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).
Oaxacan cuisine is 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.
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🤩 Popular food from Oaxaca
In Oaxacan cuisine, Mole is a complex sauce comprising an array of unique ingredients, blending different flavors and textures. Oaxaca has seven types of mole, each presenting a distinct taste.
These include Mole Negro, the darkest and most famous variant, loaded with over 30 ingredients including chilies, nuts, seeds, spices, chocolate, and fruits.
The preparation process is intricate, often spanning several days. The sauce is usually served over meat, primarily chicken or turkey, making it a rich, aromatic, and balanced feast.
📍 Where to have mole in Oaxaca: Catedral Restaurant or Ancestral
Tlayuda, often called the “Mexican pizza,” is a staple dish in Oaxacan cuisine. It begins with a large, crispy, partially fried or toasted tortilla.
This is traditionally smeared with asiento (unrefined pork lard) and refried beans, then topped with Oaxacan cheese (quesillo), slices of tomato, avocado, and strips of tasajo (dried beef) or chorizo.
It’s either served open-faced or folded in half. Tlayudas are usually grilled over charcoal, giving the dish a smoky flavor.
📍 Where to have tlayuda in Oaxaca: Las Tlayudas de Mina y Bustamante
Tasajo is a specific type of meat preparation in Oaxacan cuisine. The term refers to thinly sliced beef, typically from the leg or loin, which is salted and partially dried to preserve it.
This process gives the meat a distinct, slightly salty flavor.
Tasajo is traditionally grilled until it’s slightly charred and tender, then often served with other Oaxacan staples such as tlayudas or in a tortilla with guacamole and salsa.
📍 Where to have tasajo in Oaxaca: Tlayudas El Tasajo
Memela is another cherished dish in Oaxacan cuisine. These are small, hand-made oval tortillas thicker than regular ones.
After being cooked on a griddle, the memelas are traditionally topped with refried beans and sprinkled with crumbled cheese, salsa, and sometimes shredded meat.
The edges are pinched to form a rim to hold the toppings. They’re known for their crispy exterior and soft, doughy interior, offering a satisfying textural contrast.
📍 Where to have memela in Oaxaca: Memelas Dona Vale
Tetelas are triangle-shaped corn parcels originating from Oaxacan cuisine. They are made with masa (corn dough), filled with ingredients like black beans pureed with avocado leaves, offering a subtly anise-like flavor.
After folding into triangles and sealing the edges, they are cooked on a comal (griddle) until slightly browned. Tetelas can be served as a standalone snack or accompany other dishes.
📍 Where to have tetela in Oaxaca: Itanoni
Tejate is a traditional, non-alcoholic beverage from Oaxaca, sometimes referred to as the “drink of the gods”.
The main ingredients include corn masa, cacao beans, mamey pit, and flor de cacao (also known as rosita de cacao), which gives it a distinctive floral note.
The preparation involves a long process of grinding, mixing, and dissolving the ingredients. The result is a frothy, rich, and slightly sweet drink traditionally served in painted gourd bowls.
📍 Where to have tejate in Oaxaca: Tejate Dana
Entomatadas are a popular dish in Mexican cuisine, especially in Oaxaca. They consist of tortillas dipped in a tomato-based sauce, then filled with cheese or meats, and folded in half.
Topped with a dollop of cream and sprinkling of cheese, entomatadas resemble enchiladas but are milder due to the tomato-based sauce. They can be served with a side of refried beans or rice.
Tamal is a traditional Mexican dish made from masa, steamed in a corn husk or banana leaf. The wrapping is discarded before eating.
Tamales can be filled with various ingredients, including meats, cheeses, fruits, vegetables, chilies, or any combination thereof.
The fillings vary by region, season, and personal preference. In Oaxaca, tamales are commonly filled with mole or a salsa verde, then steamed in banana leaves which impart a subtle, unique flavor to the dish.
📍 Where to have tamales in Oaxaca: Tamales Doña Mari
Chilaquiles are a traditional Mexican breakfast dish, designed as a means to use up leftover tortillas.
Stale or day-old tortillas are cut into quarters, lightly fried, and then simmered in green or red salsa or mole sauce until the tortilla softens.
It’s typically served with refried beans, eggs, avocado slices, and a sprinkle of cheese. Chilaquiles can be spicy or mild depending on the sauce used, but they are always satisfyingly crunchy and filling.
