All the things you'll need to know to visit, to shop, to live in Oaxaca, Mexico!
This is the place to find what you're looking for if it has anything to do with Oaxaca.
in Oaxaca has always been a celebration of life and health.
Traditions determined the varieties of corn planted that would
be made into tortillas and the corn that would be toasted over
coals that would be eaten hot and fresh with a squeeze of limon
and a dash of red chile. Different from many areas in the country
of Mexico, Oaxaca and its people cherish and maintain their
traditions. The food in Oaxaca is the best I've ever eaten
and I never felt healthier than I did when living in Oaxaca.
There are surprises for all of you who will visit, delights
BEANS Frijol Negro
for these little beauties is always an adventure here in Oaxaca.
You'll see all sorts of different brands sold in one kilo plastic
bags at all of the large and small supermarkets. In one of the
neighborhood markets or at Benito Juárez or Abastos you'll
find beans sold loose in whatever quantity you need. Always look
for the smallest and shiniest beans you can find. These will be
beautiful huge beans on the left are sold fresh or
dried and are often cooked with a big bunch of the
flowers seen in the photograph on the right. Oddly
enough the flowers are from the bean plant that produces
the beans themselves. These two photographs were taken
at the tiny everyday market in Cuilapam de
Guerrero when we were visiting the monastery.
see Cuilapam Please Click Here
BEVERAGES -- ALCOHOLIC
Mescal and Tequila
sold for many years in foreign specialty markets, tequila took
a starring position on center stage in the last couple of decades.
What had always been a very popular and affordable traditional
liquor in Mexico now has priced itself out of much of the local
Mexican market. For many Mexicans, tequila was replaced by
mescal which is now also claiming a fair share of the international
market along side its brother drink, tequila. What many in
the lower economic classes may do is move toward enjoying pulque,
the most traditional of all alcoholic beverages in Mexico.
of these beverages are produced from the maguey plant, though
there are more commercial and productive varieties and more
coveted more difficult to grow specialty varieties and even
very coveted wild varieties. If one were to try to distinguish
between tequila and mescal by American standards, one could
think of commercially produced bourbon and the backwoods produced
illegal and still very popular moonshine. Unlike with moonshine,
the base maguey plants are not mixed. Each mescal is made with
only the produce of one variety of plant. Pulque was the pre-Columbian
mildly alcoholic and maybe psychotropic drink. Pulque is also
still considered by many Indian groups to have special healing
years past, maguey plants were taken from Oaxaca to be planted
in huge areas in the State of Jalisco where today production
of tequila is most notable. Mescal still holds sway in Oaxaca
where its production equals about the same amount as the Mexican
production of cognac.
one considers production of tequila or mescal, one has to consider
the variety of maguey that will be the basis of the liquor.
Domesticated and highly productive varieties include the Espadín,
Arruqueño, Mexicano, Tabasiche and Bicuishe. Wild varieties
most valued for their rarity or special properties may include
the Tobalá, Tepestate and Coyote.
in so many areas of the world that have not yet been standardized,
the making of mescal will depend on the maguey, the water,
the cook pot, the fire and the cooks gathered round to make
thanks go especially to Oaxacan Ernesto Antonio Pérez
Gijón who has been dealing with mescal for over 50 years.
He is as knowledgable as he is gracious.
BEVERAGES -- NON-ALCOHOLIC
This is the cadillac of traditional Oaxacan non-alcoholic
beverages. It dates from pre-Hispanic times when the Zapotecs ruled
this region and the tradition is still strong today. You will see
tejate sold in markets all over Oaxaca and only by women as they
are regarded as the keepers of the history of this drink. We were
given insight into its complexity by an old woman in the Benito Juárez
market whose small market stall was mostly devoted to selling the
required ingredients for tejate. She gave us the basic recipe, but
each one is said to be a little bit different. Here is what she told
|Go to the market and get the best of these three ingredients.
corn, mixed with ash from the burning of any tree
Rosita de Cacao flowers*, toasted
Cacao beans, toasted
Mammey seeds, toasted
of these ingredients are mixed and then ground together to make
a reasonably stiff smooth paste. The paste is put in the bottom
of a huge clay pot at least 18" in diameter. Gradually clean
fresh water is added from as high as the woman's arm can reach
as she kneads the mixture for almost a half hour. At that time
the pot is almost full and froth has gathered on top of the milky
mixture you can see in the photograph above. When it is served
it can be sweetened by putting some sugar syrup in the bottom
of the glass or gourd serving vessel. Probably the best place
to give it your first try is at the organic market in Xochilmilco
on Fridays and Saturdays. It might be said to be a cool frothy
flowery watery chocolate drink.
