The flavors of Mexico are as diverse as the country itself. One of our favorite foodie destinations in Mexico is the state of Oaxaca, in far southern Mexico. It’s a mix of ocean, mountains, city and valley, with a variety of climates. Oaxaca is celebrated for its bold food, and it’s famous for a multitude of mole sauces, chiles, and beans. We’re celebrating the flavors of Oaxaca in our restaurants this summer, so fasten your seatbelt and let’s take a virtual trip to the Land of Seven Moles.
First things first, if there’s a frequently mispronounced travel destinations list, Oaxaca is probably near the top. It’s a tricky one to say – especially if your Spanish language skills are limited.
It’s pronounced Wa-Ha-Kah. Practice it a few times and it will roll off your tongue before you know it.
Oaxaca is the name of a state in Mexico, and also the capital city. The historic part of the city of Oaxaca is a designated UNESCO World Heritage Site. It’s full of treasured historic buildings, and it’s known internationally for the diversity of its food, which is considered to be some of the best in Mexico.
Because of its varied geography and growing climates, the food from Oaxaca is more diverse than other parts of Mexico. You’ll still find the staples of rice, corn and beans (black beans here), but Oaxacan cuisine also features abundant fresh seafood, tropical fruits, a variety of vegetables, many different types of chile peppers and spices, as well as chocolate.
So Many Chile Peppers
Peppers are a staple in Oaxacan cuisine. Each type provides a slightly different flavor, smokiness, and degree of heat. Some even have a slight sweetness or fruitiness about them.
Not all chiles are spicy and hot. Each variety has a different amount of capsaicin, and more capsaicin means more heat. The degree of heat is measured in Scoville Heat Units (SHU), with your basic jalapeño pepper averaging about 5,000 SHU and a fiery habanero tipping the scale at over 300,000 SHU.
Some of the region’s favorites include:
- Ancho chiles. They’re dried, ripe poblanos; low in heat with a slightly sweet, raisin-like flavor. Their versatile flavor pairs well with many other types of chiles.
- Guajillo. One of the most popular chiles in Oaxaca. When you see them, you’re in for a treat. This large, long, flat chile has a complex, fruity and tangy flavor without too much heat. It ranks between 2,500 and 5,000 SHU.
- Chipotles. They’re smoked, dried jalapeños, and a favorite for their intense smokiness and hot but not intense heat. They range from 3,000-10,000 SHU.
- For the very brave and heat-tolerant, two favorites in Mexican cooking are the bright red and crisp flavored Arbol chiles (15,000-30,000 SHU) or fruity-hot Pequin chiles (40,000-60,000 SHU).
About the Mole Sauce
What do you do when you grow cocoa beans along with all those chiles and spices? You make mole sauce, of course. Oaxaca has hundreds of variations on this sauce that features different combinations of spices, chiles, nuts, seeds, aromatic vegetables, and yes, occasionally, chocolate.
Although there are at least 200 different mole recipes from this part of Mexico, Oaxaca is most famous for seven of them. The mole sauces (and their translation) include Negro (black), Rojo (red), Coloradito (a shade of brownish red), Amarillo (yellow), Verde (green), Manchamantel (table cloth-stainer), and Chichilo (named for a pepper). Interestingly, most don’t have chocolate as an ingredient. Each of the famous sauces is named for its color, which comes from its ingredients.
Enjoy a Taste of Oaxaca at Rubio’s
This summer, we’re featuring Oaxacan-inspired fare on our menu for a limited time, including a mole-inspired smoky Oaxacan sauce made with a blend of four-chiles; mild ancho and guajillo, plus chipotle for a little kick of heat, and our local favorite from New Mexico, sweet and mild Anaheim chiles.
Enjoy it on our street tacos (with a side of traditional Oaxacan black beans), or on a bowl or burrito. They all include Rubio’s grilled ancho shrimp, fresh handmade guacamole, and cotija cheese.
Road trip over to Rubio’s and treat your taste buds to an exotic vacation before it’s gone. No passport required.