Located in the south of Mexico, Oaxaca is a lush and diverse state both agriculturally and culturally. Although it is a costal state, 80% is comprised of mountain ranges, canyons and valleys that are home to sixteen indigenous tribal natives that have maintained their language and traditions throughout the centuries, including food.[i] Oaxaca is a mixture or “mezcla” of indigenous groups, Africans, and descendants of Spanish colonizers. Few places on earth can boast of the rituals, customs, and language as Oaxaca can.
The moderate climate of Oaxaca, along with the annual rainfall makes it a perfect home for over 30,000 plant species. Most Oaxaca residents are farmers, with coffee, mangos, corn, oranges, sugarcane, and beans serving as the main crops.[ii] Given its geography, seafood is a main staple as well. While there are numerous ingredients and dishes unique to Oaxaca, here are a few prominent foods that can be found in this region:
- Corn – One of the main staples throughout the entirety of Mexico is corn, however, an interesting fact is that the Zapotecs (the largest indigenous group of the area) developed the clay griddle known as the comal, used to make the iconic corn tortillas.[iii]
- Chiles – The essentiality of chiles is significant. Oaxacan chiles specifically are known for their unique smoky flavor profile. Pasilla chiles are found in the Mixe territory, one of the only places that grows this highly sought-after culinary product. More specifically, Pasilla originates in the two Mixe towns of Santa María Alotepec and Santiago Atitlán. The inhabitants of this area have been growing and harvesting Pasilla chiles for generations. The chile is what residents claim gives their dishes distinct flavor and are a key component in the famous mole sauces. When harvested, these chiles are smoked with dried oak.[iv]
- Oaxacan Cheese – Savory yet mild, are two words to describe Oaxacan Cheese. While it belongs to the mozzarella family, it is traditionally made in rope-style form and wound into a knot. Oaxacan Cheese is great with refried beans, soup, and tostadas. Further, the excellent melting quality of this cheese makes it ideal for chiles rellenos and quesadillas.[v]
- Tamales Oaxaqueños – Oaxacan-style tamales are made with white corn masa, filling (pork, chicken, mushroom), and wrapped in a banana leaf. They are topped off with mole negro or mole verde.[vi]
- Tlayudas – Oaxaca is home of the tlayuda. It was created in the central valley of Oaxaca and serves as a longstanding staple and local specialty. In short, tlayuda is iconic, and known as “Mexican Pizza” because it is made with a large, round, corn tortilla and toped with ingredients such as beans, chorizo, beef, pork, chicken, lettuce, tomato, avocado, and of course, Oaxacan cheese. Tlayudas are baked on a clay grill over hot coals.[vii]
Tejate – One can quench their thirst after delighting in a flavorful meal of tamales or tlayudas with tejate, a traditional handmade Oaxacan drink made with toasted maize and fermented cacao ground together and thinned with water.[viii] Its color ranges from milky white to light brown, and is said to have a flavor described as floral, yet chocolatey.
Finally, no Oaxacan dish is complete until it is topped with one of the seven mole varieties. Fortunately, you do not have to book a plane ticket to enjoy the flavors of an authentic meal. Try your hand at creating Oaxacan cuisine by visiting the Halietza shop to learn more about our products. We carry Mole Rojo (aka mole poblano), Mole Negro, Mole Verde, Mole Amarillo, and Mole Coloradito in dehydrated form which makes it easier to cook with the flavors you love or want to explore.