Food from Oaxaca is one of the reasons I visit Oaxaca every year. In this post, I will give you all the Oaxaca food you need to try on your trip (including where to have them).
Welcome to the world of Oaxacan cuisine, a culinary treasure trove that boasts a rich history, diverse flavors, and a vibrant gastronomic culture. Nestled in the heart of southern Mexico, Oaxaca has been the epicenter of ancient culinary traditions for centuries, dating back to the pre-Hispanic era.
Home to indigenous Zapotec, Mixtec, and other Mesoamerican peoples, Oaxaca has nurtured a unique culinary identity that beautifully blends native ingredients with time-honored techniques.
At the core of Oaxacan cuisine lies the region’s deep reverence for corn, cultivated and cherished by local communities for millennia.
Corn serves as the foundation for an array of delightful dishes, such as tamales, memelas, and tlayudas, each showcasing the versatility and adaptability of this ancient grain. Oaxaca’s fertile valleys and diverse climate also contribute to its abundant produce, offering various chilies, herbs, and vegetables to tantalize your taste buds.
As you embark on your Oaxacan culinary adventure, prepare to be captivated by the enchanting world of moles. These complex, flavorful sauces, often containing over 20 ingredients, are a hallmark of Oaxacan cuisine and a testament to the region’s sophisticated palate.
From the rich, smoky depth of mole negro to the bright, tangy notes of mole verde, Oaxaca’s moles will dazzle you with their intricate layers of flavor.
Join us as we explore Oaxaca food’s fascinating history, colorful traditions, and mouthwatering flavors. Delve into a gastronomic journey that promises to both educate and entertain as you uncover the secrets of Oaxaca’s culinary past and savor its present delights.
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🔗 Oaxaca food: quick links
- Best cooking class: Traditional Oaxacan cooking class with markets
- Best local food tour: Flavors of Oaxaca foodie walking tour
- Best cultural food tour: Earth, Corn, and Fire
- Rent a car for your trip: Discover Cars Oaxaca
🤩 Popular food from Oaxaca
📍 Where to have mole in Oaxaca: Catedral Restaurant
Starring the Oaxacan cuisine is mole, a rich and complex sauce that is deeply rooted in the region’s culinary history. Oaxaca, often called the “land of the seven moles,” boasts a diverse and vibrant gastronomic tradition.
Mole (pronounced “moh-lay”) is a prime example of blending indigenous and Spanish influences, dating back to the early colonial period.
The word “mole” stems from the Nahuatl word “mōlli,” which translates to “sauce” or “mixture.” The creation of mole is attributed to the fusion of pre-Hispanic ingredients such as chili peppers, tomatoes, and cocoa with the European culinary elements introduced by the Spanish, including spices, nuts, and seeds.
The precise origin of mole is disputed, with several monasteries and convents in Oaxaca and Puebla claiming to have first developed the dish.
Mole tastes vary significantly based on the type and combination of ingredients used. It is an intricate interplay of sweet, spicy, and earthy elements. Oaxacan mole is characterized by using several types of dried chilies, which contribute to the sauce’s depth and intensity.
The most iconic mole in Oaxaca is “mole negro,” or black mole, which has a rich, smoky flavor due to roasted chilies, chocolate, and various spices. Other notable moles from the region include “mole coloradito,” “mole verde,” and “mole amarillo,” each featuring different ingredients and flavors.
Mole is an integral part of Oaxacan cuisine and is served with various proteins, such as chicken, turkey, or pork. The sauce’s rich and complex taste, deeply embedded in the region’s history, continues to captivate food enthusiasts worldwide.
📍 Where to have tlayuda in Oaxaca: Las Tlayudas de Mina y Bustamante
Tlayuda, a quintessential food from Oaxaca, has a rich history rooted in the region’s indigenous culture. It is often called the “Oaxacan pizza” due to its large, round shape and variety of toppings. The dish’s origins can be traced back to pre-Hispanic times when it was prepared by the Zapotec and Mixtec peoples using ingredients native to the area.
The word “tlayuda” comes from the Nahuatl term “tlao-li,” meaning “tortilla,” and “uda,” which denotes “abundance.” This reflects the generous portions and assortment of toppings that characterize the dish. Tlayudas are made with large, thin, partially fried or toasted corn tortillas, which serve as a base for a variety of ingredients.
A traditional tlayuda starts with a layer of “asiento,” or unrefined pork lard, which adds a rich and savory flavor. This is followed by a spread of refried beans, Oaxacan cheese known as “quesillo,” and a medley of toppings, including avocado, tomato, lettuce, and strips of marinated meat, usually beef or pork.
The tlayuda can be served open-faced or folded in half, and it is typically accompanied by a smoky and spicy salsa made from roasted tomatoes and chilies.
The taste of tlayuda is a delightful combination of flavors and textures, with the crispy tortilla providing a sturdy base for the creamy beans, tangy cheese, and fresh vegetables. The marinated meat adds a robust, smoky element to the dish, while the salsa imparts a subtle heat that ties everything together.
As a staple of Oaxacan cuisine, tlayudas have become a symbol of the region’s rich culinary heritage, attracting food enthusiasts worldwide with their unique combination of flavors, textures, and historical significance.
📍 Where to have tasajo in Oaxaca: Tlayudas El Tasajo
Tasajo, a traditional food from Oaxaca, is rooted in the region’s culinary history, dating back to pre-Hispanic times.
It is a type of dried, salted meat, usually made from thinly sliced beef, although pork and other meats can be used. Tasajo has been a vital part of Oaxacan cuisine for centuries, owing to its long shelf life and versatility.
The word “tasajo” is derived from the Nahuatl term “tlaxcalli,” which means “tortilla,” and the Spanish word “asajo,” meaning “roast.”
