Eating through Oaxaca
In my last post I covered my recent three day trip to this beautiful region and all it entailed. I think I would be doing a disservice to not follow up with a separate post on just the food aspect of this journey. I am a beverage professional but my job would not exist if food didn’t come first. My Chef playfully reminds me regularly that if it weren’t for him and his hard work, I couldn’t have a career in beverage.
As mentioned in the previous post, Oaxaca is home to a large number of native fruits, herbs and vegetables that gives chefs here numerous resources to work with when cooking a meal. Above all, they are most famous for their mole sauces. Mole brings to mind the black version mounted with chocolate for most people, but they actually have seven wonderful variations. We were served several different moles on this trip and they were all delicious and unique. We had the black, green and brown versions and I was most partial to the green.
Although we enjoyed the mole I think Chef and I would agree the best meals we had were served by the families that produced the mezcals we were there to sample. These families lived in very small villages in remote areas of the Mexican mountains at very high elevations. Two meals stood out in particular: beef, green beans, chayote squash in a tomatillo soup in San Luis Del Rio and the famed goat stew barbacoa in Santo Domingo. Both were served with the most amazing handmade, extra large corn tortillas to be used as a vehicle to get the soup to your mouth. Chef later told me on the plane that the barbacoa was the best soup he had ever had in his life. That is a huge endorsement coming from him.
These two meals defined our time there and I will tell you why. First, these people had very little means to provide food and beverage for 12 people. Yet for their American guests coming to their village they delivered the meals with unrivaled class and humility. I have traveled around the world’s wine regions and have been treated to the best they have to offer. Yet I can say that no one, anywhere has given me so much with so little! Second, the food was incredibly enhanced by the little copitas of their mezcal that we drank with each meal. From the hot chocolate and warm bread to the mole and barbacoa there was an unmistakable reason why this food was served alongside these mezcals. They have graced these tables together for hundreds of years and it became very clear why on this trip.
What grows together goes together and I have never seen a better example than the robust and flavorful dishes of Oaxaca served alongside the artisanal mezcals.