Discover the Flavors of Oaxaca: Exploring Coffee & Culinary Delights of Mexico
From tlayudas to mole negro, Oaxacan cuisine is a feast for the senses and a true reflection of the region's history and culture.
If you're a foodie looking to explore the culinary delights of Mexico, then Oaxaca should be at the top of your list.
History of Oaxacan Cuisine
Oaxaca has a long and rich culinary history that dates back to pre-Hispanic times.
For centuries, the indigenous Zapotec and Mixtec people of Oaxaca have been cooking with local ingredients such as corn, beans, chiles, and chocolate.
When the Spanish arrived in the 16th century, they brought new ingredients, such as pork, beef, and cheese, which were incorporated into traditional dishes in unique ways.
One of the most famous dishes to come out of Oaxaca is mole negro, a complex sauce made with more than 20 ingredients, including chiles, nuts, seeds, and chocolate.
The legend says that the dish was created by nuns in the Convent of Santa Rosa in the 16th century.
Today, mole negro is considered the national dish of Mexico and is a staple of Oaxacan cuisine!
Another iconic Oaxacan dish is tlayudas, which is sometimes referred to as the "Oaxacan pizza." Tlayudas are large, crispy tortillas topped with refried beans, cheese, meat, vegetables, and salsa.
They are often cooked on a comal, a flat griddle, and served open-faced. Tlayudas are a popular street food in Oaxaca and can be found all over the city.
Key Ingredients in Oaxacan Cuisine
Oaxacan cuisine is known for using local ingredients and traditional cooking methods. Some of the key ingredients in Oaxacan cuisine include:
Corn is a staple of Oaxacan cuisine and is used in many dishes, including tlayudas, memelas (thick tortillas topped with beans and cheese), and tamales.
Oaxaca is home to various chiles, including the smoky and mild pasilla de Oaxaca, the spicy and fruity chile de agua, and the fiery and aromatic chile costeño.
Chiles are used in everything from salsas to moles to tamales.
Chocolate has been a part of Oaxacan cuisine since pre-Hispanic times. Oaxaca is known for its high-quality chocolate, made from roasted cacao beans that are ground with sugar and other ingredients to create a rich and flavorful paste.
Mezcal is a distilled spirit made from the agave plant. Oaxaca is the heart of the mezcal industry in Mexico and produces some of the finest mezcals in the world.
Oaxaca has the most significant number of coffee-growing municipalities, such as Miahuatlan, Loxicha, Ayutla, Juquila, Mixe, Papaloapan, Bule, Valle Nacional, among others.
Producer of the famous "Café Pluma" of excellent quality and international recognition since it has a denomination of origin and quality standard.
In Oaxaca, we can find complex coffee notes like spices, floral and fruity fragrances, sweet aromas like maple, piloncillo, and cinnamon, and light-bodied and robust notes of chocolate.
The aftertaste is complex and of medium duration.
All these ingredients, beans, tomatoes, and avocados, form the foundation of Oaxacan cuisine and give it its unique flavor profile.
Traditional Oaxacan Dishes to Try
No trip to Oaxaca is complete without trying some of the region's iconic dishes. Here are a few traditional Oaxacan dishes that you won't want to miss:
- Mole negro:
This rich and complex sauce is made with more than 20 ingredients and is often served over chicken or pork.
These large, crispy tortillas are topped with refried beans, cheese, meat, vegetables, and salsa.
Oaxacan tamales are made with a masa (corn dough) mixed with lard or oil and steamed in a corn husk. They can be filled with various ingredients, including chicken, pork, or beans.
Oaxacan enchiladas are filled with cheese and topped with a rich and spicy chili sauce.
These thick tortillas are topped with beans, cheese, and salsa and can be served as a snack or a light meal.
These are just a few of the many delicious dishes that you can try in Oaxaca. Be sure also to sample some of the region's street food and market fare, which we'll explore in the next section.
Regional Variations in Oaxacan Cuisine
While Oaxacan cuisine is known for its use of local ingredients and traditional cooking methods, there are also regional variations in the dishes and flavors throughout the state.
For example, in the Central Valleys region around Oaxaca City, you'll find many dishes based on corn, beans, and cheese. In the Isthmus of Tehuantepec region, located on the Pacific coast, you'll find more seafood and tropical fruits in the cuisine.
One of the most interesting regional variations in Oaxacan cuisine is the use of chapulines, or grasshoppers.
Chapulines are a popular snack in Oaxaca and are often seasoned with chili powder and lime juice.
While they might seem unusual to many visitors, they are a nutritious and sustainable source of protein and have been a part of Oaxacan cuisine for centuries.
Oaxacan Street Food and Markets
One of the best ways to experience the flavors of Oaxaca is by exploring the city's street food and markets.
Oaxaca is home to several bustling markets in the city's heart, including the Mercado Benito Juarez. It features various food stalls selling everything from fresh fruit to tlayudas to chapulines.
Another popular market is the Mercado 20 de Noviembre, located in the historic center of Oaxaca City. This market is known for its grilled meats and is a great place to try traditional Oaxacan dishes like tasajo (thinly sliced beef), chorizo (spicy sausage), and cecina (salted and dried beef).
If you're looking for street food, try local specialties like tlayudas, memelas, and quesadillas. You'll find street vendors selling these dishes all over the city, and they are a great way to sample the flavors of Oaxaca on the go.
Oaxacan Beverages to Try
In addition to its delicious food, Oaxaca is also known for its unique and flavorful beverages. Here are a few Oaxacan beverages that you won't want to miss:
As mentioned earlier, Oaxaca is the heart of the mezcal industry in Mexico and produces some of the finest mezcals in the world. Mezcal can be enjoyed straight or in a variety of cocktails.
This traditional Oaxacan beverage is made from corn, cacao, mamey seeds, and the fragrant flower of the flor de cacao tree. It has a nutty and slightly sweet flavor and is often served cold.
Oaxacan horchata is made from rice and flavored with cinnamon and sugar. It is a refreshing and sweet drink that is perfect for hot days. As good Mexican coffee lovers we have the "Horchate Cafe" version everywhere in Mexico, which is a mix of espresso shots with this iced horchata drink, delicious!
Oaxaca is known for its high-quality chocolate, which can be enjoyed in various forms, including hot chocolate, cold chocolate milk, and chocolate bars.
Oaxaca is a coffee-growing region with an excellent offer for those researching specialty coffee beans. La Sierra mixteca is one of our favorite areas to get coffee from due to its consistency in flavors and intense aromas.
Oaxaca is a food and coffee lover's paradise with a rich culinary history, unique ingredients, and a vibrant food scene.
Whether you're exploring the markets and street food stalls, dining at one of the city's top restaurants, or taking a cooking class to learn how to make mole negro yourself, there are endless opportunities to indulge in the flavors of Oaxaca.
We hope this guide has inspired you to add Oaxaca to your travel bucket list and explore all this region offers.
From tlayudas to mezcal and Coffee, Oaxacan cuisine will leave a lasting impression on your taste buds.
Photo credit: Oaxaca Travel