Making tasajo involves marinating the meat in a mixture of garlic, salt, and spices before leaving it to dry in the sun or air, which helps preserve the meat for extended periods. This preservation method was essential in pre-refrigeration times, enabling communities to store and transport meat without spoilage.
Tasajo is known for its distinct flavor profile, which combines the natural taste of the meat with the saltiness from the curing process and the subtle flavors of the marinade.
The meat is often grilled or pan-fried, resulting in a tender and juicy texture that pairs well with the dish’s robust flavors. Tasajo can be served in various ways, including in tacos, tlayudas, and even as a standalone dish accompanied by rice, beans, and tortillas.
The taste of tasajo reflects the rich culinary traditions of Oaxaca, showcasing the region’s ability to create delicious, enduring dishes using simple, locally sourced ingredients.
As a staple of Oaxacan cuisine, tasajo remains a popular choice among locals and visitors alike, enticing food enthusiasts with its unique flavor, texture, and historical significance.
📍 Where to have memela in Oaxaca: Memelas Dona Vale
Memela, a traditional Oaxacan snack, has its origins in the region’s ancient culinary practices. Derived from the Nahuatl word “memel,” which means “to knead,” memelas are small, oval-shaped corn masa cakes that have been a staple in Oaxacan cuisine for centuries, reflecting the region’s deep connection to corn cultivation.
Memelas are made by hand-pressing a mixture of masa (corn dough) and water into a thick, oval shape with slightly raised edges. They are then cooked on a comal, a flat griddle made of clay or metal, until the surface becomes slightly crispy, while the interior remains soft and tender.
Using a comal for cooking memelas is a testament to the dish’s pre-Hispanic roots, as the technique predates the arrival of the Spanish in the region.
The taste of a memela is defined by its toppings, which can vary widely but typically include a base layer of refried beans or asiento (unrefined pork lard), followed by a combination of ingredients such as crumbled cheese, salsa, avocado, and meats like tasajo or chorizo.
The result is a harmonious blend of flavors and textures, with the masa providing a mildly sweet and earthy base that complements the savory toppings. Memelas are often enjoyed as a street food snack or as part of a larger meal, showcasing the versatility and adaptability of Oaxacan cuisine.
The enduring popularity of memelas among locals and visitors alike highlights their unique taste, texture, and historical significance, making them an integral part of Oaxaca’s rich culinary heritage.
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Tetela, a traditional Oaxaca food, has a history rooted in the region’s indigenous culinary traditions. Derived from the Nahuatl word “tetl,” meaning “rock” or “stone,” and “tla,” which denotes “abundance,” tetelas are triangular corn masa pockets filled with a variety of ingredients.
The dish’s name is thought to reference the practice of cooking tetelas on hot stones or the stony texture of the masa after cooking.
Tetelas can be traced back to pre-Hispanic times when indigenous communities relied heavily on corn-based dishes as a dietary staple. They are made by spreading a thin layer of masa (corn dough) onto a corn husk or banana leaf, then filled with a mixture of ingredients such as beans, cheese, or vegetables.
The dough is folded into a triangular shape, enclosing the filling, and the tetela is cooked on a comal or griddle until the masa turns slightly crispy and golden.
The taste of tetela is characterized by its filling and corn masa’s mild, earthy flavor. The fillings can range from simple and savory, such as refried beans, to elaborate combinations, including cheese, mushrooms, and herbs. The result is a delicious, portable snack with a satisfying blend of flavors and textures.
Tetelas have endured as a beloved Oaxaca food, which locals and visitors appreciate for their unique taste, texture, and historical significance. As a testament to the region’s rich culinary heritage, tetelas remain a cherished and versatile part of Oaxaca’s vibrant gastronomic landscape.
Tejate, a traditional Oaxaca food is actually a beverage. It boasts a rich history that dates back to pre-Hispanic times.
Often referred to as the “drink of the gods,” tejate has been enjoyed by indigenous Zapotec and Mixtec communities for centuries, initially reserved for special occasions and religious ceremonies. Its enduring popularity is a testament to the region’s deep-rooted connection to its culinary past.
The name “tejate” is derived from the Nahuatl word “texatl,” which means “water from the nixtamal,” referencing the process of making masa (corn dough). The drink is made from a blend of ingredients, including corn masa, cacao beans, mamey seeds, and the flowers of the rosita de cacao tree.
To create a paste, these ingredients are ground together on a metate, a traditional stone grinding tool. The paste is then mixed with water, resulting in a frothy, refreshing beverage.
Tejate’s taste is a unique fusion of flavors, with the corn masa providing a subtly sweet and earthy base, complemented by the nutty and chocolatey notes from the cacao beans.
The mamey seeds add a hint of bitterness, while the rosita de cacao flowers contribute a delicate floral aroma. The beverage is typically served cold, making it an ideal refreshment in Oaxaca’s warm climate. As a symbol of Oaxaca’s rich culinary heritage, tejate remains a popular choice among locals and visitors alike.
The drink’s unique flavor profile, historical significance, and refreshing qualities continue to captivate food and beverage enthusiasts worldwide, solidifying its status as a quintessential Oaxacan experience.
Entomatadas, a traditional Oaxacan dish, have a history reflecting the region’s rich culinary traditions and deep connection to native ingredients. With origins dating back to pre-Hispanic times, entomatadas showcase the enduring influence of indigenous cultures on Oaxacan cuisine.
The term “entomatadas” is derived from the Spanish word “tomate,” meaning “tomato,” which highlights the primary ingredient in the dish’s sauce. Entomatadas are made by preparing a savory tomato sauce, often seasoned with garlic, onion, and chili peppers.
