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Home » Blog » Exploring Oaxacan Cuisine: 29 Must-Try Dishes in Oaxaca, Mexico

Exploring Oaxacan Cuisine: 29 Must-Try Dishes in Oaxaca, Mexico

Nestled in the rugged, sun-kissed landscapes of southern Mexico, you’ll discover a culinary treasure trove like no other. Oaxacan food, hailing from the state of Oaxaca, is a vibrant tapestry of flavors and traditions. It spans centuries, crosses continents, and reflects a rich cultural heritage. It’s a testament to the fertile lands and artisanal traditions of the region. This cuisine is a gastronomic journey that beckons adventurous palates from around the globe. As you delve into the heart of Oaxacan food, you’ll find a fascinating blend of pre-Hispanic ingredients and European influences. Complex moles, aromatic herbs, and exotic delicacies like chapulines (roasted grasshoppers) share the stage with maize, beans, and chiles.

The history of Oaxacan food

Oaxacan cuisine traces its roots to the time before the Spanish arrived. Indigenous communities, like the Zapotecs and Mixtecs, relied on staples such as maize, beans, squash, and chili peppers for their diet. They played a pivotal role in the history of cacao and chocolate. Indigenous people created a bitter cacao-based beverage flavored with spices, foreshadowing modern hot chocolate. During this time, they developed moles, intricate sauces with distinct recipes used in indigenous rituals and feasts.

The Spanish’s arrival in the early 16th century brought significant changes to Oaxacan cuisine. They introduced European ingredients, such as pork, beef, dairy products, and wheat, fundamentally reshaping the local culinary landscape. The Spanish also influenced cooking techniques and introduced new utensils. Oaxacan dishes were adapted for use in religious feasts and banquets, with moles, particularly, taking on a central role in these celebrations. Oaxaca’s strategic location as a crossroads between Mexico City and Central America facilitated the exchange of culinary ideas and ingredients, leading to the fusion of indigenous and Spanish elements in Oaxacan cuisine.

Today, Oaxacan cuisine retains strong ties to tradition while embracing modern influences. The region’s diverse landscapes, from lush mountains to coastal regions, provide an abundance of fresh ingredients, contributing to the cuisine’s richness and biodiversity. Traditional cooking methods, such as grinding with stone tools (metates), roasting chiles and spices, and using clay comals and cazuelas, are still widely employed. Oaxacan cuisine continues to be a source of cultural pride and celebration. Festivals, food markets, and culinary traditions preserve its heritage, and it has gained recognition both nationally and internationally for its depth of flavor, diverse ingredients, and its significant role in Oaxacan culture.

Join us on a culinary adventure through the enchanting world of Oaxacan food, where each dish is a homage to tradition, a celebration of heritage, and an invitation to savor the extraordinary.

1. Mole

Mole Oaxacan Food
photo from : foodrepublic

a cornerstone of Oaxacan cuisine, showcases the region’s culinary artistry. Oaxaca boasts a rich tradition of moles, each a masterpiece in its own right. Among these treasures, one finds the velvety depths of mole negro (black mole), the fiery embrace of mole coloradito (red mole), and the vibrant green hues of mole verde (green mole). These complex, time-honored sauces are lovingly prepared, incorporating a symphony of ingredients such as chiles, chocolate, spices, and more. Often, they grace the tender, succulent meats of chicken, turkey, or pork, creating a harmonious blend of flavors that captivate the senses and pay homage to the deep-rooted culinary heritage of Oaxaca.

2. Tlayudas

Tlayudas Oaxacan Food
photo from : getflavor

Tlayudas, often referred to as “Oaxacan pizza,” are a beloved Oaxacan street food delight. To prepare them, people generously spread refried beans and Oaxacan cheese on large, thin tortillas, which imparts a rich, creamy flavor. Toppings like lettuce and a choice of meat or other ingredients are then added to suit your taste. Once assembled, they cook the tlayuda until the tortilla becomes slightly crispy, making it easy to fold and eat. This Oaxacan specialty is a symphony of flavors and textures, blending the earthiness of the beans, the creaminess of the cheese, and the freshness of the toppings, all on a crispy tortilla base. It’s a must-try for anyone exploring Oaxacan cuisine.

