Oaxaca Food Guide

Oaxaca is considered Mexico’s food capital for it’s complex cuisine full of rich flavor. Oaxacan food is made up of moles, chocolate, quesillo cheese, grasshoppers, tlayundas, tamales, huitlacoche (corn fungus), memelitas, worms & herbs. My meals there did not start with a frozen fruity margarita, guac &chips.  Instead in Oaxaca, it's all about mezcal. Food to me is an integral part of any travel experience and thus when I travel I always research the best places to eat; and go out of my way to find them. I don't want to waste a single meal; and by that I don’t mean expensive or Michelin star restaurants, I just mean unique experiences or typical representations of the country’s cuisine. I spent a week eating my way through Oaxaca with a food bucket list of all the things I wanted to be sure I tried and checked off my list along the way as a vegetarian. 

Oaxaca is in SW Mexico and is the culinary capital of Mexico as they are known for their mole and mezcal. The Aztec and Mayans first cultivated cacao in 600 BC.  Oaxaca means Huaxayac, place of guajes (seed pods). I took a market tour and saw fresh heirloom tomatoes, squash blossoms,  jicama, and dried peppers. I got to taste so many flavors from moist tamales wrapped in banana leaves to Oaxacan cheese and  aqua fresca. The streets eats consisted of carts selling seasoned nuts and
mango on a stick. Even the ice cream had interesting flavors like one called Tuna made of the sweet fruit of the prickly pear cactus. Oaxaca is known for its mole which is a sauce made from dark bitter chocolate, chili, sesame seeds, onion and spices. It is slow roasted sauce that takes days to make as seen below.

Mole negro with mushrooms

I visited a distillery and mezcal farm where the plants grew taller than me. I learned about the mezcal production process where the agave plant has to grow for 6 years before it can be cut. The hearts of agave are called pinas because they look pineapples. They are slow roasted under a fire pit and get its smoky flavor depending on the materials used. Then the cooked agave is then crushed by horse with the Tahona stone, then fermented. See the process below and the worm in the mezcal bottle. Rim salt is made from worms.

Here are some pictures of the vibrancy of Oaxacan cuisine:

Tejate traditional drink made from maize, fermented cacao, and mamey.

Tlayunda - a large, thin,  toasted tortilla covered with a spread of refried beans, squash blossoms,  Oaxaca cheese, and salsa. It was about 12 inches in diameter. 

Tequila tasting served in 3 different types of glasses with oranges to clean the palate and worm salt.

Ese - tortilla wrapped with an anise flavored leaf
Tetela - tortilla stuffed with mushrooms and cheese
Tescalate - drink made from maize, chocolate, pine nuts, anchiote, sugar and vanilla

Mexican hot chocolate and croissant

Memelita - open faced fried cake made of masa topped with different proteins and cheese sold from a street cart as a snack

Oaxacan cheese  is a white, semihard, low-fat cheese that tastes similar to mozzarella string cheese. It's made from cow's milk and is traditionally wound into a knot or formed into a ball.

dried grasshoppers

Aqua fresca - non-alcoholic drinks made from fresh fruits

Dried peppers

Enfrijoladas for breakfast which are made by dipping stale tortillas into leftover frijoles (pinto beans) from the night before.

For more information I recommend watching Netflix's shows called Street Food: Latin American the Oaxaca episode and Somebody Feed Phil went to Oaxaca. I will note though if you're a vegetarian, lard is widely used in Mexican cuisine so you need to request that they don't use it when preparing your food. 

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