Corn tortillas are then lightly fried and dipped in the sauce before being filled with various ingredients, such as shredded chicken, cheese, or refried beans. The dish is typically garnished with toppings like lettuce, avocado, and crumbled cheese.
The taste of entomatadas is defined by the balance of flavors between the tangy, mildly spicy tomato sauce and the earthy corn tortillas. The fillings and toppings contribute additional layers of flavor, with the tender chicken or creamy cheese complementing the bright acidity of the sauce.
Entomatadas has remained a popular choice among locals and visitors alike, appreciated for their unique taste, texture, and historical significance. As an integral part of Oaxaca’s culinary heritage, entomatadas continue to captivate food enthusiasts with their delicious flavors and connection to the region’s vibrant gastronomic landscape.
Tamales, a versatile and iconic dish in Oaxacan cuisine, have a rich history dating back to pre-Hispanic times. Originating from the indigenous cultures of Mesoamerica, tamales have been enjoyed by the Aztec, Maya, Zapotec, and Mixtec peoples for centuries.
Their enduring popularity showcases the region’s deep connection to corn and its culinary traditions.
The word “tamale” is derived from the Nahuatl term “tamalli,” which means “wrapped.” Tamales are made by steaming a mixture of masa (corn dough) and various fillings, wrapped in corn husks or banana leaves.
The fillings can range from savory meats like chicken, pork, or beef to sweet ingredients like fruits, chocolate, and cinnamon.
Oaxacan tamales are known for their distinctive flavors and ingredients, setting them apart from other regional variations. One of the most emblematic Oaxacan tamales is the “tamal de mole,” which contains a filling of meat cooked in a rich, complex mole sauce.
Other popular variations include “tamales de frijol,” filled with seasoned black beans, and “tamales de amarillo,” featuring a bright, flavorful yellow mole.
The taste of Oaxacan tamales is characterized by the harmonious balance of flavors between the masa and the fillings. The masa provides a mildly sweet, earthy base that complements the savory or sweet ingredients, creating a delectable and satisfying dish.
Tamales are often enjoyed during special occasions, family gatherings, and as a staple of Oaxacan street food.
As an essential part of Oaxaca’s culinary heritage, tamales continue to enthrall locals and visitors alike with their unique taste, texture, and historical significance, solidifying their status as a beloved and cherished dish.
Chilaquiles, a beloved dish with deep roots in Mexican culinary tradition, is a popular breakfast and brunch staple in Oaxaca. The origins of chilaquiles can be traced back to pre-Hispanic times when the Aztec people created the dish using stale corn tortillas, showcasing their resourcefulness and reverence for corn.
The name “chilaquiles” is derived from the Nahuatl words “chīlātl,” meaning “chili water,” and “quilitl,” meaning “edible herb.” Chilaquiles are made by frying corn tortilla pieces until they are crispy, then simmering them in a sauce, typically made from tomatoes, chili peppers, and other spices.
The dish is often topped with a variety of ingredients, such as crumbled cheese, diced onion, avocado, and sour cream, and served with a side of refried beans or eggs.
Oaxacan chilaquiles stand out due to their use of regional flavors and ingredients. While the traditional red or green sauce is commonly used, Oaxacan variations may also incorporate mole, highlighting the area’s affinity for the complex, flavorful sauce. Additional toppings, such as tasajo or chorizo, can also be found in Oaxacan chilaquiles.
The taste of chilaquiles is characterized by the harmonious blend of textures and flavors, with the crispy tortilla pieces absorbing the tangy and spicy sauce while still maintaining some crunch. The toppings add creaminess, freshness, and savoriness to the dish, creating a satisfying and comforting meal.
Chilaquiles have become an integral part of Oaxaca’s culinary identity, captivating locals and visitors with their delicious taste, unique variations, and historical significance. The dish remains a beloved and cherished staple in the region’s vibrant gastronomic landscape.
Chile relleno, a classic dish in Mexican cuisine, has a special place in the culinary traditions of Oaxaca. The origins of chile relleno can be traced back to the Spanish colonization of Mexico, when Spanish and Moorish culinary techniques merged with indigenous ingredients, resulting in the creation of this flavorful dish.
The name “chile relleno” translates to “stuffed chili,” which aptly describes the dish’s primary components. Chile relleno is made by stuffing large, mild chili peppers, such as poblano or pasilla, with various ingredients, such as cheese, meat, or vegetables.
The stuffed peppers are then coated in a fluffy egg batter and fried until golden and crispy. Depending on regional preferences, the dish is often served with a tomato-based sauce or mole.
Oaxacan chile relleno is distinguished by its use of local ingredients and flavors. One popular variation, “chiles rellenos de Oaxaca,” is filled with Oaxacan cheese, or “quesillo,” and sometimes combined with shredded meat or vegetables. The dish may be served with a traditional tomato sauce or Oaxacan mole, adding depth and richness to the flavor profile.
The taste of chile relleno is characterized by the balance of flavors and textures, with the mild, slightly sweet pepper contrasting the savory filling and crispy exterior. The sauce or mole adds another dimension of flavor, creating a satisfying and delectable dish showcasing Oaxacan cuisine’s versatility.
Chile relleno continues to be a cherished part of Oaxaca’s culinary heritage, enticing locals and visitors alike with its delicious taste, unique variations, and historical significance. This classic dish remains a beloved staple in Oaxaca’s vibrant gastronomic landscape.
Enchiladas, a celebrated dish in Mexican cuisine, hold a special place in the culinary heritage of Oaxaca. With origins dating back to the pre-Hispanic era, enchiladas showcase the fusion of indigenous ingredients and techniques that have shaped Oaxacan gastronomy for centuries.
