A Tasty Trip to Oaxaca

936
Dia de los Muertos dancing in Oaxaca's zocalo.

I was in Oaxaca, Mexico last week for Dia de Los Muertos, and while there, I had a chance to taste many of the dishes, ingredients, and flavors that make Oaxaca (arguably) the culinary capital of Mexico, known for its seven moles, chocolate, and a lot more. This was my second visit, and because their cuisine is so deeply seasonal and local, very little of what I ate on the first trip was repeated–the menus and ingredients are constantly changing.

As customer tastes become more refined here in the States for Mexican food–the days of Tex-Mex defining Mexico’s cuisine are thankfully over–it’s crucial for chefs and hoteliers to seek what is both current and classic in the Mexican dishes they reproduce on their menus. That means visiting the source if the budget allows–like Omni Hotels and its Flavors of the World program–or paying closer attention to tradition, like Chef Julian Grainger at Hilton Minneapolis did with his caldo de piedra soup (watch our video of it here.)

Caldo de piedra (hot rock soup) is coincidentally another Oaxacan specialty. I mentioned to someone in Oaxaca that the iconic soup is on a group menu at a hotel in Minneapolis, and their wide-eyed reply was, “How did caldo de piedra get to Minnesota?” That’s the kind of wow factor chefs crave by putting an idea “from the source” on their menu, and it makes the time, effort, and expense seeking it worth the chase.

Here are some of the dishes I ate in Oaxaca. Notice the simple ingredients, creative plating, and vibrant colors. Also, it’s interesting to note that while Mexican food is not associated with health in the States, most of what I ate in Oaxaca was incredibly healthy, utilizing just-picked vegetables, fresh meats, masa, and cheese (like the tangy mozzarella-like quesillo Oaxaca) from the daily markets, and crafted into dishes by hand.

Veracruz red snapper (caught that morning) in mole verde with masa dumplings, pickled onions, chayote, squash, and peapods.
Veracruz red snapper (caught that morning) in mole verde with masa dumplings, pickled onions, chayote, squash, and peapods.
Mini tostadas with grilled pulpo (octopus), avocado, and sliced radish.
Mini tostadas with grilled pulpo (octopus), avocado, and sliced radish.
Flor de calabaza (squash blossom) soup.
Flor de calabaza (squash blossom) soup.
A folded tlayuda filled with rajas con queso (shredded poblano peppers and cheese) and sliced radishes.
A folded tlayuda filled with rajas con queso (shredded poblano peppers and cheese) and sliced radishes.
Handmade blue corn tacos filled with chicharrón (fried pig skin) in hot sauce; moronga (blood sausage); calabaza (squash); and tinga de pollo (chicken in adobo.)
Handmade blue corn tacos filled with chicharrón (fried pig skin) in hot sauce; moronga (blood sausage); calabaza (squash); and tinga de pollo (chicken in adobo.)
Hoja santa leaves stuffed with quesillo Oaxaca.
Hoja santa leaves stuffed with quesillo Oaxaca.
Mole coloradito (red mole) over shredded chicken enchiladas, topped with crumbled queso fresco.
Mole coloradito (red mole) over shredded chicken enchiladas, topped with crumbled queso fresco.
Pre-dinner snack of chapulines (roasted and seasoned grasshoppers), roasted red peanuts, and a Mexican beer (Victoria.) I bought these from a street vendor outside the market.
Pre-dinner snack of chapulines (roasted and seasoned grasshoppers), roasted red peanuts, and a Mexican beer (Victoria.) I bought these from a street vendor outside the market.
Boy Stout craft beer--brewed in Oaxaca.
Boy Stout craft beer–brewed in Oaxaca.