Dia de Los Muertos - Oaxaca

This time of year was very much about Halloween for me as a child, not the trick or treat side of it but the imagery and ghost stories, the candles, colours and the thought of the dead walking the Earth for just this one night a year made it all the more scary and exciting. I had always been enamoured with the imagery and beliefs of Dia de Los Muertos (Day of the Dead) where families prepare food, shrines, and beloved belongings of their dearly deceased and often visit their grave and eat and drink in their memory. Skulls, vibrant colours and the image of the Calavera Catrina (elegant skull) are synonymous with Day of the Dead but it is very much about celebrating loved ones who have passed from this world to another. It is celebrated from 31st October to November 2nd and after many years of enviously looking at photos online and hearing of peoples adventures in Mexico in particular it was time to go!

We made the trip in late October last year to the city of Oaxaca, famed for its loud and colourful ‘Day of the Dead’ celebrations and also for its food, in particular the moles (the chilli, garlic, chocolate sauce not the mammal kind!). It was the most incredible place I have ever visited, from the moment we landed Oaxaca felt like a very special city, we immediately felt at home. Each day the city got busier, the food more enticing, the colours more vibrant and the mariachi noticeably louder. A particular highlight being the student parade where everyone was dressed in ghastly costumes and deafening mariachi bands competed for ears as they strode past. It was like nothing I have ever seen or heard and further propelled my love of mariachi music.

Being a frequent hot chocolate drinker I absolutely fell in love with the gritty, cinnamon filled hot chocolates and the slithers of brilliant pink papaya served for breakfast (usually with thick, soft pancakes, not too dissimilar to Scotch pancakes if you fancied a sweet option). For a savoury tongue it was all about the fiery chilli laced eggs and breads served with countless spicy dips and sauces and fresh orange juice and coffee. Food played a massive part of our trip with Casa Oaxaca a stand out meal as well as the empanadas and moles served in the cramped markets. If you ever go to Oaxaca though you MUST try tlayudas, deliciously cheesy and meaty flat breads engorged with the falvours of the charcoal they were cooked over. I still dream of that tlayuda.

The rest of our week brought so many more incredible experiences and culinary delights but it was the culture that stayed with us the most. The families gathering in the Zocalo and the parks on a Sunday morning, every generation represented and spending time together throughout this festive period. The smells, the colours, the hustle and bustle of the artisan stalls selling the most vivid artwork and of course skulls of every size, material and colour have been a constant source of inspiration since.

One year on there is a sense of nostalgia thinking back to that incredible week but we will undoubtedly travel there again in the future. We did bring back several souvenirs including the spicy hot chocolate and cups to drink them from, some paper bunting and of course a skull (or two!). We also treated ourselves to this little wedding souvenir as we were getting married a few months after we got back.

With Oaxaca in mind I will have to make do with a spicy Oaxacan hot chocolate (and maybe a mezcal with dinner!).

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