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Alvin Starkman Articles >  Dining and Indulging in Oaxaca



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Dining and Indulging Recommendations for Oaxaca

Alvin Starkman, M.A., LL.B. (Article archive)

Visitors to Oaxaca should not be afraid to drink water in restaurants, eat fresh produce or enjoy their drinks with ice.  In fact even street fare can be enjoyed.  This is not medical advice, but merely an opinion designed to assist vacationers to the city.  Do exercise caution since Mexico is third world, where health and cleanliness standards are often different than those in the west. 

Here are eight tips which might make your vacation a richer culinary experience than it would otherwise be, although perhaps adding some paranoia:

1) Restaurants use bottled water whether serving it plain or as a fruit juice mix, and in making ice cubes.

2) Restaurants disinfect produce using a special disinfectant or a bleach solution.  Of course things do slip through the cracks and staff can be sloppy...anywhere.

3) If tempted to eat on the street or in a market, watch for the server’s cleanliness and food handling.  If you see a 19 liter blue plastic bottle Eating outsidealongside the eatery, it’s fairly safe to assume bottled water is being used.  But you won’t see disinfectant, so to play it safe have your quesadilla without greens.  With the popular corn on the cob or kernels in a cup, if the water is boiling, you’re probably safe….but chew the kernels well, since they are not the easiest food to digest even when our stomachs are not under stress from unusually rich and spicy indulging.  If you are in a marketplace toward day’s end, tempted to have a meat plate, note that the beef or pork has probably not been under refrigeration.  If it’s chicken, again remember the time of day, determine if it will have to be reheated, and in any event watch to ensure the poultry is well grilled.  Does the sauce contain peppers which have not been well cooked?

4) Rather than buy a cup of peeled mango or grapefruit on the street, peel and cut the fruit yourself.  You don’t know if the vendor’s knife has been cleaned with purified water, how long the fruit has been exposed, or if the preparer’s hands have gone over the peel and then onto the naked fruit.  Why trust the preparation methods?  However if you control the cutting and peeling, hopefully you’ll be vigilant and get the gist of this point.  Buy a knife and use it to peel fruit, even if you see a small label noting American produce. Others have handled it before you.

5) Anything with a wrapper such as ice cream or candy, should be safe. 

Restaurant dining6) Urban locals are also vigilant, so if you see a number of what would appear to be middle class Oaxacans at an eatery, it’s probably fine to assume it has a reputation for safe fare.  Many street-side haunts exist around the city and popular market day restaurants.  

7) At the first sign of stomach problems, don’t wait to see if they dissipate. Your vacation doesn’t have to be a wipe-out. Pharmacies have effective non-prescription meds.  Ask the pharmacist or your accommodations host for a recommendation as to the medication of choice, or better yet  the name of a doctor accustomed to treating such ailments 

8) You can become ill dining at white linen restaurants too. They’re not immune to running afoul of rules of safe food preparation. 

Enjoy your visit, and indulge, indulge, indulge.

Alvin Starkman received his Masters in Social Anthropology in 1978. After teaching for a few years he attended Osgoode Hall Law School in Toronto, thereafter embarking upon a  career as a litigator until  2004.  Alvin now resides in Oaxaca, where he writes, leads small group  tours to the  villages, markets, ruins and other sites,  is a consultant to film production companies, and operates Casa Machaya Oaxaca Bed & Breakfast.  (



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