3. Tamales

Tamales mexican food
photo from : maricruzavalos

Oaxacan tamales, a culinary treasure, involve wrapping them in banana leaves and filling them with a variety of delicious ingredients. These savory or sweet parcels often highlight the region’s renowned moles, showcasing Oaxaca’s rich and complex sauces. Alternatively, they can be filled with ingredients like chicken, pork, cheese, or vegetables. Chefs skillfully prepare the tamale masa (dough), resulting in a soft and slightly crumbly texture that perfectly complements the flavorful fillings. Whether you enjoy them as a meal or a snack, Oaxacan tamales stand as a testament to the region’s culinary creativity and its ability to transform simple ingredients into a delightful taste experience.

4. Chapulines

Chapulines oaxaca cuisine
photo from : revistaquixe

Chapulines, a distinctive Oaxacan delicacy, contribute a delightful crunch to the region’s culinary landscape. Firstly, roasted grasshoppers are seasoned with a mix of chili, lime, and salt, transforming into a savory and slightly tangy snack. Moreover, you can commonly find chapulines at local markets and street food stalls in Oaxaca, where they offer a unique taste experience. This experience blends the earthy, nutty flavor of the grasshoppers with the zesty kick of the seasoning. Consequently, these tiny critters symbolize Oaxacan cuisine’s adventurous spirit and its knack for turning unconventional ingredients into a flavorful delight.

5. Enchiladas Oaxaqueñas

Enchiladas Oaxaqueñas
photo from : comedera

Enchiladas Oaxaqueñas are a delectable representation of Oaxacan cuisine. These enchiladas are typically filled with tender chicken and generously topped with the region’s famous mole sauce. The combination of the rich, complex mole, along with the succulent chicken, creates a harmonious blend of flavors. To further enhance the dish, queso fresco (fresh cheese) and crema (cream) are often added as garnishes. The result is a savory, slightly spicy, and creamy delight that exemplifies Oaxacan culinary creativity and the art of transforming simple ingredients into an exquisite meal.

6. Tasajo

Tasajo mexican food
photo from : eatyourworld

Tasajo, a classic Oaxacan dish, involves marinating thin slices of beef in a mixture of garlic, vinegar, and various spices. This marinating process infuses the beef with a burst of savory and slightly tangy flavors. After the marinating step, chefs expertly grill the beef until it becomes tender and slightly charred. Consequently, Tasajo is commonly served with cheese, salsa, and warm tortillas, offering a mouthwatering combination of flavors and textures. This Oaxacan specialty showcases the region’s talent for transforming simple ingredients into a delightful and satisfying dish.

7. Quesillo

Quesillo oaxaca food
photo from : saborearte

Quesillo, celebrated for its unique texture and flavor, is a staple of Oaxacan cuisine. This traditional Oaxacan cheese, reminiscent of mozzarella, is known for its stretchy, stringy quality, making it a popular choice for melting and folding into various dishes. In tlayudas, for example, it lends a creamy, mild taste to the dish. Quesillo’s versatility extends to other Oaxacan delicacies, and it can also be enjoyed on its own or with tortillas. This cheese stands as a testament to the region’s dedication to preserving and innovating with its culinary traditions.

8. Memelas

Memelas oaxacan food
photo from : traveltooaxaca

Memelas, a beloved Oaxacan dish, exemplify the region’s talent for creating simple yet incredibly flavorful food. To prepare them, cooks hand-pat thick tortillas and top them with a layer of refried beans, followed by a generous sprinkle of queso fresco (fresh cheese) and a zesty salsa. They then cook the memelas until they develop a slightly crispy texture, often garnishing them with ingredients like shredded lettuce, avocados, or various meats. The result is a delectable combination of textures and flavors, with the earthy beans, fresh cheese, and zesty salsa coming together to create a satisfying and authentic Oaxacan street food experience.