de Cacao flowers have nothing to do with the cacao tree, but
have been given this name
because they are such an essential ingredient in the chocolate
flavored tejate. The flowers retain their scent for years; even those found
in burial tombs in Mexico still have their wonderful fragrance. The tree
that bears the flowers is called the Funeral Tree with the Latin
funebris. The tree's origin is in the south of Mexico.
are baked in all sorts of shapes and sizes in Oaxaca and many
are sweet to be dipped in coffee or hot chocolate. Others are
used to make the well known Mexican tortas - sandwiches with
all sorts of fillings. These days fresh European
style breads -- Italian, baguettes, foccacias, whole
wheat, pitas, filled, farmers style, or spiced and flavored --
are also widely available in town. All of these fresh bakery
breads there are a variety of sliced packaged supermarket breads
so you have a lot of options.
Quesillo Doble Crema
of all kinds is an essential part of Mexican food and Oaxaca
is one of the best places to still find high quality cheeses.
Quesillo doble crema --
This is a cheese to dream about, much like mozzarella, but with
a bit more life and flavor. Whenever we return to Oaxaca we drop
off our luggage and make a run to the Benito Juárez market
for some tlayudas and a ball of this cheese; not a king in the
world has eaten better!!
Chihuahua (Menonita or Superfino)
is a Mexican cheese that most closely resembles American and
and the best of it is aged in large cheese cloth and wax
wheels. In Oaxaca it is still sold in the small market
on the zócalo. Elsewhere in Oaxaca and in many places
in Mexico it is no longer available. It has been replaced
by the plastic
bag of nationally branded generic cheese called queso chihuahua
which you can find at Pitico one of the small local supermarkets.
You'll be amused by the translation error,"queso
tipo chester," or Chester type cheese.
wonderful cheese is most akin to a firm ricotta. It is slightly
grainy, dry enough to slice for
a sandwich and firm enough to crumble on a taco. In general
it can be deliciously and comfortably used as a ricotta substitute
in such dishes as lasagna.
seems a basic food, maybe not even worth talking about, but it
is. In Oaxaca you will find chickens for stewing that will make
a broth your old mother would have been proud of. You will also
find younger chickens for frying, sauteing or baking. No matter
what you intend, you'll find the perfect chicken and it will
have a taste only us older folks will remember and you younger
folks will learn to love.
sold here in the markets in Oaxaca probably will not have the
hormone residues you are used to. Eat and enjoy!
are as much a part of Oaxacan cuisine as the cooks who have
made Mexican food world famous. Chiles are not just hot peppers;
they impart unique flavors along with their heat. Take a look
A to Z Tropical Garden web site to see lots of good photographs
descriptions of the Mexican chiles we have known well and loved
Click on the link below,
Huacle Negro (left) and Chile Morita (right)
Chile Pasilla Oaxaqueño Mixe
the last two decades Oaxacan cuisine has become widely known and
appreciated the world over. One of the changes that has resulted
in Oaxaca is photographed in the picture on the left -- freshly
ground chocolate has become big business.
segmented maguey worms, the larvae of the Hypopta agavis moth,
called chilocuiles, tecoles or chinicuiles are toasted
or fried, given a fresh squeeze of lime and served in a taco. It is
said to be a healthy snack, if you can get past their appearance. Luckily
I've never seen those for sale in the markets in Oaxaca, but there
is another fat, soft bodied one and one half inch purplish larvae sold
live in quantities in the Benito Juárez market at certain times
of the year that have sent me running. Called mocuiles, these
are larvae of the Tequila Giant-Skipper
(Aegiale hesperiaris) and a large full basket of these live
critters never gave me much of an appetite. I was always grateful they
were available fresh for a short period of time. Each of these moth
larvae infests the maguey and agave plants used to produce tequila
so harvesting them serves two purposes -- the plants must be freed
of these pests to produce at their best and once collected it doesn't
hurt that these high nutrient critters can be sold for human consumption.
