12 Foods You Must Try in Oaxaca

12 Foods You Must Try in Oaxaca

Indulge in Diverse, Indigenous Oaxacan Cuisine 


Oaxaca may be known as the “land of the 7 moles,” but there’s way more to Oaxacan food than just these sauces! 


This famous southern Mexican cuisine is extremely diverse. It’s all thanks to the variety of climates in Oaxaca, plus the influences of 17 distinct indigenous peoples. 


From scrumptious street food and drinks, to restaurant bites, to market fare, to family recipes, there’s something for everyone’s appetite in Oaxaca. This cuisine even earned Mexico the first spot on UNESCO’S Intangible Cultural Heritage list for food alone!


But what are the best Oaxacan foods that you can’t miss on your trip? Read on to find out!


Stick around until the end of the article for a special surprise! But first, here are the 12 foods you must try in Oaxaca.




Late-Night Pizza, Oaxacan Style
Tlayudas are also known as “Oaxacan pizza.” They start with a fried corn tortilla, refried beans, and pork fat. Then, it’s time for the toppings---and like many Oaxacan foods, each restaurant or street vendor puts their own spin on the dish.  Common toppings include cabbage, tomato, lettuce, pork, beef, chorizo, and melted quesillo (Oaxacan cheese). Street vendors usually fold tlayudas over, but many restaurants serve them open-faced, almost like a traditional pizza. Make sure to grab a tlayuda for a late-night snack!




An Oaxacan Essential
I know I said we need to look beyond sauces, but an Oaxacan cuisine list just isn’t complete without mole! Mole’s a sauce made from roasted, ground, and simmered ingredients. Many moles are quite complex, combining sweet, hot,  salty, and bitter tastes. You’ll find mole on tamales, enchiladas and more. Let’s check out  the famous 7 kinds of mole here: 

  • Mole negro (black mole, pictured above) is probably the most famous mole (and the most well-known outside of Oaxaca, too). Its sweet kick comes from a blend of chiles and plenty of chocolate.
  • Mole rojo (red mole) combines chiles, almonds, spices, and a little bit of chocolate.
  • Mole coloradito (little red mole) is a lighter shade of red than mole rojo. It features leafy spices, chiles, and plantain leaves. 
  • Mole verde (green mole) blends pumpkin seeds, tomatillos, and jalapenos with cilantro and other greens. It’s fresh and nutty, with just the right amount of spice. 
  • Mole amarillo (yellow mole) focuses on just the chiles. Since it doesn’t have chocolate or nuts, it’s less sweet and complex than other moles. Think of it as “Mexican marinara” or “Mexican curry sauce.”
  • Mole chichilo is harder to find, but worth it. Beef stock combines with dried chiles, garlic and onions, and then gets thickened up. This mole usually covers red meat. 
  • Mole manchamantel (table-staining mole) is where things get fruity, thanks to pineapples and plantains. These fruits mix with tomatoes, chiles, and chorizo for spice, saltiness, and diverse depth. Don’t get this one on your clothes!

One more thing. These 7 moles are traditional formulas, but Oaxacan cooks love to mix things up and add different ingredient combinations.  There’s really way more than 7 moles when you count all of the variations!

Want to learn how to make popular Oaxacan dishes, plus famous mole to top them with? Check out this cooking class!

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Beans Are the Stars
Frijoles means beans, so it’s fitting that black beans play a big role in this Oaxacan dish. Rolled, fried tortillas get stuffed with meat or cheese, then topped with black beans and bean sauce. But, there’s a twist. These beans are stewed with the leaves of the local avocado plant!




Start Your Day Off Right
A breakfast staple, these pan-toasted corn rounds (thicker than tortillas) could be topped with pork, asiento (pork lard), mashed beans, quesillo, or even eggs. They’re a bit crispy, but not crunchy. Oaxacans call them one of the antojitos, meaning “little cravings” or snacks. Start your morning on the right note! 