9. Chiles Rellenos

Chiles Rellenos oaxaca dish
photo from : cocinavital

Chiles Rellenos are a delectable Oaxacan dish that showcases the creative uChiles Rellenos, a delectable Oaxacan dish, highlight the creative use of chili peppers. In this dish, they take roasted and peeled poblano chiles and stuff them with a mouthwatering mixture. The filling typically includes picadillo, a savory blend of ground meat, fruits, nuts, and aromatic spices. After stuffing, they dip the chiles in a fluffy egg batter and fry them until they turn golden and crispy. To complete this culinary masterpiece, they often serve it with a rich tomato-based sauce. Chiles Rellenos offer a delightful contrast of flavors and textures, combining the mild heat of the poblano chiles with the savory sweetness of the filling. This dish embodies the essence of Oaxacan cuisine’s skill in creating complex and harmonious flavors.

10. Sopa de Guías

Sopa de Guías oaxacan vegetable soup
photo from : elgourmet

Sopa de Guías, a wholesome vegetable soup deeply rooted in Oaxacan cuisine, involves cooking a variety of seasonal ingredients in a flavorful broth. To start with, squash blossoms often take the lead, along with other fresh vegetables. Additionally, this process creates a soup that perfectly captures the essence of Oaxaca’s rich culinary tradition. Moreover, Sopa de Guías is celebrated for its fresh, vibrant flavors, making it a comforting and wholesome choice often enjoyed in Oaxacan households and eateries.

11. Tejate

Tejate Oaxaca food
photo from : lavivienda

TTejate, a traditional Oaxacan drink with a rich and complex history, embodies the essence of Oaxacan culture. People skillfully blend roasted maize, cacao, a type of fermented cacao known as “rosita,” and a pinch of mamey seeds with water to create this unique beverage. The result is a frothy and slightly gritty concoction characterized by its distinctive flavor, which is simultaneously nutty, chocolatey, and a touch fruity, along with its frothy, effervescent texture. Oaxacans often enjoy Tejate at celebrations, special occasions, and markets, showcasing the region’s talent for transforming humble ingredients into a captivating culinary experience.

12. Chocolate Oaxaqueño

Chocolate Oaxaqueño
photo from : elhornodelucas

Oaxacan chocolate, renowned for its rich and distinctive flavor, is a celebrated treat from the region. People often use it to make delicious and aromatic hot chocolate, or they can enjoy it in solid form. This chocolate is crafted from roasted and ground cacao beans, typically mixed with sugar and cinnamon. The result is a smooth, slightly grainy chocolate with a deep and intense cocoa flavor. Whether they melt it into a warm beverage or savor it as a solid bar, Oaxacan chocolate reflects the region’s dedication to preserving traditional chocolate-making methods and offers a delightful taste of Oaxacan sweetness and culture.

13. Ceviche de Sierra

Ceviche de Sierra
photo from : cookpad

Ceviche de Sierra, a delightful Oaxacan dish, beautifully showcases the freshness of the sea. To create this culinary masterpiece, skilled chefs select sierra, a type of mackerel, and marinate it in a zesty mixture of lime or bitter orange juice, cilantro, onions, and chiles. Through this marinating process, where the acid in the citrus juice works its magic, the fish “cooks,” resulting in a tender and flavorful dish. When it’s ready, they typically serve the ceviche with tostadas or tortilla chips, delivering a burst of oceanic freshness and vibrant flavors that exemplify Oaxacan seafood cuisine.

14. Chorizo Oaxaqueño

Chorizo Oaxaqueño

Chorizo Oaxaqueño, a special kind of sausage from Oaxaca, earns renown for its tasty flavors. Crafted from good-quality pork and a blend of spices like chili peppers, garlic, and vinegar, it releases an enticing aroma when cooked and offers a slightly spicy and delicious taste. Whether used in various dishes or enjoyed on its own, Chorizo Oaxaqueño stands as a symbol of Oaxacan cooking tradition and taste, showcasing the region’s delicious flavors and culinary skills. It’s not just any sausage; it’s a testament to Oaxaca’s culinary heritage.

