandering vendors sell from their own distilleries.
The Friday market at Ocotlán delivers the extra perk of allowing guests to meet some of the local artisans that make the market possible. My first stop of the day was to the Aguilar workshop on Callejon Victoria where Isabel and her mother Yerma were busy preparing a special order of clay figurines that were shaped like chickens at the top, and tapered into a bell at the bottom.
“Clay is a part of me, it’s in my blood,” said Yerma, an elderly woman whose hands have begun to assume the chalky, fragile properties of the figures she shapes. At their workshop, these women carry on the tradition, offering a sign that the market at Ocotlán will be around for generations to come.
The next stop of the day was through the swirling market to an expansive indoor enclosure, where many guests stop for a bite to eat in the cool auditorium. Moles, tlayudas, empanadas, and tacos are available at dozens of stands, though the standout business is La Cocina de Frida, which bears a portrait Frida Kahlo, and an owner, Beatriz Vásquez Goméz, who resembles the famous artist with remarkable closeness. The restaurant offers a robust menu, fully of Oaxacan specialties, and I ordered a vegetarian enchilada and a chocolate de agua, an ideal mid-morning snack. While cruising the market, keep an eye out for some of the area’s unique and delicious ice cream flavors, such as nut, cactus fruit, horchata, and the incomparable guanabana flavor.
The Ocotlán market is not only a great place to get your weekend shopping taken care of, but also the ideal start to a festive fin de semana.