The term “enchiladas” comes from the Spanish word “enchilar,” meaning “to season with chili,” which aptly describes the dish’s primary component. Enchiladas are made by filling corn tortillas with various ingredients, such as shredded meat, cheese, or vegetables, before being rolled up and smothered in a chili-based sauce. The dish is often garnished with toppings like crumbled cheese, diced onion, and sour cream.
Oaxacan enchiladas stand out due to their unique regional flavors and ingredients. One popular variation, “enchiladas Oaxaqueñas,” features a vibrant, red chili sauce made from guajillo and ancho chilies, tomatoes, garlic, and spices.
The tortillas are typically filled with shredded chicken or cheese, and the dish is topped with crumbled queso fresco, sliced onion, and fresh cilantro. Oaxacan enchiladas may also be served with a side of rice or refried beans, adding another layer of texture and flavor.
The taste of Oaxacan enchiladas is characterized by the harmony of flavors between the tangy, mildly spicy chili sauce, the earthy corn tortillas, and the savory filling. The dish strikes a delicate balance between bold and subtle flavors, resulting in a satisfying and delectable culinary experience.
Enchiladas continue to be a cherished part of Oaxaca’s culinary landscape, captivating locals and visitors alike with their delicious taste, unique regional variations, and historical significance.
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😋 Unique food from Oaxaca
Flor de calabaza
Flor de calabaza, or squash blossoms, are an essential ingredient in Oaxacan cuisine, with a history that stretches back to the pre-Hispanic era.
As a staple in the indigenous Zapotec and Mixtec cultures, squash blossoms have played a significant role in the region’s culinary traditions for centuries, showcasing the resourcefulness and reverence for native ingredients.
These delicate, bright orange-yellow flowers are harvested from various types of squash plants, including zucchini and pumpkin, and are highly prized for their unique flavor and versatility. Mesoamerican peoples have cultivated and consumed them since ancient times, and they continue to be a beloved ingredient in contemporary Oaxacan dishes.
The taste of flor de calabaza is characterized by a mild, subtly sweet, and slightly vegetal flavor with a hint of earthiness. The tender blossoms lend themselves well to various preparations, including soups, quesadillas, and stuffed dishes.
One iconic Oaxacan dish featuring squash blossoms is “quesadillas de flor de calabaza,” where the flowers are sautéed with onions and garlic, then combined with Oaxacan cheese, or “quesillo,” and folded into a corn tortilla.
Another popular preparation is “flor de calabaza rellena,” where the blossoms are stuffed with cheese or other fillings, dipped in a light batter, and fried until golden and crispy. The result is a delicate, flavorful dish that highlights the unique taste and texture of the flor de calabaza.
Flor de calabaza remains a cherished part of Oaxaca food heritage, enticing locals and visitors with its delicious flavor, versatility, and historical significance and contributing to the region’s vibrant gastronomic identity.
Pozontle, a lesser-known yet remarkable Oaxacan beverage, has a rich history that highlights the region’s diverse culinary traditions and indigenous heritage.
This unique drink has its roots in the pre-Hispanic era when the indigenous Zapotec and Mixtec peoples created the beverage using locally sourced ingredients.
The name “pozontle” is derived from the Nahuatl word “pozontli,” which means “foamy” or “frothy.” The drink is made from a mixture of corn dough (masa), cacao, mamey seeds, and panela (unrefined cane sugar), which are ground together to form a paste.
This paste is then combined with water and vigorously beaten or shaken to create a frothy, foamy consistency.
The taste of pozontle is characterized by a mildly sweet, earthy, and slightly nutty flavor profile, with the corn masa providing a wholesome base that complements the subtle bitterness of the cacao and the natural sweetness of the panel.
The mamey seeds impart a unique, fruity undertone that adds depth and complexity to the drink. The frothy texture makes pozontle a refreshing and satisfying beverage, often enjoyed during special occasions, ceremonies, or daily treats.
Pozontle remains an important part of Oaxaca’s culinary heritage, as it continues to be passed down through generations, preserving its history and cultural significance.
This delightful beverage offers a window into Oaxaca’s vibrant and diverse gastronomic landscape, captivating both locals and visitors with its intriguing taste and rich historical roots.
Nopal, the edible pads of the prickly pear cactus, holds a prominent place in Oaxacan cuisine, with a history that dates back to pre-Hispanic times.
Revered by indigenous cultures such as the Zapotec and Mixtec peoples, nopal has been cultivated and consumed for centuries, symbolizing resilience, resourcefulness, and a deep connection to the land.
As a staple in Mesoamerican diets, nopal played a significant role in people’s daily lives, providing sustenance and nourishment. It also holds a sacred place in Aztec mythology, as the founding of their capital, Tenochtitlan (present-day Mexico City), was said to be marked by an eagle perched on a nopal cactus.
The taste of nopal is characterized by a slightly tart, mildly sweet, and earthy flavor profile. The texture is similar to cooked green beans, with a hint of sliminess reminiscent of okra. Nopal is highly versatile and can be prepared in various ways, such as grilled, boiled, or sautéed.
One popular Oaxacan dish featuring nopal is “nopalitos en salsa,” where the cactus pads are chopped and cooked in a tomato-based sauce, often accompanied by other vegetables and spices.
Nopal is also valued for its numerous health benefits, as it is rich in vitamins, minerals, and fiber. Its natural anti-inflammatory properties and ability to regulate blood sugar levels make it an attractive ingredient for health-conscious consumers.
As a cherished part of Oaxaca’s culinary heritage, nopal continues to captivate both locals and visitors with its unique taste, versatility, and historical significance, contributing to the region’s vibrant gastronomic identity.
Buñuelos, a delightful treat in Oaxacan cuisine, boast a rich history that reflects the region’s diverse culinary influences and the fusion of Spanish and indigenous traditions.