15. Nicuatole

Nicuatole traditional oacan dessert
photo from : oaxacaevents

Nicuatole, a traditional Oaxacan dessert, takes on the form of a special kind of pudding. People craft it from ground-up corn, sugar, and cinnamon, resulting in a smooth and soft-textured dessert typically served in squares. Nicuatole offers a sweet taste with a hint of cinnamon flavor, making it a tasty and comforting treat frequently enjoyed as a dessert in Oaxaca. It’s a simple but delicious part of the traditional Oaxacan desserts.

16. Pozole de Maíz

Pozole de Maíz oacan soup
photo from : kiwilimon

Pozole de Maíz, a popular Oaxacan soup, features hominy, which are big, puffy corn kernels. Cooks often prepare the soup with pork or chicken, adding flavorful spices during the cooking process. Before enjoying this comforting and delicious soup, people typically top it with chopped onions, lettuce, radishes, and lime wedges. It’s a beloved dish often savored during special occasions and celebrations in Oaxaca.

17. Caldo de Piedra

Caldo de Piedra oaxacan dish
photo from : cocinavital

The indigenous Zapotec community in Oaxaca prepares Caldo de Piedra, a traditional soup. They heat river stones until they’re scorching hot, then add them to a mix of fish, lime juice, and other fresh ingredients in a gourd or hollowed-out pumpkin. The intense heat from the stones cooks the fish and infuses the soup with smoky flavors. Caldo de Piedra is a culturally significant dish often served during rituals and special occasions, showcasing the ancient cooking techniques and heritage of the Zapotec people.

18. Estofado

Estofado mexican cuisine
photo from : viveoaxaca

Estofado, a flavorful Oaxacan stew, is often prepared with beef or pork. It involves simmering meat with a variety of vegetables like carrots, potatoes, and peas in a rich, savory sauce. This sauce typically contains ingredients such as tomatoes, onions, garlic, and a blend of spices. The slow-cooking process allows the meat and vegetables to become tender and absorb the delicious flavors of the sauce. Estofado is a comforting, hearty dish commonly enjoyed in Oaxacan households, especially during family gatherings and celebrations.

19. Salsa de Chapulines

Salsa de Chapulines
photo from : cocina casera

Salsa de Chapulines is a unique Oaxacan condiment crafted from roasted grasshoppers (chapulines), blending them with a mixture of flavorful ingredients. These ingredients may include tomatoes, chiles, garlic, and aromatic spices. As a result, it creates a zesty, earthy sauce with a slightly crunchy texture, adding an adventurous and savory twist to Oaxacan cuisine. Oaxacans often use Salsa de Chapulines as a condiment or dip. This is where the grasshoppers’ distinct flavor, combined with the vibrant spices, brings a fascinating and unexpected depth to various dishes, adding a touch of Oaxaca’s culinary creativity to every bite.

20. Sikil Pak

Sikil Pak oaxacan cuisine
photo from : bonappetit

Sikil Pak, a traditional Mayan dip or spread, has seamlessly found its way into Oaxacan cuisine. To create this flavorful delight, skilled chefs expertly combine ground pumpkin seeds, tomatoes, cilantro, and a harmonious blend of spices. As a result, a creamy and slightly nutty-flavored dip emerges, with a refreshing touch from the tomatoes and cilantro. This versatile delicacy is often presented as a tasty appetizer or snack, and it pairs seamlessly with tortilla chips, offering a delightful and unique addition to Oaxacan culinary offerings.

21. Tacos de Lechón

Tacos de Lechón oaxacan dish
photo from : gastrolabweb

Tacos de Lechón, a mouthwatering delight in Oaxacan cuisine, feature succulent, slow-roasted pork known as lechón. Chefs cook the pork to perfection, resulting in tender, juicy meat with a crispy exterior. They typically serve these tacos with various condiments and toppings, such as pickled onions, salsas, and fresh herbs. The combination of savory, flavorful pork and the vibrant, zesty accompaniments makes these tacos a must-try culinary experience, offering a burst of taste and textures that exemplify the diverse and delicious world of Oaxacan street food.

