Most menus in Oaxaca will be in Spanish only, but the good thing is, a lot of market and street stalls offer typical local specialties, and the menus are, for the most part, very similar. You could always try my method for the first few days, which was to simply try a new thing every time until you find your favorite. But, if you have certain preferences or dietary restrictions, once you study this guide to ordering food in Oaxaca, you’ll feel a lot less pressure when choosing your first meal.
I am embarrassed to say it took me far too many days to realize that the only difference between enchiladas, enmoladas, entomadas, and enfrijoaladas is primarily the sauce that covers the corn tortillas. Rest assured, this guide of common menu items, beverages and desserts should help you at least have a general idea of what you’re ordering if you’re unfamiliar with Mexican food or the Spanish language.
Cecina – a thin slice of salted meat coated with chili pepper.
Chapulines – toasted grasshoppers seasoned with a variety of spices. They are toasted on a traditional comal (smooth flat griddle) and can be found all throughout markets in Oaxaca. They pair very well with mezcal.
Enfrijoladas – a folded corn tortilla with black bean filling and covered in a pureed black bean sauce.
Enmoladas – a stuffed, folded corn tortilla served with a mole sauce.
Entomatadas – a stuffed, folded corn tortilla served with a tomato based sauce.
Flor de calabaza – pumpkin flower, used as filling in quesadillas and other small snacks.
Huitlacoche – a corn fungus that tastes similar to mushrooms and is used in a variety of dishes such as soups and enchiladas.
Memela – a thick corn tortilla that’s toasted on a hot comal and spread with asiento (pork lard), and topped with refried beans, cheese, and usually potatoes and chorizo. It is a typical antojito (snack) in Oaxaca.
Mole – used to describe a variety of sauces which are quite time consuming to make and can be very dissimilar but typically contain fruits, nuts, chili peppers, and spices. One of the most famous types is mole negro, which includes chocolate.
Quesillo – also called Oaxacan cheese, a white semihard cheese that has been brined, giving it a stringy texture and slightly salty flavor.
Tamales – a corn based dough mixture that is filled with various meats, beans and cheese and cooked in corn husks or banana leaves – they are removed from the husks before eating.
Tasajo – thinly sliced and salted meat.
Tetela – a triangle shaped corn masa (dough) snack stuffed with a few ingredients, typically herbs, beans and cheese.
Tlayuda – A large toasted tortilla covered with pork lard, refried beans, lettuce, avocado, and Oaxacan cheese. Typically served with tasajo or cecina. Arguably the most famous Oaxacan food, it is essentially a Mexican pizza, typically served open faced but sometimes folded over like a quesadilla.
Torta – a Mexican sandwich served on a fluffy bun or roll filled with meat and cheese and accompanied by bold and spicy sauces and garnishes.
Tostada – a fried corn tortilla with toppings similar to a taco, essentially an open-faced taco.
Atole – a hot corn-based drink which can be accompanied by brown sugar, cinnamon, pureed fruit, or chocolate.
Cafe de Olla – coffee brewed in an earthen clay pot sweetened with unrefined cane sugar and cinnamon, similar to typical brewed black coffee but way better and reminds me of slightly sweetened black tea.
Electrolit – okay, this isn’t specific in any way to Oaxaca, but it is my favorite convenience store beverage, similar to Gatorade, and great for rehydrating on a hot day. Coco is the best flavor in my opinion but comes in a variety of fruity flavors as well.
Mezcal – a distilled alcoholic beverage made from agave. Make sure to go to a mezcal tasting as there are many different kinds with widely varying tastes.
Tejate – a cold, frothy corn and chocolate based beverage, with a slightly sweet and refreshing flavor.
Nieve – a sorbet which comes in many different flavors, but one of the most popular is nieve con tuna y leche quemada. Tuna is not what you’re thinking, it’s actually a fruit from the prickly pear cactus. Leche quemada translates to burned milk, and has a slightly sweet smoky flavor.
Plátanos con crema – caramelized plantain with cream, typically served from small food carts.
While this is by no means an exhaustive list of all the incredible foods and beverages available in Oaxaca, it’s a good starting point for your visit so you aren’t completely lost when they ask you if you’re ready to order (Estas listo/a?)
Please comment below and let me know which Oaxacan food you’d love to try!
3 thoughts on “A Guide to Ordering Food in Oaxaca”
Ahhh, I can taste the mole through the picture. Mmm.
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