A Guide to Ordering Food in Oaxaca

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.

a food menu in Spanish
A typical Oaxacan menu

Typical Foods

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.

a bowl of grasshoppers
Loading up my tostada with chapulines

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.

a plate of entomadas

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.

a plate of enmoladas in mole negro sauce
The rich dark color of mole negro

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.

a tamale

Tasajo – thinly sliced and salted meat.

Tetela – a triangle shaped corn masa (dough) snack stuffed with a few ingredients, typically herbs, beans and cheese.

women using a press machine to make tortillas
The teacher said we could all tell who my tetela belonged to because it was in the shape of a trapezoid instead of a triangle – I’ll have to work on my folding angles

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.

woman holding a large tlayuda
I was trying to look surprised by the size of this, but I just look mad

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.

torta and enchiladas on a table
A torta with some enchiladas verde in the background

Tostada – a fried corn tortilla with toppings similar to a taco, essentially an open-faced taco.

a tostada with chapulines nearby
Tostada with chapulines

Typical Drinks

Atole – a hot corn-based drink which can be accompanied by brown sugar, cinnamon, pureed fruit, or chocolate.

Atole with guava and maiz azul with cacao

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.

a hand holding a bottle of a mexican beverage called electrolit

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.

a bowl of tejate
Traditionally served in a small bowl, but you can get it in a to-go (para llevar) cup as well

Typical Desserts

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.

plantains with cream on top

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!

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