22. Nieve de Leche Quemada

Nieve de Leche Quemada oaxacan ice cream

Nieve de Leche Quemada is a delightful Oaxacan ice cream with a distinctive flavor profile. The key ingredient is “leche quemada,” which translates to “burnt milk.” Chefs craft the ice cream by simmering milk until it caramelizes and takes on a toasty, almost smoky flavor. They use this burnt milk as the base for the ice cream, then sweeten it and churn it into a creamy, frozen treat. Nieve de Leche Quemada offers a unique blend of rich, caramel notes and a smooth, cold texture, making it a delicious dessert to savor on a warm Oaxacan day, showcasing the region’s penchant for creating sweet sensations with a twist of tradition.

23. Huitlacoche Quesadillas

Huitlacoche Quesadillas oaxaca cuisine
photo from : honest-food

Huitlacoche quesadillas, originating from Oaxaca, Mexico, are a culinary delight. Chefs combine the star ingredient, huitlacoche (also known as corn smut or Mexican truffle), with melted cheese and fold it within a warm tortilla, creating a harmonious blend of flavors and textures. The huitlacoche’s earthy and slightly sweet taste pairs exquisitely with the gooey, melted cheese, resulting in a savory, umami-rich filling enclosed within a toasted tortilla. Huitlacoche quesadillas offer a one-of-a-kind culinary experience, showcasing the region’s innovative use of local ingredients and its ability to turn an unusual element into a delectable dish.

24. Sopa de Guijas

Sopa de Guijas Oaxacan soup
photo from : mexicoenmicocina

Sopa de Guijas is a traditional Oaxacan soup that captures the essence of local flavors and culinary artistry. Chefs typically prepare this hearty soup with tender squash blossoms, adding a delicate, floral note to the dish. Alongside the squash blossoms, you’ll find an array of fresh, seasonal vegetables, such as zucchini, corn, and green beans, creating a colorful and wholesome medley. They tie everything together with a rich, savory broth, often infused with aromatic herbs and spices, resulting in a comforting and nourishing bowl of soup. Sopa de Guijas is not just a meal; it’s a reflection of Oaxaca’s deep-rooted appreciation for fresh, locally sourced ingredients and a testament to the region’s love for dishes that celebrate the bounty of the land.

25. Nopalitos

Nopalitos mexican cuisine
photo from : thespruceeats

Nopalitos are a traditional ingredient widely used in Mexican and Oaxacan cuisine. They are the tender, young pads of the prickly pear cactus. These pads, once cleaned and stripped of their thorns, are sliced into pieces. They boast a unique taste that’s both subtly tangy and earthy. You can utilize nopalitos in various culinary preparations, adding a refreshing crunch to dishes like salads, soups, and stews, or you can sauté them with other ingredients.Often enjoyed for their texture and slightly tart flavor, nopalitos are not just a culinary staple but also a symbol of the richness of Oaxacan cuisine and the region’s embrace of its local flora in cooking.

26. Garnachas

Garnachas oaxaca food
photo from : cocineo

Garnachas are a beloved snack and street food in Oaxaca, known for their delightful blend of textures and flavors. These small, thick tortillas are typically fried until they become crisp, creating a crunchy base. On top of each garnacha, you’ll often find a layer of savory refried black beans, which add a creamy and earthy dimension. Following that, they top this with crumbled queso fresco, a fresh and mildly tangy cheese, and often garnish it with salsa and shredded lettuce or cabbage for a refreshing crunch. Ultimately, garnachas are the embodiment of Oaxacan street food culture, offering a symphony of taste and texture in every bite. This showcases the region’s ability to transform simple ingredients into a satisfying and delightful culinary experience.

