Like the chefs at Big City Chefs…I absolutely love to travel. We all love wandering around museums, experiencing different cultures, and learning about different people and places; but, one of our favorite things about traveling, do you even have to ask?! The food of course!! Exploring market places, learning about different cooking styles, ingredients and methods and maybe taste testing here and there 😉
But the food discovery and mind blowing flavor combos doesn’t end when we go home. Those of us enthusiastic about culinary travel always bring a little bit of our trip home with us…trying to duplicate and put new twists on the amazing food we tried while abroad. Working with fellow food aficionados is awesome because we can share our exciting flavor discoveries and work together to recreate authentic flavors right at home!
Last year I went to Oaxaca Mexico twice and let me tell you…the food was incredible! They have all the regular classic Mexican dishes but with a unique twist. I am not a chef by trade…but I would definitely consider myself a food lover. In my spare time I peruse food blogs, food magazines, and cook books. I watch food network, cooking channel, Top Chef, No Reservations….my love of food goes way beyond just eating. I am the first person my friends go to for restaurant/recipe recommendations. So here are some of my culinary-related MUSTS for people thinking of exploring Oaxaca City… or even if you don’t plan on traveling any time soon maybe you will be inspired to try and incorporate some new delicious flavors into your next fiesta!
1. Holy Mole– Oaxaca is often called the “Land of 7 Moles.” I still haven’t found a restaurant that serves all 7 nor have I found a Oaxqueño that can name all 7 types… you still shouldn’t leave without trying the two most popular varieties, black and red mole.
2. Queso Oaxqueño—Similar to mozzarella cheese but better if that is possible?? It is stringy and white like mozerella but it has a more smokey, rich flavor that enhances any omelette, quesadilla, torta or naked piece of pan (not the dulce kind).
3.Manila Mangos—these mangoes are oh so sweet and cannot be beat. Many of the manila mangoes we import in the US actually come from coastal regions of Oaxaca. So when in Oaxaca do as the Oaxacans do and eat what is freshest and what comes from the region. There’s really nothing better than a simple sliced mango sprinkled with a little bit of chile powder.
4. Tyludas—I can’t say this for the life of me… but its worth stumbling through the pronunciation just for a bite of this pizza-esk dish. Tyludas are the name of the type of tortilla that makes up the base of the dish. The tortillas are super grande and crispier than the average tortilla and are usually made out of flour rather than freshly ground corn. This is then covered in a thin layer of beans topped with queso oaxqueño and avocado. It isn’t a flavor explosion because all of the ingredients have very subtle flavors; however, the texture combo of the tortilla, cheese, avocado, meat (opt)… all slathered in salsa (if you like it hot like me J) is extraordinary!! A dish enjoyed by all Oaxacans.
5. Abastos Market—One of the most lively and fun markets I have been two (a little like Chatachuk in Bangkok but less chaotic). We arrived just as vendors were setting up and people were still eating their morning meal of café and pan dulce. Wander the endless rows of raw meat, fruits and veggies, artisan crafts… taking pictures, inhaling the various food smells and enjoying the hustle and bustle of the marketplace.
Gringita WARNING: Don’t wear shorts, not only did I blind vendors with my winter-pale legs, who were setting up for the busy day ahead but I attracted a lot of unwanted attention. Long skirts or pants are preferred. Also, beware of pickpockets and avoid wearing flashy jewelry. This is a standard rule for travelers but especially when you are in a busy marketplace.
6. The nightly promenade on the Zocalo—I don’t really recommend the food at the restaurants around the square. You will see a few natives of the city eating there but I am convinced that this is more because it is the “happening” place to hang out and be seen whether you are seeing friends, meeting a lover or quietly listening to the live music. El jardin on the corner closest to Av Independencia has delicious beer on tap and elotes carts wheel out every night to grill up fresh ears of corn which you can then cover with delicious toppings like chile, queso and lime (Yum!!)
7. Mezcal—Mezcal, unlike Tequila is O-Natural. It comes from a plant called Maguey that looks a little like a giant aloe plant and does not contain any chemicals. I’ve heard it described as a cross between tequila and whiskey and the crema varieties taste a lot like Baileys… It’s pretty good. Definitely worth sampling.
WARNING: It is 18% alc. And while the man selling it to me said that I wouldn’t get headaches from drinking it because it is natural… I’m a bit skeptical. If that were the case I am sure Mezcal would be renamed “miracle,” and advertised as hangover free alcohol….but because this isn’t the case I am forced to believe it induces just as much regret as tequila if consumed in mass quantities.