Mexico is a large country with whose cuisine varies regionally. In its southern half many dishes rotate around the fundamentals of corn tortillas, white meats, fruits we think are vegetables, and cheeses introduced by its colonial history. Every time you think you’ve seen it all, a dish appears under your nose with a new colorful combination. Last week I told you why Tex-Mex isn’t Mexican food and the southern states of Chiapas and Oaxaca are especially far from the burritos and fajitas of Texas.
This stack of refried black beans, lettuce, avocado plus shredded meats (vegetarian options replace those with egg or squash) sits on top of a fried corn tortilla. Tlayudas are a native of Oaxaca so it’s not surprising the key ingredient is Oaxaca cheese – something of a blend between feta and ricotta – which quickly become one of my personal favorites.
Another staple of Oaxaca and potential tlayuda topping is chapulines. A seductive word for spiced, cooked grasshoppers, the taste is nearly as seducing as the name… although my mind couldn’t completely get over crunching sound. Before you dismiss the consumption on insects however, keep in mind they might be the solution to world hunger. Yum.
The names of which I admittedly can’t remember; being too busy in San Cristobal de las Casas snacking on some to jot it down in my notes. You could shape this sugar and molasses amnesia-inducing dessert into grasshoppers if you wanted, but they wouldn’t be as cute as these candy birds.
You’ll find these all over Mexico but they’re hardly the Tex-Mex version of obese cheese blimps. Mexican quesadillas are a simple snack: tortillas (usually corn in the south), with a bit of Oaxaca cheese lightly grilled. If they do have any other ingredients, it’s typically only one, such as chorizo (pork sausage), squash, or mushrooms as pictured below.
Large, flat sandwiches that are cooked anything you want that the kitchen has. Cheese is a requirement with optional meat (chicken and pork are most common), avocado, lettuce, tomato, and sometimes tuna. The best torta is one that’s steaming hot and bleeding grease.
Oaxaca is known for seven types of mole, a sauce that’s a complex mix of multiple chili peppers, spices, fruit, vegetables, and usually, chocolate. (Thought to have been created by the Mesoamericans in this area around 4,000 years ago. Whoever you were, thank you!) The negro version of mole isn’t sweet or spicy. Rather, it’s a taste all of the ingredients individually and at the same time – a psychedelic experience for your tongue.
More common to the Yucatan Peninsula but popular in Oaxaca and part of my Mexican breakfast on most mornings, the picture below isn’t it. That’s because I’m usually so hungry in the morning, this happens. So, the eggs and black beans below will give you a start and you’ll have to use your imagination to add the defining tortillas, cheese, and salsa beneath them.
Sopa Azteca And Alambres
The former is a tomato-based broth filled with fried corn tortillas, avocado, and chicken or pork. Depending on how full you are it can be a meal or a starter to the latter, alambre. Basically alambres are a fried mess of onions, peppers, mushrooms, shredded (insert dead animal here), and if you haven’t gotten it by now – a stack of corn tortillas on the side.
A Rainbow On Every Plate
Mexican dishes are colorful, resembling a form of abstract culinary art before they’re enthusiastically consumed. Tortillas are everywhere but aren’t required if you don’t appreciate starch’s effect on your waistline. Otherwise, follow this local advice I was given: never accept a tortilla that isn’t served warm. Then, buen provecho. In Mexico, that’s translated into enjoy your meal, which locals will warmly tell you, no matter what food along the local spectrum you’re eating.