These deep-fried pastries have their origins in the Spanish and Moorish confections brought to Mexico during the colonial period and have since become an integral part of Oaxacan celebrations and festivities.
Oaxacan buñuelos are made by combining wheat flour, sugar, eggs, and water to create a soft, elastic dough. The dough is then rolled out into thin, circular sheets and deep-fried until they become golden and crispy.
Once cooked, the buñuelos are typically sprinkled with sugar and cinnamon or drizzled with a sweet syrup made from piloncillo (unrefined cane sugar), cinnamon, and aniseed.
The taste of Oaxacan buñuelos is characterized by their light, crispy texture and the delicate balance between the sugar’s sweetness and the cinnamon’s warmth.
The syrup adds another layer of flavor, creating a delightful contrast between the crunchy pastry and the rich, fragrant sweetness of the topping. These delicious treats are often enjoyed during Christmas celebrations, Day of the Dead festivities, and other special occasions in Oaxaca.
Buñuelos continue to be a cherished part of Oaxaca’s culinary heritage, captivating locals and visitors alike with their irresistible taste, fascinating history, and association with joyous celebrations.
These delightful pastries remain a favorite treat in Oaxaca, contributing to the region’s vibrant and diverse gastronomic culture.
Quesillo, also known as Oaxaca cheese or Oaxacan string cheese, is a beloved and iconic cheese in Oaxacan cuisine.
With a rich history that reflects the region’s culinary traditions and the influence of Spanish colonization, quesillo has become an essential ingredient in many Oaxacan dishes and a symbol of the area’s gastronomic identity.
Originally crafted by Dominican monks who introduced European cheese-making techniques to Oaxaca in the 16th century, quesillo is made using cow’s milk and a unique stretching process.
This process involves repeatedly stretching and folding the cheese curds until they achieve a distinctive, stringy texture. The cheese is then shaped into a ball, which is often unraveled into long strands when consumed.
The taste of quesillo is characterized by its mild, creamy, and slightly tangy flavor profile, which makes it a versatile ingredient in Oaxacan cuisine. The cheese’s smooth, stringy texture is perfect for melting, and it is often used in dishes such as quesadillas, tlayudas, and chiles rellenos, where it adds a luscious, velvety mouthfeel.
Quesillo has become a popular cheese not only in Oaxaca but throughout Mexico and beyond, with its unique taste and texture lending itself well to a variety of culinary applications. The cheese is often enjoyed on its own, accompanied by a slice of bread or fresh fruit, showcasing its delightful flavor and creamy consistency.
As a cherished part of Oaxaca’s culinary landscape, quesillo continues to entice both locals and visitors with its delicious taste, intriguing history, and versatile nature, making it an indispensable component of the region’s vibrant gastronomic culture.
Huitlacoche, a unique and highly prized ingredient in Oaxacan cuisine, has a rich history that dates back to the pre-Hispanic era.
Also known as corn smut or Mexican truffle, huitlacoche is a fungus that grows on corn, transforming the kernels into swollen, blue-black, mushroom-like growths. Indigenous cultures, such as the Aztecs, highly valued huitlacoche for its taste and nutritional properties, and it continues to be a cherished part of Oaxaca’s culinary heritage.
The name “huitlacoche” comes from the Nahuatl language, with “huitlatl” meaning excrement and “cochi” meaning sleep, which roughly translates to “sleeping excrement.”
This may not sound appetizing, but the taste of huitlacoche is highly sought after for its unique earthy, smoky, and slightly sweet flavor profile. The texture is tender and somewhat creamy, akin to that of a mushroom.
Huitlacoche can be prepared in various ways, such as sautéed with onions, garlic, and spices, or incorporated into dishes like quesadillas, tamales, and soups.
One popular Oaxacan dish featuring huitlacoche is “quesadillas de huitlacoche,” where the fungus is combined with cheese and folded into a corn tortilla before being cooked to perfection.
In addition to its delightful taste, huitlacoche is rich in nutrients like protein, vitamins, and minerals, making it a healthful and delicious ingredient in Oaxacan cuisine.
Huitlacoche continues to captivate both locals and visitors with its unique flavor, intriguing history, and significance in the region’s culinary traditions, contributing to Oaxaca’s vibrant and diverse gastronomic landscape.
Chapulines, a distinctive and important ingredient in Oaxacan cuisine, have a history that reaches back to pre-Hispanic times. These small grasshoppers have been consumed by indigenous cultures, such as the Zapotec and Mixtec peoples, for centuries as a sustainable and nutritious source of protein.
Chapulines continue to be a cherished part of Oaxaca’s culinary heritage, showcasing the region’s resourcefulness and deep connection to its ancestral roots.
Chapulines are typically harvested during the rainy season, when grasshopper populations are abundant. Once collected, they are cleaned and then toasted on a clay comal (griddle) with garlic, lime juice, and chili powder, which gives them a unique flavor profile.
The taste of chapulines is characterized by a complex blend of flavors, including earthiness from the insects themselves, tanginess from the lime, and spiciness from the chili powder. This combination creates a surprisingly delicious and moreish snack that is often served as a topping for tlayudas or as a filling for tacos and quesadillas.
In addition to their captivating taste, chapulines are also rich in nutrients like protein, vitamins, and minerals, making them a healthful and environmentally friendly food source.
As a testament to Oaxaca’s vibrant and diverse culinary landscape, chapulines continue to intrigue and delight both locals and visitors with their unique flavor, fascinating history, and cultural significance.
Salsa de Chicatanas
Salsa de chicatanas is a unique and revered condiment in Oaxacan cuisine, with a history that reflects the region’s rich culinary traditions and indigenous heritage.
