Oaxaca al Gusto:
An Infinite Gastronomy
Sobras de la Mesa (Table Scraps)
by Peter Catapano
A Belly Full of Mole
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The devotion to moles in Oaxaca — and the pride in them — borders on the religious. At a food stall at the Mercado 20 de Noviembre near the town’s main plaza (zócalo), I was practically forced to order the pollo con mole negro (chicken in black mole sauce) by a stout woman in an apron who told me in detail in Spanish how she made it in the kitchen of her very own house, though she knew I could barely understand her. (She was right, it was excellent, and I left fortified.) There are said to be seven basic types — negro, colorado, coloradito, amarillo, verde, chíchilo negro and mancha manteles — but I’ve been assured that variations on these themes are endless. (I tasted versions of all of them as part of a meal at Los Pacos, where each table is given a sampler.) For a definitive, and visually gorgeous, exploration of moles and other Oaxacan foods and dishes, lose yourself in “Oaxaca al Gusto,” by the distinguished and revered food writer Diana Kennedy, who has spent decades in the region.
They Eat Bugs, Don’t They?
Yes, grasshoppers (chapulines) and worms (chinicuiles) are everyday foods in many parts of Mexico. The former, dried and chile-flavored, are sold as snacks in large baskets on streets and in markets in Oaxaca (yes, I did. And, no, they do not taste like chicken). They are also found in many sauces and recipes. The worms are, too; they’re not just found in mezcal bottles. Dana Goodyear’s article in The New Yorker earlier this month exploring the culture of insect eating and its possible role in feeding the world’s population sustainably discusses Oaxacan food. (If you’ve read the piece, please note that the magazine’s photo is an artistic exaggeration: chapulines in Oaxaca are tiny critters.)