The many different ethnic groups who inhabit Oaxaca and the unusual geographical topography of the region means that just like Oaxaca's languages, the cuisine is varied and the product of many different influences, traditions and eras.
It has been said many times that Oaxaca food is the best in the country and many people remember Oaxaca for the incredible tastes and flavours which will be sure to season your trip. You may even be so inspired that you decide to take a cookery course in Oaxaca where real Oaxacan masters can let you into their culinary secrets.
Oaxaca Food: Sauces and Seasonings
The first thing to get to your head around with respect to Oaxaca food is Mole ('Moh-lay') . This is particularly important in Oaxaca as the region has been crowned 'tierra de los 7 moles' (land of the 7 moles), even though there are many more than 7 for you to try.
Mole is the name of the spicy sauces eaten with most meals in Oaxaca. There are numerous different Moles all with their own unique flavours, some of which contain over 20 different ingredients to get the taste just right. Whilst all Moles are different, there are some staple ingredients used in the majority which include chilli, middle eastern herbs, toasted seeds or nuts, fried bread, onion and tomato. Mole is normally served with meat and is often defined by it's colour - here are a few of the most common Moles to look out whilst sampling Oaxaca food:
- Mole Negro (Black Mole): Specific to Oaxaca, this Mole has an intense flavour, contains chocolate and is traditionally eaten with turkey or shredded chicken.
- Mole Poblano de Guajolote: Often considered Mexico's national dish, this Mole also contains chocolate, chillis and is eaten with turkey.
- Mole Verde (Green Mole): Contains hoja lenta, a herb unique to Oaxaca which gives it its special taste.
- Mole Coloradito (Coloured Mole): With sauteed spices and roasted chillies.
- Mole Amarillo (Yellow Mole): Eaten especially on fiesta days.
- Mole Almendrado (Almond Mole): Made with almonds.
Oaxaca Food: Traditional Dishes
Once you've got your Mole's sorted it's time to move on to the traditional dishes you are likely to come across when sampling Oaxaca food.
Chapulines - Not to everyone's taste but certainly an unusual option Chapulines are actually whole grasshoppers, eaten with lime.
Barbacoa - It is important to note that this does not mean a common bbq, but in actual fact, it is goat. The tasty and slightly tough meat is generally served in tacos or in soup.
Corn is a key ingredient in Oaxacan food and is used to make a whole range of goodies from tamales to tortillas. It is also combined with wheat or cornflour to make other staple favourites like empanadas, quesadillas and tacos. Particularly good are Tlayudas - yummy tortillas stuffed with tomato salsa, cheese and bean paste, otherwise known as Oaxacan Pizzas.
Oaxaca's position in the Valles Centrales makes it the perfect place to sample the exotic fruit and fresh vegetables that are so abundant in the region.
Cocido is another tasty dish which comes in lots of shapes and sizes. This warming, filling stew-like concoction can contain chicken, beef, pork, chickpeas and beans or lentils plus fresh vegetables like cabbage and squash. The hearty dish is generally served simply with rice and chilli sauce.
Oaxaca Food: Chocolate
Commonly considered the best chocolate in Mexico, Oaxacan chocolate is a completely divine indulgence and every last bit should be savoured. Oaxaca chocolate can be made with a special blend of cocoa, ground almonds, cinnamon or vanilla. Mayordomo, next to the Mercado 20 de Noviembre serves up the world's best hot chocolate so if you're a chocoholic make sure you schedule in a trip. In many other places surrounding the market you can choose what goes in before the cocoa beans get ground up.
Don't leave Oaxaca without sampling some!