The indigenous Zapotec and Mixtec peoples have been harvesting and consuming these insects for centuries, and their use in Oaxacan cuisine is a testament to the region’s resourcefulness and connection to its ancestral roots.
The process of making salsa de chicatanas involves first collecting the ants after a rainfall when they take flight from their nests. They are then toasted on a comal (griddle) until they become crispy before being ground with a mortar and pestle along with other ingredients such as garlic, tomatoes, chili peppers, and salt.
The taste of salsa de chicatanas is characterized by a complex and unique combination of flavors. The chicatanas impart an earthy, slightly smoky flavor, while the tomatoes and chili peppers contribute tanginess and heat.
This creates a versatile salsa with a bold, robust flavor profile that can enhance various dishes such as tacos, tlayudas, or grilled meats. Salsa de chicatanas is a delicious and distinctive condiment and a symbol of Oaxaca’s vibrant culinary culture and deep connection to the region’s indigenous history.
The salsa continues to captivate both locals and visitors with its intriguing taste, fascinating history, and cultural significance, contributing to Oaxaca’s rich and diverse gastronomic landscape.
Arroz con chepiles
Arroz con chepiles, a flavorful and aromatic dish in Oaxacan cuisine, has a history that showcases the region’s rich culinary traditions and indigenous influences.
Chepiles, also known as chipilín, are small, green leaves from the Crotalaria longirostrata plant native to Mexico and Central America. Indigenous cultures, such as the Zapotec and Mixtec peoples, have been using chepiles for centuries, both as culinary ingredients and for their medicinal properties.
Arroz con chepiles is a dish that combines the nutty, comforting flavors of rice with the unique, herbaceous taste of chepiles. The dish is made by first sautéing onions, garlic, and tomatoes, before adding rice and allowing it to toast lightly.
Chepiles leaves are added, along with chicken or vegetable broth, and the mixture is simmered until the rice becomes tender and flavorful.
The rice absorbs the savory, umami notes from the sautéed vegetables and broth, while the chepiles impart a distinct, slightly bitter, and herbaceous flavor. This results in a delicious and satisfying dish that can be enjoyed on its own or as a side to accompany grilled meats, fish, or stews.
Arroz con chepiles is a cherished part of Oaxaca’s culinary heritage, celebrating the region’s indigenous roots and vibrant gastronomic culture. The dish continues to captivate both locals and visitors with its unique taste, fascinating history, and deep connection to Oaxaca’s culinary traditions.
Chiles de agua
Chiles de agua, a distinct and integral part of Oaxacan cuisine, have a rich history that reflects the region’s agricultural heritage and the importance of chilies in Mexican gastronomy. These chili peppers, which translate to “water chilies” in English, are native to the Oaxaca Valley and have been cultivated and consumed by indigenous peoples, such as the Zapotec and Mixtec, for centuries.
Named for the traditional practice of soaking them in water to maintain freshness, chiles de agua are characterized by their glossy, bright red or green appearance and elongated, tapered shape. They are considered moderately spicy, with a Scoville rating of around 15,000 units, similar to that of serrano peppers.
The taste of chiles de agua is defined by a combination of fruity, slightly smoky, and spicy flavors. They can be eaten fresh, roasted, or dried, and their versatility makes them a popular ingredient in various Oaxacan dishes, such as salsas, stews, and stuffed peppers.
One well-known Oaxacan dish featuring chiles de agua is “chiles rellenos de agua,” The peppers are filled with a mixture of cheese, herbs, and spices, then battered and fried to create a delicious and flavorful dish.
Chiles de agua remain a cherished part of Oaxaca’s culinary landscape, symbolizing the region’s deep connection to its agricultural roots and the significance of chilies in Mexican cuisine.
These peppers continue to enthrall locals and visitors with their unique taste, fascinating history, and versatility, contributing to Oaxaca’s vibrant and diverse gastronomic culture.
Mezcal, an iconic and deeply rooted spirit in Oaxacan culture, has a rich history that dates back to the pre-Hispanic era. Produced primarily in Oaxaca, mezcal is a distilled alcoholic beverage made from the fermented juice of various agave plants, with the most common variety being the Espadín agave.
The spirit’s production and consumption have been integral to the region’s heritage for centuries, and mezcal has become synonymous with Oaxacan identity.
The name “mezcal” is derived from the Nahuatl words “metl” (agave) and “ixcalli” (cooked), which translates to “cooked agave.”
The production process involves harvesting the agave piñas (hearts), roasting them in underground pits, and then crushing and fermenting the roasted agave before distilling the liquid in copper or clay stills. This traditional method imparts the spirit’s distinctive smoky flavor and complex taste profile.
Mezcal’s taste is characterized by its earthy, smoky, and herbaceous flavors, with varying degrees of sweetness, fruitiness, and minerality depending on the type of agave used and the specific production techniques.
Unlike tequila, which is made exclusively from blue agave, mezcal can be produced from a wide range of agave species, resulting in diverse flavors and aromas.
Mezcal has recently experienced a surge in popularity in Mexico and internationally, with connoisseurs and mixologists alike appreciating the spirit’s unique taste and artisanal production methods.
As a symbol of Oaxaca’s rich cultural heritage and vibrant gastronomic landscape, mezcal continues to captivate locals and visitors with its intriguing history, distinctive flavor, and deep connection to the region’s traditions.
🍲 Oaxaca food: soups
Caldo de gato
Caldo de gato, a flavorful and traditional soup in Oaxacan cuisine, has a history that reflects the resourcefulness and creativity of the region’s culinary heritage.
Contrary to its literal translation as “cat soup,” this dish contains no cat meat. Instead, the name is likely a colloquial expression, possibly stemming from using inexpensive ingredients to create a satisfying and comforting meal.