Just don't invite me to dinner, thanks.
to me to be the most important fruit in Mexico as they are used
to make lemonade, to flavor almost all foods, to enhance the taste
of your beer and to cure what ails you. Who could imagine a restaurant
table without a small dish of sliced limes. And, these are not
the large hard bitter pulpy fruits we are so familiar with elsewhere.
They are smaller, juicier, more tart and simply essential to life
in Mexico. Because yellow lemons are not generally available in
the markets here in Oaxaca, use limes but for any international
recipe calling for lemons use about half the juice called for,
make up the difference in liquid.
This photograph was taken behind the Abastos market and you can appreciate
the quantity of platanos that are sold and consumed each day in Oaxaca. This
is a wonderful fruit as it can be peeled, cooked green and served almost like
a potato or other starchy vegetable or when peeled and cooked ripe it becomes
a sweet side dish or dessert often fancied up a bit with nuts and ice cream.
Negro and Zapote Chico or Nispero
These are unusual fruits, the zapote negro
seems downright unattractive in appearance being extremely
overripe and a bit lumpy because of it. When the deep green
skin is peeled back the pulp inside is very dark, hence
the name black or negro. The zapote chico is more appealing
from the outside and has a nice orangey color inside. If
you would like to know more about this fruit here is a
good web site to visit:
These are now used both fresh and dried to flavor a number
of foods in Oaxaca, some are said to be traditional some not. Apparently
the leaves were used prior to pre-Colonial times to flavor pork cooked
over an open fire. Now in some restaurants they are used to flavor
black beans. It is a wonderful new flavor, but it does limit the
ways in which beans can be used with other foods to make a basic
Note: Not all avocado leaves may be used. They
must be from Mexican criollo trees, as other avocado leaves may
be poisonous. Pictured to the right is an avocado from one of
these trees. The fruits are tiny, but even the skin is edible.
This is as common in Mexican cooking as parsley might be in European
style food. Look for what is called "criollo" (kri-o-yo).
This is the young cilantro plant, no more than 12 inches tall, and it has a delightful
fresh flavor. Older plants are wonderful too, but the younger ones are just that
Cinnamon is endemic in Mexico and especially in Oaxaca where
it is even used as a very traditional flavoring for chocolate. It
might even be said that it is difficult to buy chocolate here without
the added flavor of cinnamon regardless of what the packaging says.
is the most traditional of black bean flavorings. The leaves are
used fresh added to the pot in the last half hour of cooking. Having
imparted their distinctive flavor and health benefits, they are always
removed before the beans are pureed.
As you can see in the photograph to the right, garlic is an
essential ingredient in Mexican cooking as it is in Italy, though
you will almost never enter a home or restaurant in either country
thinking, "Oh, garlic!" Garlic is used as a flavoring,
its use is subtle; it is not considered one of the basic food groups
as it is all too often in the United States.
Note: I had heard that garlic was
a potent anti-helminthic (anti-worming food) so I asked my veterinarian
who was one of the special ones that really cared well for the
animals that were his patients (more than for their owners).
He said, "Well, if your dog could eat a bushel bag of garlic
for a few days running, it might help."
This is often sold dried to be used in making mole. You can find
it fresh so do look around if you like to make Chinese stir fry or
other dishes that call for fresh ginger. Do also think about ginger
This is a heady mix of oregano, marjoram and laurel.
is a leafy herb sold fresh in season for making teas that heal digestive
problems and as a flavoring in special foods. The tea can also be made
from dried leaves.
Note: the fresh branches of leaves dry out very quickly.
Beef, Pork and Sausages
enchilada (spiced pork), chorizo (Mexican sausage),
and tasajo (tender very thin sliced beef) are three staples
here in Oaxaca. You will find them on almost every traditional
restaurant menu, but one of the best places to give them a try
is in the 20th of Noviembre market in the center of town.
here to take a look.
These are the parts of cows and pigs rarely sold these
days in standard American or European supermarkets; you have to look
for specialty butcher shops. Here in Oaxaca one corner of the Benito
Juárez market is devoted to the sale of these meats and a
couple of days a week you'll also find lamb for sale there. As you
can see in these photographs, you'll find pigs feet, beef heart,
liver and stomach. Of all of these, I find the feet most appealing
so below are two recipes.
