The Cuisine of Oaxaca, Land of the Seven Moles

articles Food & Cuisine Regional Cuisines

Karen Hursh Graber

While Mexican cooking varies from one region of the country to another, no State compares with Oaxaca in the variety of cuisines found within its borders.

The natural geographic divisions created by the mountain ranges (Sierras) criss-crossing the state, have given rise to distinct cultures and micro climates within Oaxaca. Differing local foods and their culinary use by indigenous peoples combine to provide the enormous variety of Oaxacan dishes.

A clay casserole of mole for a Oaxaca feast © Alvin Starkman, 2007
A clay casserole of mole for a Oaxaca feast © Alvin Starkman, 2007

Known as the “Land of the Seven Moles,” Oaxaca is blessed with an abundance of vegetables grown in the central valley; fish and shellfish from the southern coast and Isthmus regions; and a year-round supply of tropical fruit from the lush area bordering Veracruz.

As in other southern Mexican states, corn is the staple food, and creative variations with corn dough are found all over – from the entomatadas and emapnadas de mole amarillo of the central valleys, to the exotic iguana tamales of the Isthmus. Tortillas, known as blandas, are an integral part of nearly every meal – from the most sophisitcated mole to the humble but delicious lentils and beans.

Oaxaqueños are particularily fond of black beans, and these frijoles negras are commonly served in the the form of soup, snack-food topping, and as a sauce for enfrijoladas.

One of the most distinctive ingredients used to flavour beans and other regional specialities is the pasilla oaxaqueña chile, with its hot, smoky taste and deep red color. Amarillos, chilhuacles, chilcostles and costeños are other Oaxacan chiles used in moles and sauces.

Herbs provide yet another facet of flavor in Oaxaca’s culinary repertoire. Hoja santa, perhaps the most well-known of the region’s unique herbs, is guaranteed to lend a true Oaxacan touch to chicken, pork and fish dishes, and is indispensible in making the herb mole called simply Verde in most parts of the state.

Epazote and pitonia are other herbs favored by Oaxacan cooks.

In addition to mole, Oaxaca is probably most famous for its chocolate. Frequently hand-ground, cacao is combined with almonds, cinnamon and other ingredients to make what is generally acknowledged as the best chocolate in Mexico.

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Published or Updated on: January 1, 2006 by Karen Hursh Graber © 2008
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