The primary ingredients in caldo de gato are fish, tomatoes, onions, garlic, and various herbs and spices, such as oregano, thyme, and bay leaves. The fish is typically a firm, white-fleshed variety, simmered with vegetables and seasonings until the flavors meld together, creating a rich, fragrant broth. Potatoes, carrots, and other vegetables may also be added to enhance the texture and flavor of the soup.
The taste of caldo de gato is characterized by a harmonious blend of flavors. The savory, umami notes of the fish are complemented by the sweet, tangy taste of the tomatoes and the aromatic herbs. The resulting soup is hearty and refreshing, making it a versatile dish to be enjoyed year-round.
While caldo de gato may not be as well-known as some other Oaxacan specialties, it remains a cherished part of the region’s culinary landscape, highlighting the creativity and resourcefulness of Oaxacan cooks.
The dish continues to delight both locals and visitors with its unique name, fascinating history, and delicious taste, contributing to Oaxaca’s rich and diverse gastronomic culture.
Caldo de Piedra
Caldo de piedra, a unique and ancient soup in Oaxacan cuisine, has a history deeply rooted in the region’s indigenous traditions. The name translates to “stone soup,” referring to the traditional cooking method involving heated stones to boil the ingredients.
This technique dates back to the pre-Hispanic era and is attributed to the Chinantec people, who have been preparing the soup for centuries.
The ingredients in caldo de piedra typically include fresh river fish or shrimp, tomatoes, onions, garlic, and various herbs and spices, such as cilantro, epazote, and chili peppers.
The preparation begins with placing the raw fish or shrimp in a vessel, usually a hollowed-out gourd, along with the chopped vegetables and seasonings. Heated stones, previously warmed in a wood fire, are then carefully placed in the vessel to quickly cook the ingredients, resulting in a steaming, fragrant broth.
The taste of caldo de piedra is characterized by a harmonious blend of flavors, with the delicate, savory notes of the fish or shrimp complemented by the bright, tangy taste of the tomatoes and the aromatic herbs and spices adding depth and complexity. The soup is light and satisfying, making it a versatile and enjoyable dish.
Caldo de piedra showcases Oaxaca’s indigenous peoples’ resourcefulness and ingenuity while celebrating the region’s rich cultural heritage.
This unique soup continues to captivate locals and visitors with its fascinating history, traditional cooking method, and delicious taste, contributing to Oaxaca’s vibrant and diverse gastronomic landscape.
Sopa de Guias
Sopa de guias is a traditional soup found in Oaxaca, Mexico, that is believed to have originated centuries ago. It’s made with squash, corn, and other vegetables simmered in a tomato broth flavored with cumin, oregano, and garlic.
This soup is delicately balanced between light and hearty flavors derived from its unique combination of ingredients. It is usually accompanied by local cheese and herbs such as cilantro or oregano, providing additional texture to the dish.
The origin of sopa de guias dates back to the pre-Hispanic period when squash grew in abundance around the area; this was combined with another foodstuff, such as corn, for a nutritious soup. The ingredients vary by region, though, and each family has their particular version that may include extra vegetables or different seasonings.
Sopa de guias is famous throughout the summer but can be enjoyed anytime due to its comforting flavors and familiarity. Despite varying recipes, it always provides an incredibly satisfying meal thanks to its rich flavor profile and various textures.
🥘 Best Oaxaca food tours
Cooking Class with Local Market Tour
🕒 4.5 hours
💲 from $76 USD
This tour promises to take you on a tantalizing journey through the local markets, where you will discover some of Mexico’s freshest ingredients. From exotic fruits to traditional spices and herbs, your senses will be overloaded with vibrant colors and enticing aromas.
Once you have explored the markets, it’s time for the real fun to begin – cooking up a storm in your Oaxacan kitchen!
But don’t worry if you’re not an expert chef – this class is designed for all skill levels. Your knowledgeable guide will take you step-by-step through each recipe, ensuring that even beginners can create delicious dishes such as mole negro or chiles rellenos.
Half-day foodies walking tour
🕒 5 hours
💲 from $69 USD
This Flavors of Oaxaca foodie walking tour offers a unique opportunity to explore the region’s rich culinary traditions while soaking up its vibrant culture and history. Over four hours, you’ll visit some of Oaxaca’s most renowned eateries and markets, all while sampling delicious local fare.
The tour begins at a traditional Mexican breakfast spot, where you’ll enjoy fresh coffee and pastries before embarking on your adventure. From there, you’ll visit local markets and street vendors to sample everything from tamales to tlayudas (Oaxacan-style pizzas).
As you walk through the colorful streets of Oaxaca, your knowledgeable guide will share insights into the city’s rich cultural heritage and culinary traditions.
I customize Oaxaca tours! 🎉🥳
I live in Mexico and have traveled the whole Oaxaca state. You can call or send a Whatsapp to my office at +52 473 171 5259 to get a quote: no hidden costs, just simple prices
Earth, Corn & Fire
🕒 5.5 hours
💲 from $115 USD
Earth, Corn, and Fire: Tasting the Roots of Oaxacan Cuisine tour is one of the best ways to learn about Oaxacan cuisine’s rich history and culture. The day begins with a visit to a local market to see and experience all the fresh ingredients used in traditional Oaxacan cuisine.
You’ll also be able to interact with locals and ask questions about their food culture. Next up is a cooking class where you will learn how to make mole, tlayudas (a type of tortilla), and other regional specialties from scratch.
Made in Oaxaca
🕒 3.5 hours
💲 from $90 USD
This Made in Oaxaca Food Tour is the perfect way to experience the best food and drink this region offers. With a knowledgeable guide leading the way, you’ll get an insider’s view of local cuisine and culture.
