I was not sure if I was going to do another food post after Mexico City, but I got a lot of great feedback (apparently I am not the only person obsessed with good food), so I thought I have to do one for the most famous food city in Mexico, Oaxaca.
I first learned about Oaxacan food from Rick Bayless’s show Mexico, One Plate at a Time on PBS. I loved that show, and the food from Oaxaca always stood out to me. Rick Bayless has a great food guide to Oaxaca, that will help you find some of the cities best kept secrets. He also has one of the best Mexican restaurants in the US in Chicago, called Fronterra Grill, that I went to whenever I was in the city for business. It is really good, go if you are in Chicago.
In my opinion, street food is still king in Oaxaca. You can get very good, very fresh food in all the mercados in the city. Here were a few highlights for us:
Mercado de la Democracia
The empanadas at La Guerita were the best in the city hands down. Lots of vegetarian options, my favorites were the squash blossoms and the mushrooms. They use very fresh quesillo here (the famous Oaxacan melty cheese), the cheese is so flavorful, to die for.
Squash blossom empanadas with fresh made tortillas and the best cheese I ate in Oaxaca.
The stand is in the corner of the market, the food is cooked over hot coals on a clay stove top.
Market near Zocalo
This is the Oaxacan. Three grilled meats and three sets of enchiladas with mole negro, mole coloradito and mole rojo. OMG. It was good. It was enough food for all three of us to share.
The three types of mole for sale in the mercado. Our favorite was the coloradito.
This grill area is in the mercado. You get a basket, pick the meat and veggies you want and they grill it for you and give you fresh tortillas and salsas. It was really fun and delicious.
More empanadas here. I am not sure why they are not called quesadillas in Oaxaca. I just go with the flow =) They had a pumpkin one here and cactus. Yummy.
These small plums were amazing. Small and very sweet, they tasted like the purple plums in California.
If you are in this market try the horchata con tuna (no picture unfortunately), it is the cinnamon spiked rice milk drink with a scoop of cactus fruit sorbet (the tuna part, no fish). So good!
Zapotec food in Teotitlán del Valle
The largest indigenous population in and around Oaxaca is the Zapotec people, and their food plays a large role in Oaxacan cuisine. My Mom bought us a full day cooking class at El Sabor Zapoteco, taught by Reyna Medoza, and we had a blast learning about traditional Zapotec cuisine and traditional food in the small village market.
Renya making the traditional Oaxacan hot chocolate (water based) from chocolate that her mother grinds on their family metate. It was really good.
My Mom learning how to toast corn on the wood fired clay comal. Most of the food in Oaxaca is cooked on comals.
Close up of the corn. Some popped into popcorn =)
After the corn is toasted it is ground on the metate. I did this as well, it was hard work.
Renya bought the small plums I loved in the market and made a fruit agua with them, really good. We also ate our first chipolines here (fried grasshoppers in the corn husk on the right) she told us the small ones tasted best. They were crunchy, I am not sure if they will be a diet staple for me…..
One of the dished we learned to make was squash blossoms stuffed with Oaxacan queso fresco and battered and deep fried. Yum.
Tlamanalli is a VERY famous restaurant run by the Mendoza family. If you want to taste top notch Zapotec food, this is the place to come. Google it, it has been in everything from the New York Times to Travel and Leisure.
The squash blossom soup was so delicate, it was one of those dished that is mind blowing in its simplicity and depth of taste.
My Mom got the mole negro and it was our favorite dish. Very complex mole with hints of bitter chocolate.
Chocolate and Coffee
In the areas around Oaxaca they grow coffee beans and chocolate, so you can get high quality examples of both in the city. They have an entire street with chocolate shops, for a chocolate lover like myself, it was a little overwhelming. Go to Mayordomo and watch them drop a huge block of chocolate into hot water and whip it with a wand to chocolate heaven.
I loved the hot chocolate with water instead of milk, you can taste the chocolate better in my opinion.
There are lots of places to get great coffee in the city. We went to Brujula a lot near the Zocalo, they have the best banana bread I have ever had.
Sometimes it is fun to eat something from home, great waffles in the coffee shop with lots of fruit.
A few other things…
If you are in Oaxaca, make sure to try the nieves, they are fresh fruit sorbets that are wonderful in the heat. Mom and I enjoying a mango ice.
There is great Mezcal made all around Oaxaca, almost all the shops will let you sample them, the anejo are like brandy, good for sipping.
This is just a portion of what we ate in the city. We did go to chef Pilar Cabrera’s restaurant, La Olla and were a little disappointed. My Mom got the worst meal she had in Oaxaca, her meat was so tough she could barley eat it. It was expensive and full of gringos (not one Mexican, which is a bad sign to me). The food in the markets is so good, it was hard to justify paying so much more for the cuisine we ate here, but this is just personal opinion.
Overall, Oaxaca is a city for food lovers, we pretty much loved every meal we ate here. I am going to miss that cheese…..