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I wrote this piece, about spontaneously spending el Día de los Muertos with a family in Oaxaca, several years ago; it’s based on an experience...
What: Oaxaca is celebrated for its seven classic moles—those earthy, smooth, complex sauces comprising some 15 to 30 ingredients. Though you may think first of chocolate when guessing that laundry list of ingredients, it’s used in only some of the moles; more often you’ll find a healthy mix of various chiles, onions, tomatoes or tomatillos; spices like cinnamon, cloves, and/or allspice; herbs such as epazote, hoja santa, and avocado leaves; seeds like pumpkin or sesame; plus garlic, vanilla, the occasional plantain or raisin. The beauty lies in their differences, and we encourage trying as many moles as possible while in Oaxaca. Mole negro (black) is the most famous of the bunch, but there’s also a rainbow of others: moles rojo (red), verde (green), amarillo (yellow), coloradito (“little red”), manchamanteles (literally “tablecloth stainer,” a deep red hue), and chichilo (another variation of red).
Where: You can find moles all over Oaxaca, particularly in the markets. Our photo is of the lip-smacking mole negro on offer at La Olla (Reforma 402, map), chef Pilar Cabrera’s bright, modern restaurant focusing on high-quality regional food.
Good to know: Read our Q&A with chef Pilar on the blog.
When: Mon-Sat, 8am-10pm
Order: The mole negro de fandango (135p) is served with rice and two pieces of chicken breast (stuffed with a little surprise: plantain puree), garnished with delicate, edible flores de calabaza (squash blossoms), and swimming in the deep brown, smoky-spicy, sesame-seed-sprinkled mole negro sauce. Heaven on a plate.
Alternatively: Other restaurants that generally serve a variety of moles include La Flor de Oaxaca (951-516-5522; Armento y Lopez 311, map) and Casa de la Abuela (951-516-3544; Hidalgo 616, map)—the latter is pretty touristy, but can still be a worthwhile part of your mole education. Markets, however, are perhaps the best place to work your way through the mole list, as you can try the sauces in so many ways (and for a lot less money): inside tamales or empanadas, on plates with meat, atop pan-fried tortillas (as enmoladas). Some comedores we suggest for this include Comedor Candita (puesto 108-109) in Mercado 20 de Noviembre (20 de Noviembre at Rayón, map), and Fonda Florecita in Mercado de la Merced (Insurgentes between Murguía and Morelos, map). Do yourself a favor and don’t leave Oaxaca without trying an empanada con mole amarillo, perhaps the city’s best snack.
Good to know: Don’t forget to bring some mole home with you! We recommend the puesto Tonita (no. 80) in Mercado Benito Juárez (Miguel Cabrera at Las Casas, map) for its great, fresh selection of various mole pastes, to which you only need to add water or stock for a beautiful, at-home mole sauce. We couldn’t believe how easy it was, and only wished we’d bought more. You can also buy mole at most Chocolate Mayordomo stores.
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