27. Taco de Barbacoa

Taco de Barbacoa mexican street food
photo from : downshiftology

A Taco de Barbacoa is a beloved Mexican street food, particularly cherished in regions like Oaxaca. To highlight its appeal, these tacos feature tender, slow-cooked meat, typically lamb or beef, marinated with aromatic spices. Skilled chefs slow-cook the meat until it becomes incredibly succulent and flavorful, often using a pit or an underground oven. Once the meat is fully cooked, they typically shred it and then serve it on warm tortillas. Tacos de Barbacoa are frequently accompanied by a variety of condiments, such as salsa, chopped onions, cilantro, and lime, allowing you to customize the flavors to your liking. In essence, these tacos offer a rich and savory taste of Oaxacan cuisine, showcasing the region’s mastery of cooking meat to perfection and its love for blending spices to create a memorable and satisfying street food experience.

28. Agua de Chilacayote

Agua de Chilacayote oaxacan drink
photo from : recetasdebatidos

Agua de Chilacayote is a refreshing Oaxacan drink made from chilacayote, a type of squash that resembles a small watermelon. To prepare this beverage, peel the chilacayote and blend the sweet, tender flesh with water, sugar, and a touch of cinnamon.The result is a light, slightly sweet, and subtly spiced drink, perfect for quenching your thirst on a warm Oaxacan day. Agua de Chilacayote not only offers a delightful and natural taste but also represents Oaxaca’s ability to turn simple, local ingredients into a refreshing and traditional beverage.

29. Huevo con Chile

Huevo con Chile oaxacan dish
photo from : isabeleats

Huevo con Chile is a classic Oaxacan dish that combines the simplicity of eggs with the bold flavors of chiles and spices. In preparing this dish, chefs scramble or fry the eggs until they reach a creamy and slightly fluffy texture. Then, they pour a rich and zesty chile sauce, often crafted with tomatoes, onions, and various chili peppers, over the eggs. The result is a harmonious blend of spicy, savory, and creamy flavors that they can serve with warm tortillas, beans, or rice. Huevo con Chile is a satisfying and flavorful dish that reflects Oaxacan cuisine’s skill in creating tasty and comforting meals using everyday ingredients and a touch of spice.

28. Sopa de Flor de Calabaza

Sopa de Flor de Calabaza oaxacan soup
photo from : gourmettraveller

Sopa de Flor de Calabaza, a delectable Oaxacan soup, beautifully captures the essence of the region’s cuisine. At its heart are the delicate, edible blossoms of the squash plant, known as “flor de calabaza.” Cooks carefully prepare these blossoms and add them to a flavorful broth, which often includes ingredients like tomatoes, onions, garlic, and aromatic herbs. As a result, this creates a light yet comforting soup that boasts a subtle, slightly sweet, and floral flavor from the squash blossoms. Sopa de Flor de Calabaza is a celebration of fresh, seasonal ingredients and showcases the art of transforming simplicity into a nourishing and delightful Oaxacan dish.

29. Tacos de Camarones

Tacos de Camarones
photo from : blessthismeal

Tacos de Camarones, a delectable Oaxacan dish, feature tender, succulent shrimp as the star ingredient. To enhance the shrimp’s natural sweetness and delicate texture, chefs often marinate them with a blend of spices before quickly sautéing. They then place these flavorful shrimp in warm tortillas. Common additions include shredded lettuce, fresh salsa, creamy guacamole, and a drizzle of lime juice. With these ingredients, Tacos de Camarones offer a harmonious combination of savory, zesty, and fresh flavors, making them a delightful representation of Oaxacan cuisine’s ability to transform seafood into a flavorful and satisfying street food experience.

So far, we have explored the vibrant world of Oaxacan cuisine, rich in flavors and traditions that span centuries. This unique culinary tradition blends indigenous ingredients with Spanish influences, resulting in a diverse and exciting array of dishes. From the complex moles to the unique ingredients like chapulines (roasted grasshoppers), Oaxacan cuisine offers a delightful adventure for the palate. We invite you to try these exquisite flavors and experience the cultural richness of this region through its food.

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Erika Herbert
Erika Herbert

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