Calling all carnivores: get ready for a feast! Head to the famed Pasillo de Humo (literally, “hall of smoke”) at Mercado 20 de Noviembre for carne asada (grilled meat) at its finest. Fittingly, this place is also referred to as the Pasillo de Carnes Asadas. It’s an experience that’s just as hectic, unique and unforgettable as it is delicious, and a total must while in Oaxaca.
As of January 2021, Mercado 20 de Noviembre and the Pasillo de Humo are open with Covid safety measures in place. Masks are required to be worn at all times while inside the mercado, except when eating.
Here’s our step-by-step guide on how to master the grilled meat hall like a pro:
1) Get there! Located inside the sprawling Mercado 20 de Noviembre, finding the Pasillo de Humo can be a challenge in and of itself if you go in at the wrong entrance. For the most direct entrance to the hall, enter from Miguel Cabrera between Aldama and Francisco Javier Mina.
2) Prepare yourself to be overwhelmed. Once you enter, you’ll be hit with a sensory overload of smoke, smells and sounds – namely, the line of vendors trying to grab your attention (and by grabbing your attention, we mean shouting).
3) As you walk through the hall, look around, take it all in and make a mental note of any stalls standing out to you – but don’t stop at any just yet.
4) Keep going all the way to the back of the hall where you will see two vendors (one on either side) waving large baskets. Grab a basket – this will act as your plate. It makes no difference which vendor you grab it from.
5) Basket in hand, head back through the hall and pick a meat stall. How to choose? Well, it can be kind of tough as they all sell literally the same kinds of meat and at the exact same prices (no need to price shop here). Go with whomever you’re gravitating towards and if all else fails, pick a stall that’s currently free/not grilling someone else’s order. You’ll get your food faster!
6) Choose your meats. You’ll typically have your choice of tasajo (beef), cecina (spicy pork) and chorizo, or you can do a combination of two or all three. We personally always went for the 1/4 kilo tasajo, 1/4 kilo cecina and 1/4 kilo chorizo option. Plenty of food for two people and all for $125.00 pesos! That’s about $6.00 USD.
7) Watch your vendor fire it up as he or she grills your selection on the spot.
8) While this is happening, be on the lookout for tortilla vendors circulating the hall. It’s $10 pesos for five large tortillas (about 50 cents USD). For two people, one order of five tortillas will likely be more than enough – trust us when we say they are huge! You will need to pay the tortilla person on the spot (separate from everything else) so make sure you have small change on hand.
9) TIP: if you see a lady walking by with a tray of aguas del día (infused water) on her head – grab one! These aguas are delicious, go fast and are not offered by the time you sit down at a table (at least in our experience). We lucked out by grabbing the last two aguas de guanábana (tropical soursop fruit) on our last visit, and weren’t disappointed. You will also need to pay her directly, on the spot and preferably with exact change.
10) By now your meat is ready, and your vendor will have placed it back onto your basket. Pay the vendor. If you haven’t figured it out by now, everyone here is paid separately. 😉
11) Basket of grilled goodness in hand, walk back to the vendor who gave you the basket. This person will seat you and hand you a menu of salsas and further accompaniments like sliced avocado, grilled onions, pico de gallo, chiles de agua and tons more. Standard beverages are also offered here, such as cerveza, soda and bottled water.
12) Time to eat. Buen provecho!
13) Pay your (final!) vendor for accompaniments and drinks.
14) You did it! Now you can walk off all of those grilled calories by strolling through the adjacent Mercado de Benito Juárez – and later, wash them down at a nearby mezcal bar.
All photos in this post courtesy of your favorite pair of @travelinglamas.