Caldo de Piedra is deceptively humble. Located a few miles outside Oaxaca City, the small, thatched-roof restaurant is named after its specialty, stone soup. Before it’s cooked, even the soup itself might not look like much. But when the chef plucks the glowing rock from the fire and drops it into a broth swimming with ingredients, the bubbling medley brings an ancient culinary art to life.
Caldo de piedra is a staple among northern Oaxaca’s indigenous Chinantec community, especially in the small town of San Felipe Usila. After catching fish and shrimp from the Papaloapan River, men traditionally cook the soup right on the riverbank. Seasoning the broth and protein with tomatoes, onions, lime, cilantro, chiles, and epazote, they add a fire-heated rock that flash-cooks the medley until the fish is tender. In Chinantec villages, the process of fishing, fire-building, and cooking is a community affair dating back centuries, before the arrival of Spanish conquerors. Although water quality in the area has led some locals to buy their fish at the store instead of the river, the tradition endures.
If you can’t make it to a riverbank cookout, Caldo de Piedra is the next best thing. César Gachupín, the Chinanteco owner, recreates this communal experience inside his restaurant’s walls. It was a mission he didn’t take lightly: The tradition is so revered that Gachupín secured permission from the elders of San Felipe Usila before he opened the restaurant.
While the menu offers other standard Oaxacan fare, such as memelas and tlayudas, save these classics for another time. Made with local fish and cooked on the spot with rocks brought from the river basin, caldo de piedra is an incredibly fresh, savory, aromatic specialty that brings the indigenous flavors of Oaxaca to the table.