Mexican cuisine is one of the world’s greats and the best part is this: The Mexican food you’ve eaten probably doesn’t even come close to what you’ll find in Oaxaca. Leave the notion of Tex-Mex cuisine at the city limits, as sour cream, salsa and guacamole will factor very low on the list you’ll find here.
Oaxaca (pronounced Wa-ha-ka) is a city obsessed with food. Known as both city and state of southern Mexico, Oaxaca stretches down to the coastline where the freshest of seafood can be found — with mahi-mahi, red snapper and tuna taking centre stage after a usual day’s catch.
Beyond seafood, Oaxaca central is a portal into the ultimate layers of taste sensations, combining a range of seemingly incompatible flavours to create the best in food adventures.
Take chilli with chocolate in the rich beef moles as an example, or tacos topped in corn fungus, stewed bean Enfrijoladas (or fried tortillas) served with avocado plant leaves, banana leaf-wrapped tamales…
And if that leaves you wondering if Oaxaca is for you, rest assured, tacos as you know it are taken beyond here and arguably the best Mexico has to offer.
But let’s start with the mezcal to whet your appetitie: Mezcal, a spirit distilled from the agave plant, is central to Oaxacan culture, high on octane and is practically the drink of Oaxaca. There’s a great history of Mezcal and with approximately 180 artisanal varieties on hand in the region, it’s well worth taking a tour — with food to match.
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Image credit: Matilde Martínez
A slight backtrack: You might find it hard to be a vegetarian or vegan in this town — there’s a lot of meat dishes in Oaxaca and even ‘vegetarian’ on the menu is likely to include pork lard, so be wary.
Here, perhaps more for the meat-eaters is the ultimate guide to Oaxaca food and where to try it.
Mole, which means sauce, is a pronounced blend of chilli and chocolate, and in Oaxaca, be very careful where you say your preferred mole blend because there are seven.
The seven standards are mole negro, coloradito, rojo, Amarillo, verde, chichilo and manchamantelo. And apparently, if you want the quintessential Oaxacan mole, look for the Mole negro (black mole).
When in Oaxaca, try: Los Pacos
Image credit: dginvt
A semi-dried tortilla, this is Oaxaca’s answer to a Mexican pizza, glazed with pork lard and topped with a variation of meat, beans and avocado — served chargrilled.
When in Oaxaca, try: I love Tlayudas at Rayón 619C, Zona Feb 10 2015, Centro, 68000
HUITLACOCHE CORN FUNGUS TACOS
Huitlacoche, also known as corn smut … wait. Sounds delicious… Right? It actually is! Huitlacoche is less about corn and more a medley of earthy mushrooms.
The texture imparted this seasonal taco is phenomenal. Once you’ve eaten one and wonder what to do if there are no more, take the opportunity to learn how to make them yourself.
When in Oaxaca, try: Casa Oaxaca
One of the global delicacies that might as a culture shock to most, Chapulines are grasshoppers served fried and seasoned with onion, garlic, chilli, lime and salt. They are served up at many Oxacan establishments including well-known Casa de la Abuela in the zocalo’s northwest corner.
Made with masa, a type of flour, tamales are a vessel for a wide variety of ingredients from meats, beans, herbs and salsas.
If you’d like to explore your budget further, check out Catedral for its more refined atmospheric take on the aromas and flavours of Mexico — and at the other end of the scale and for a new day, try Café Brujula for freshly brewed coffee and orange juice, bagels and sandwiches, all with a beautiful twist only found in Oaxaca.