Chile relleno typically consists of a large, mild green chili pepper (like poblano) stuffed with melting cheese or spiced ground meat, then battered and deep-fried until golden and crispy.
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. This classic dish remains a beloved staple in Oaxaca’s vibrant gastronomic landscape.
📍 Where to have chile relleno in Oaxaca: Restaurant Tierra del Sol
Enchiladas are a classic Mexican dish that involves corn tortillas rolled around a filling, typically of meat or cheese, and covered with a chili pepper sauce.
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.
📍 Where to have enchiladas in Oaxaca: La Casona de la Abuela
Travel to Oaxaca with all my recommendations in the city. This Oaxaca map includes over 600 places, divided into different categories!
😋 Unique food from Oaxaca
Flor de calabaza
Flor de calabaza, or squash blossom, is a seasonal delicacy in Oaxacan cuisine. The bright orange flowers, harvested from both summer and winter squashes, are known for their delicate, slightly sweet flavor.
They are used in a variety of dishes, such as soups, stews, quesadillas, and tamales.
Flor de calabaza is often sautéed with onions and garlic, sometimes paired with fresh, mild cheese or incorporated into egg 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.
Pozontle is a distinctive drink in Oaxacan cuisine made from cacao flowers, a byproduct of the chocolate industry. The flowers are boiled with sugar to create a slightly sweet, floral beverage.
This traditional drink is often consumed during the warm summer months as a thirst-quencher.
Pozontle carries a slightly fermented flavor and a unique, slightly cloudy appearance, marking it as a unique part of Oaxacan food and drink culture.
📍 Where to have pozontle in Oaxaca: Pozontle Yalalag
Nopal, or the prickly pear cactus, plays a significant role in Oaxacan cuisine. Its pads (also known as nopales) are a common ingredient in salads, soups, and main dishes.
They have a slight tartness and a texture akin to green beans when cooked. Nopales are often grilled or sautéed and mixed with other vegetables, scrambled with eggs, or used as a topping for tacos and tlayudas.
Additionally, the cactus’s fruit, known as tunas, is a popular snack when in season.
📍Nopal can be found in all markets in Oaxaca.
Buñuelos are a type of sweet fritter in Oaxacan cuisine, often enjoyed during celebrations or at Christmas. The dough, made from flour, sugar, and eggs, is rolled thin, then fried until golden and crispy.
These light, airy pastries are traditionally served with a drizzle of syrup made from brown sugar, cinnamon, and guava. In some instances, it’s customary to break the clay plate on which the buñuelo is served, tossing it behind you for good luck.
Quesillo, also known as Oaxacan cheese or Queso Oaxaca, is a white, semi-hard cheese with a string cheese-like texture. It’s made by stretching the cheese into long ribbons and rolling them up like a ball of yarn.
Quesillo has a mild, milky flavor, making it a versatile ingredient in various dishes, such as quesadillas, tlayudas, and empanadas, or simply enjoyed on its own.
📍Quesillos can be found in all markets in Oaxaca.
Huitlacoche, also known as corn smut or Mexican truffle, is a fungus that grows on corn under certain conditions. Considered a delicacy in Oaxacan cuisine, it offers an earthy, mushroom-like flavor.
It’s used as a filling in tamales, quesadillas, and other dishes. The flavor of huitlacoche represents the complexity of Oaxacan food culture, turning a plant disease into a prized culinary ingredient.
Chapulines are grasshoppers that have been toasted with garlic, lime, and salt, and sometimes chili. They are a popular snack in Oaxaca, known for their crunchy texture and tangy, slightly spicy flavor.
Chapulines are often enjoyed with a glass of mezcal, in tacos, or as a topping for tlayudas. Their popularity underscores Oaxaca’s reputation for using a wide array of local, sustainable ingredients.
📍Chapulines can be found in all markets in Oaxaca.
Salsa de Chicatanas
Salsa de Chicatanas is a unique Oaxacan sauce made from chicatanas, which are flying ants that appear during the first rains of the season. The ants are collected, toasted, and ground with chili peppers, garlic, and salt to create a rich, earthy salsa.