Stuffed to the Brim
These filled triangular pockets of masa (ground corn) may seem simple, but don’t be fooled. These antojitos are super satisfying! Usually, tetelas are stuffed until they almost burst. Beans are the most common filling, but tetelas could have meat, crema, or melted quesillo inside, too. They’re best right off the griddle! Some people compare them to quesadillas---just way more packed. 

Eager to make Oaxacan dishes after trying mouthwatering tetelas? Then this cooking class is for you!

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Carne Asada


Meet This Meat at the Mercado
This one’s for the serious meat lovers, especially the steak fans. Carne asada’s grilled, tender marinated beef. The best place to grab this Mexican staple is the Carne Asada Hall at Oaxaca’s famous Mercado 20 de Noviembre. There, you’ll order raw cuts of meat and veggies, then watch them get grilled right in front of you! As an added bonus, you’ll eat your carne asada while the smoky meat aromas surround you. 




Say Cheese!
Quesillo is famous Oaxacan brined cheese. It’s like mozzarella or string cheese, but much saltier thanks to the brining. You can usually find it rolled up in ribbons at the mercado--- if you’re buying some, merchants will unwind and cut it, like yarn.  Eat it on its own or in dishes like tlayudas and memelas. 


Oaxacan Empanadas


Not Your Average Empanadas
Oaxacan empanadas are a bit different from the doughy, fried, closed-in empanadas you might expect. They’re more like memelas, but with a thinner and bigger corn tortilla base. These bases are stuffed, roasted on a comal (roasting pan), and then folded. Like tlayudas, empanadas have many filling combinations. Meat lovers will enjoy chicken and mole empanadas; vegetarians will love the quesillo and flor de calabaza (squash blossom) version!

You’ll Go Bananas For These Tamales
Although you can find traditional corn-husk tamales in Oaxaca, opt for the Oaxacan version of the dish when possible. Oaxacan tamales use banana leaves for the wrapping instead of the husk, and this keeps the fillings moist. Chicken, black beans, and mole are common fillings (similar to the fillings of traditional tamales). Pick tamales up in the mercado or from a street vendor. 

Take the tastes of Oaxaca home with you---take a cooking class.

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Chocolate Drinks


Chocolate Lovers, Rejoice!
 Cacao is native to Mexico, so the area’s ancient peoples used it in drinks constantly. It’s only fitting that this tradition continues today! In Oaxaca, you drink chocolate way more often than you eat it. You’ll probably get bars or balls of the chocolate and mix it into hot milk or water yourself. If you choose milk, you’re having “chocolate de leche;” choose water, and you’re having “chocolate de agua.” Sometimes, your chocolate will come with sweet bread for dunking. Dunk away---that’s tradition!




Drink of the Gods
Corn, cacao, mamey fruit seeds, and the flor de cacao flower are all ground together, mixed with water, and then sweetened to make this refreshing indigenous drink.   These may sound like unusual ingredients, but give tejate a try and see why it’s called the “drink of the gods!” It’s got a unique earthy, flowery, nutty and slightly chocolatey taste. Oh, and it’s actually quite filling, too! Look for people making it fresh on the streets or in a mercado. 




“Chips” For the Daring
Chapulines are a crunchy snack of grasshoppers...yes, you read that right! Grasshoppers! The grasshoppers are toasted with chili, lime, and garlic, so they’re almost like a more adventurous version of spicy chips. Chapulines might not be for everyone, but they are a unique Oaxacan delicacy that daring travelers need to get their hands on! It’s said that people who eat chapulines in Oaxaca will return to the region someday, so why not try out this legend for yourself?



This is it...but now comes the surprise! 
So, here they are--- the 12 foods you must try in Oaxaca! Want to take some of these Oaxacan flavors home with you? Well, you can learn how to make many of these foods yourself in a cooking class!
Use the promo code _____ and get a _____ discount on a cooking class at www.cookly.me

Explore Cooking Classes in Oaxaca


Written by Jessica Huhn for Cookly.

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