maíz (MAIZE, Corn or hominy)

All foods start with maíz (maize) in Oaxaca. Originally from and domesticated roughly 10,000 years ago in Mexico, Oaxaca, maize forms the basis of many dishes in the region. Some of the many dishes that utilize maize are:



Bike cart vender selling tamales, atole, champurrado, etc. in the mornings.

Bike cart vender selling tamales, atole, champurrado, etc. in the mornings.

  • Tlayudas: A dish famous in Oaxaca and served both on the street corners and in restaurants, a tlayuda resembles a pizza but the crust is made of maize, and the sauce is re-fried black beans and asiento (a grease made from pork fat—vegetarians can ask for it sin asiento). On top is cabbage or lettuce, quesillo (Oaxacan-style cheese similar to mozzarella), meat—if you want it—and other local garnishes.

  • Pozole: Served throughout various regions of Mexico, pozole is a soup made from kernels of hominy, served with meat and other vegetables, like lettuce, radishes, chiles, lime, avocado, etc.

  • Tamales: Throughout Mexico there are many types of tamales, which are made from maize flour, boiled and usually wrapped in corn husks (though also in Oaxaca, there is types wrapped in banana leaves). In general in Oaxaca, there is a variety of different types of tamales and they vary throughout the region, but some of the most common tamales are those made with mole negro (with chicken or pork), as well as those made with flor de calabaza (squash flowers), black beans (frijol), green pepper slices (rajas), to chepil (a local herb), which are served in bike carts in the mornings, often with the option to put it inside a torta (making it a sandwich).

  • Atole or Champurrado: Atole is a drink made from maize, served often in the morning on the bike carts that sell tamales as well in restaurants, and while there are variations of it, one of the most popular is when chocolate is added, and the name changes to champurrado.

  • Other street dishes: Various of styles of preparing maize include: Elotes or Esquites (corn-on-the-cob or taken off the cob, and is a popular street food served with mayonnaise, chile powder, and lime). Memelas (tortillas covered in asiento, refried beans and queso freso, served with salsa). Empanadas (large tortillas folded in half and filled usually with chicken and mole sauce (either armarillo or verde, see below for more info on moles).


Cacao is a major part of the diet in Oaxaca. From drinks to dinners, cacao is part of the Oaxacan diet, even though very little of it is actually cultivated in the state, which usually imports most of their cacao from Tabasco and Chiapas.

The tejate paste before finishing making it.

The tejate paste before finishing making it.

  • Tejate: Tejate is a drink popular in both mixtecos y zapotecas communities and dates back to precolonial times. The drink itself is made of toasted maize, fermented cacao beans, toasted mamey pits (mamey is a big fruit, whose flavor is like a cross between a sweet potato and strawberry) and the cacao flower. The ingredients are ground together and made into a paste by hang, which is then served with water, which lifts the flowers to the top and forms a foam. It is often served throughout the city.

  • Chocolate: Throughout the city, there are many places that specialize in chocolates, many bean-to-bar producers, and chocolate de agua (Oaxacan version of hot chocolate) is a common staple at stands and restaurants.


One of the things Oaxaca is most well-known for its great variety moles. All are made from various combinations of chiles, vegetables, fruits, nuts and/or seeds as well as other ingredients. Some of its most famous are also made using chocolate.

Two of the most common types served throughout the city include chocolate and are:

  • Mole Negro (probably the most famous, its a little bitter, contains chocolate and is fairly bitter but with rich flavors from the variety of ingredients used to make it),

  • Mole Coloradito (very popular style, also contains chocolate but is sweeter and served in a variety of local dishes).

  • Other common moles that lack chocolate are Amarillo and Verde, which can be found in fancier dishes as well as street foods, like empanadas. Neither use chocolate as an ingredient. Other styles are also served in a variety of restaurants throughout the center.

In addition to moles, which all use chiles, there are a variety of other types of sauces, like estofados, etc. that are similar in that they use a variety of ingredients similar to moles to create rich flavors, but lack the chiles.’



Some people say that insects are the protein food of the future. We’re not totally sure about that, but in Oaxaca, you can definitely take a peek into that possibility in Oaxaca, where insects are a part of the regional diet.

  • Chapulines: Grasshoppers that a toasted and seasoned with garlic and are a staple in Oaxaca. Probably the most popular and widely available of the insects, and around the city, you can get chapulines added to anything, from your elotes to your margaritas. Many Oaxacans enjoy chapulines in tacos, with quesillo (Oaxacan cheese, similar to string cheese), guacamole and salsa.

  • Gusano: Sal de gusano is salt mixed with gusano worm, and it is commonly served with mezcal. The worm gives a richer and smoother flavor to the salt, and it usually comes served with orange slices to be dipped in it, while you sip your mezcal.

  • Chicatanas: When the rains start at the end of spring or early summer, the chicatanas (a large flying ant) come out and people capture them to eat. One way that is especially common is to make salsa de chicatana.


Photo by    Hali Tauxe

Photo by Hali Tauxe

Last but certainly not least is mezcal. The oldest liquor in Latin America, mezcal has grown in popularity in the last few years, and become one of the most popular liquors, not just in Oaxaca, but in Mexico and even the rest of the world.  The sheer variety of aromas and flavors for mezcal offers all everyone a way to enjoy the drink, from those who just want to try a copita on their visit to those who are or want to be mezcal connoisseurs.  

While there are many types of mezcal that are made from different variety of different types of agave, only two have been domesticated in Oaxaca, the espadín and the cuishe, while the rest remain wild.