Why I love Oaxaca – Mexico’s gastronomic heart
Let’s get the awkwardness out of the way shall we?
I know exactly what you’re thinking. So many vowels in one word. And what does one do with that ‘x’? You could spend hours trying to work out how to pronounce Oaxaca but I’ll spare you. ‘Wahaca’ is the phonetic pronunciation, and by happenstance is also a chain of Mexican restaurants in the UK. Clearly the founder didn’t think ‘Oaxaca’ would cut through on the high street.
Oaxaca had been sitting in the periphery of my greedy mind for quite some time. I knew from reading food press and listening to general foodie chit chat that Oaxaca was a True. Foodie. Heaven. Up there with San Sebastian. Bangkok. Palermo. How could a city famous for seven moles be anything but?
I’d tried to squeeze it into a previous trip to Mexico but knew even then that a few days would not do. I’d argue that my ensuing 10 day trip did not quite cut the mustard either but it was at least enough time to eat an extraordinary amount of delicious and unique dishes, many of which can’t be found elsewhere in Mexico.
It would take me days, even weeks, to list all the dishes that need to be tried in Oaxaca. Some have travelled over the border well – enchiladas (although vastly different from the Tex Mex version), tamales, tostadas. Others were brand new to me – tlayudas, tetelas, memelitas. There are so many things you can do with a tortilla it made my head spin; Mexicans are true origamists.
You’d certainly have to start at one of the incredible markets. Mercado Benito Juárez, Mercado 20 de Noviembre and Central de Abastos are all terrific but for a traditional breakfast it has to be Mercado La Merced. My local friend Oscar introduced me to the delights of frothy hot chocolate with pan de yema and its similarly sweet starchy friends. Dip the carby delights into frothy hot chocolate for a sweet kickstart to your day.
Then move onto something savoury such as memelitas (fried tortillas with tomato, chilli, beans and fresh cheese) and enchiladas – not rolled in Tex Mex style but rather layered like a loose lasagne, doused in a green chilli mole and topped with the stretchy Oaxacan cheese I find so addictive. Plus a side of fried beef short ribs for good luck. Read More