Guadalupe Pérez Santiago, former restaurateur,
kindly gave us two of her recipes for pork feet. They are both
with Pigs Feet (Patas con Frijol)
1 kilo of pork feet sliced lengthwise and then crosswise into
2" pieces (the butcher will do this)
1 kilo of black beans
1 whole head of garlic
1/2 large white onion
5 stems of fresh epazote (or more to taste)
salt to taste
Pick over the beans to remove any stones or damaged beans and then rinse them.
Boil enough water to cover the beans in a big pot with a cover. When the water
is boiling add the beans and cook for about 45 minutes at a low boil or until
about half done. Add the entire head of garlic, unpeeled, the onion and epazote
and of course the pig's feet pieces, cover and bring to a boil again turning
down the heat a little. Watch that there is enough liquid to keep everything
cooking, but not too much. If you need to add water always be sure it is boiling
first. When the beans are done the dish is ready to serve with fresh hot tortillas.
Feet in Escabeche (Patas en Escabeche)
10 pigs feet prepared as above
fresh jalapeno peppers cut in quarters lengthwise and then in half
1/4 kilo fresh carrots sliced in rounds
oregano, laurel, marjoram
5 whole cloves and five peppercorns
2 cups white vinegar (500 ml)
4 medium white onions chopped
1 head of garlic unpeeled
a few tablespoons of oil
salt to taste
In a large heavy frying pan heat the oil adding the oregano, laurel, marjoram,
cloves and peppercorns, garlic, carrots and onions. Stir over medium high heat
until everything is giving up its aroma then add the pigs feet, vinegar and salt
to taste. Add a cup of water or so, cover and cook until the feet are done. With
sides of beans or rice, a nice salsa and fresh hot tortillas, this will serve
6 or 7 folks.
in the Shell
are freshly made tortillas topped with any variety of ingredients
(see the photograph on the right with squash blossoms and quesillo).
Once the tortilla and the ingredients have heated the tortilla
is folded in half and sealed. In the tortilleria where we took
these photographs they had the added feature of taking the cooked
quesidilla and putting it in the natural charcoal fired oven
that you can see to the left below. These quesadillas are a little
taste of heaven!
in anywhere in the world these days, you might want to take a
little extra care with seafood. The Benito Juárez market
has about one third of one its aisles devoted to the sale of
seafood -- fish, shrimp and more. Some days it is very appealing
and some not. You'll have to investigate to assure yourself that
what you are buying is clean and fresh as you do in your hometown.
Freshly Made Vegetable Soup Starter Mixes
days you can find prepared foods, both cooked and fresh, in any
supermarket in the States and Europe. In Mexico for years women
in markets have been preparing and selling soup bases and vegetables
for other dishes as standard fare. Somehow they always look better
than what I find back home! Everyday, market women get out their
knives, tiny wooden chopping blocks and an assortment of fresh
vegetables which are peeled, chopped, broken, sliced, diced or
decoratively added whole to small plastic bags which are deftly
tied while another batch of vegetables goes under the knife.
Always in a hurry, shoppers stop, quickly picking up a bag to
bring home as a starter for one of the mid-day meal's many courses,
usually starting with soup (sopa).
de maize blanco, negro ó amarillo
These are very large hand made semi dried tortillas made from
white, blue (called black in Oaxaca) or yellow corn. Eaten as they
are they have a chewy tough texture; heat them up and eat them as you
would a smaller softer tortilla or stuff them full of goodies like
black beans and quesillo and then heat
them slowly on a comal turning to toast each side. Combine this with
some salsa Mexicana and you are in touch with the Gods.
The tlayudas you see on the right are made of blue corn but actually appear more
gray than blue. They are my personal favorite.
These are very large hand made semi dried tortillas made from whole
wheat flour. They are not common, but when you see them do give them
a try. You won't be disappointed.
Camotes are a Mexican version of the American sweet
potato. As a lover of sweet potatoes I have to say I think the camote
is right up there in flavor with the yellow "Jersey Sweet." Here
in Oaxaca the camote is boiled and then bathed in honey and sold and
served as a dessert. Try baking camotes, serving them as an alternative
to baked white potatoes. Be generous with butter and you'll be very
happy. You can also think of the camote simply as a sweet potato and
use your favorite recipe to prepare them.