The tour starts with a visit to a bustling market, where you’ll sample fresh fruits and vegetables as well as traditional street foods like empanadas and tamales.
Next is a stop at a local mezcal distillery, where you’ll learn about this famous Mexican spirit and try some samples. From there, you’ll enjoy lunch at a hidden restaurant gem serving delicious homemade moles – one of Mexico’s most iconic dishes.
⁉️ Oaxaca food FAQ
What kind of food is Oaxacan?
Oaxacan cuisine is an incredibly varied and diverse cooking style unique to the region. It has a long history, with elements of the food originating in pre-Hispanic times when ingredients such as squash and corn were abundant.
Ingredients vary by region, but there are some typical dishes like pozole (a soup made with hominy), mole (a rich sauce often served over meat or vegetables) and sopa de guias (a squash soup). These dishes are often served with local cheese, fresh herbs, and sauces to add flavor.
Oaxacan cuisine also features distinct types of grilled meats such as barbacoa (barbecued lamb), mixiotes (meat wrapped in maguey leaves), tasajo (dried beef) and cecina (grilled pork).
Grains such as corn, beans, amaranth and quinoa are commonly used in cooking while regional desserts include dulce de leche (caramelized sweetened condensed milk) and coconut candy.
In short, Oaxacan cuisine is an incredible mix of flavors, ingredients and spices that offers something for everyone.
What is Oaxaca sauce?
Oaxaca sauce, also known as Mole Rojo, is a traditional Mexican sauce originating from the state of Oaxaca. It is made with ingredients such as chili peppers, garlic, tomatoes, and chocolate which are blended together to create a rich and savory flavor.
It can be used in many dishes, such as enchiladas, tamales or tacos, and it pairs well with chicken, beef and pork. The dish’s complex flavor balances the chocolate’s sweetness with the chili peppers’ heat.
The origins of Mole Rojo date back to pre-Hispanic times when it was used to flavor meats and corn tortillas. In modern times, this sauce is still widely used throughout Mexico, and its popularity has spread across Central America, South America, and parts of Europe.
Oaxaca sauce is easy to make as long as you have all the necessary ingredients on hand. It’s an ideal way to add depth of flavor to your favorite dishes but can also be enjoyed as an exciting dip or topping for appetizers.
What food is Oaxaca famous for?
Oaxaca is an incredibly diverse and unique region of Mexico renowned for its rich culinary culture. It has a long history, with elements of the food originating in pre-Hispanic times when ingredients such as squash and corn were abundant.
As such, there are several dishes that Oaxaca is famous for, including mole Negro (a chocolate based sauce), chapulines (fried grasshoppers), tlayudas (large toasted tortillas topped with various ingredients) and memelas (corn cakes). These dishes are commonly served with local cheese, fresh herbs and sauces to add flavor.
The region is also noted for its wide variety of grilled meats, including barbacoa (barbecued lamb), mixiotes (meat wrapped in maguey leaves), tasajo (dried beef), and cecina (grilled pork). Grains such as corn, beans, amaranth, and quinoa are made into different dishes, while local desserts include dulce de leche (caramelized sweetened condensed milk) and coconut candy.
In short, Oaxacan cuisine offers something for everyone – whether you’re looking for traditional recipes or more modern takes on classic dishes. Its wide variety of flavors makes it one of the most beloved styles of Mexican cooking.
What is traditional Mixtec food?
The Mixtec people are an indigenous group that has lived in Mexico’s central region for centuries. Their cuisine reflects the land and its produce, with dishes based on corn, beans, squash, and chiles.
The traditional Mixtec diet revolves around three core staples – tortillas, beans, and chile peppers. These are used in a variety of dishes, including tamales (corn husks stuffed with seasoned fillings), pozole (a soup made with hominy), and tlayudas (large toasted tortillas).
Other popular ingredients include fresh herbs such as cilantro and epazote, rustic cheese called queso fresco, and wild game meats like rabbit or venison. Seafood is also widely enjoyed in the coastal regions where dishes such as ceviche feature heavily.
Mixtec cooking is characterized by its robust flavors, often pairing sharp herbs with fiery chilies. This diversity is evident in the variety of sauces throughout the region, from mild to spicy.
Traditional Mixtec cooking celebrates the land’s bounty in all its forms, offering a delightful mix of flavors and textures that will satisfy any appetite!
🇲🇽 Mexico Travel Planning
✈️ What’s the best platform for booking flights to Mexico?
Kiwi.com is one of the most trusted sites to book cheap flights to Mexico. They compare all prices for all airlines! Also try WayAway if you want to get cashback for every booking.
🏥 Is travel insurance mandatory in Mexico?
YES! You need to get into the habit of buying travel insurance, not just for Mexico. SafetyWing, is my digital nomad/remote worker insurance, while I use Ekta Traveling for short trips (from $0.99 per day).
🚗💨 Is it safe to rent a car in Mexico?
ABSOLUTELY! Use Discover Cars or Rentalcars.com for the best car rental deals in Mexico. Remember to book online prior to arrival and don’t do it in person as cars run out fast!
📞 Personalized itineraries and moving to Mexico services
Whatever you need for Mexico, I can help you with that! Call my office or send a Whatsapp message to +52 473 171 5259 – our office staff will take care of you!
Trisha is one of those people who left their comfortable life to travel the world and learn about life. Her style is to stay in one place she likes for 3 months (or more) to know what it feels like to eat, cook, speak, and sleep in another culture that isn’t hers. She’d like to believe she’s not traditionally traveling but she just chooses to be somewhere else all the time. In no particular order, her favorite cities in the world are Barcelona, Buenos Aires, Hong Kong, Mexico City, and Tel Aviv.