Its robust and unique flavor profile makes it a much sought-after specialty. Often served with grilled meats or used to enhance other dishes, Salsa de Chicatanas is an example of Oaxaca’s rich biodiversity and its deep culinary tradition.
Arroz con chepiles
Arroz con chepiles, or rice with chepil leaves, is a traditional Oaxacan dish. Chepil, also known as chipilin, is a herb with a slightly tangy flavor often used in southern Mexican cuisine.
The rice is cooked with onions, garlic, and chicken broth, then mixed with the chepil leaves.
The result is a fragrant, subtly flavored side dish that pairs well with many Oaxacan specialties. It showcases the region’s use of native herbs and grains.
📍 Where to have arroz con chepiles in Oaxaca: El Escapulario
Chiles de agua
Chiles de agua, translating to “water chilies,” are a variety of pepper native to Oaxaca. These peppers are medium-hot, offering a crisp, bright flavor.
They’re traditionally used in salsas or stuffed with cheese or meat to make Chiles Rellenos.
As their name suggests, these chilies are watered a lot during their growth, giving them a fresh, fiery flavor that adds a kick to any dish.
📍 Where to have chiles de agua in Oaxaca: Las Tlayudas Antojería Oaxaqueña
Mezcal is a distilled alcoholic beverage made from the fermented juice of various species of agave, a plant native to Mexico.
In Oaxaca, where most mezcal is produced, it’s often enjoyed straight or with a side of orange slices and worm salt. The drink has a distinctive smoky flavor, derived from the traditional method of roasting the agave hearts in pit ovens before fermentation.
Mezcal’s cultural significance in Oaxaca extends beyond culinary uses—it plays a central role in religious and communal ceremonies. Its production methods, steeped in tradition, have been passed down through generations.
📍 Where to have mezcal in Oaxaca: Go to a palenque for an authentic mezcal experience outside Oaxaca City.
🍲 Oaxaca food: soups
Caldo de gato
Despite its literal translation to “cat soup,” Caldo de gato is not what it sounds like. It’s a colloquial term for a variety of seafood soup or broths in Oaxacan cuisine, typically prepared using a base of fish stock, tomatoes, and aromatic herbs.
The ingredients can vary, but it often includes a variety of seafood like shrimp, clams, mussels, octopus, and other locally available seafood.
The broth is rich and flavorsome, infused with a taste of the ocean, making it a delicious representative of Oaxaca’s coastal cuisine.
📍 Where to have caldo de gato in Oaxaca: Restaurante El Fortincito
Caldo de Piedra
Caldo de Piedra is a traditional Oaxacan dish that translates to “Stone Soup.”
The name comes from the unique cooking method where heated river stones are placed into a gourd bowl filled with broth and raw ingredients like fish or shrimp, chilies, tomatoes, and aromatic herbs.
The hot stones bring the soup to a boil, cooking the ingredients and infusing the broth with a subtle, earthy flavor. This ancient culinary practice, preserved by the Chinantec people of Oaxaca.
📍 Caldo de piedra is not common in restaurants but you can join my Hierve El Agua tour which stops in a local community who makes caldo de piedra!
Sopa de Guias
Sopa de Guias, or “squash vine soup,” is a quintessential summer dish in Oaxacan cuisine. It features the edible parts of the squash plant, including the young leaves (guias), tendrils, flowers (flor de calabaza), and even young squash.
These ingredients are simmered with tomatoes, onions, and garlic to make a light, herbaceous broth. Often, tender pieces of corn and a type of Mexican dumpling called chochoyotes are added to the mix.
The soup highlights the Oaxacan tradition of utilizing the whole plant in cooking, reducing waste and celebrating the bounty of the region’s agriculture.
📍 Where to have sopa de guias in Oaxaca: Restaurante El Fortincito
🥘 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.
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.
Oaxaca’s food culture is heavily influenced by its geography, with the Pacific coast providing a bounty of seafood, and the fertile valleys yielding numerous varieties of corn, chilies, beans, and herbs.
Its culinary repertoire also includes unique ingredients like chapulines (toasted grasshoppers) and huitlacoche (corn fungus), showcasing its exceptional biodiversity.
What is Oaxaca sauce?
Oaxaca sauce, also known as Mole Rojo, is a traditional Mexican sauce 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.
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.
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, pozole, and tlayudas.
✈️ Oaxaca travel recommendations
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.