After being captivated by CNN's special "Searching for Mexico," featuring host Eva Longoria's exploration of Oaxacan "Ancestral Kitchens," I felt inspired to follow in her footsteps. I embarked on a journey to Oaxaca, retracing some of her experiences, and also ventured to discover local restaurants on my own to immerse myself fully in the region of Oaxaca City culinary treasures.
What is an Ancestral Kitchen?
The Oaxaca ancestral kitchens are known for their use of traditional cooking methods, such as grinding ingredients on a metate (a large flat stone used as a grinding surface) and cooking food over open fires or clay ovens. These techniques have been practiced for centuries and are integral to the distinct flavors and textures of the dishes.
The cooks in these kitchens are often local women who have inherited their knowledge of traditional recipes from their ancestors. They are highly skilled in using native ingredients like maize, beans, chilies, herbs, and an array of locally-sourced fruits and vegetables. These ingredients are combined in intricate ways to create flavorful dishes that showcase the depth and diversity of Oaxacan cuisine.
The culinary heritage of Oaxaca is so renowned that it has been recognized as an important part of Mexico's cultural heritage by UNESCO. Efforts have been made to promote and protect these ancestral kitchens, ensuring that this precious culinary legacy continues to thrive and be appreciated both locally and globally. As of 2023 Oaxaca City was named #1 city to enjoy by travel and leisure readers, mainly due to their culinary excellence.
Throughout my Oaxacan culinary adventures, these are the ancestral kitchens I enjoyed the most, mainly for their menu, organic ambiance, and display of their Oaxacan cultural pride.
Levadura de Olla
Thalía Barrios Garcia, owner and chef of Levadura de Olla, loves her red and green tomatoes! The name Levadura de Olla – literally “claypot yeast” – comes from the ferment used in her hometown of San Mateo to bake bread in clay pots. Her signature tomato dish with beetroot puree and cinnamon vinaigrette is the highlight of the menu. The ambiance beautifully complements the menu, leaving me so inspired that I now intend to transform my kitchen decor to incorporate earthy tones and floral elements. As we savored our dining experience, regional dancers performed in the dining area, celebrating of Oaxaca's rich cultural heritage.
- Tamal of requeson cheese and flor de calabaza with mole negro and
- Oaxacan native tomatoes dish with beet puree and fruit vinaigrette
Calle Garcia Vigil #304 Oaxaca de Juarez Mexico
Las Quince Letras
Las Quince Letras described by Celia Florián, owner and inspiration behind the Las Quince Letras restaurant as Oaxacan cuisine with the words; mole, corn and mezcal. But the cuisine and the culture behind it are a complicated tapestry of local and seasonal ingredients that distinguish dishes among the many small valleys of this mountainous state. A favorite is a finger food, in which a hand-size Hoja Santa leaf — which has natural flavors of anise, eucalyptus, mint — is topped with torn quesillo and crunchy roasted (protein-rich) grasshoppers, then folded, heated, cut and rolled into bite-size portions; edible flowers and drizzles of pesto sauce dress the pretty plate. The mole negro is still the super star item on the menu.
- Hoja Santa Leaf & Mole Negro
Calle Mariano Abasolo #300 Oaxaca de Juarez
Tierra de Sol
Led by executive chef and owner Olga Cabrera Oropeza, specializes in traditional Mixteca ingredients and cooking techniques. Tierra de Sol offers over 30 moles on their menu — both traditional, and original creations. We were seated on the terrace, surrounded by a soothing and natural décor, a highlight was fresh salsa made at our table. Chef Olga recently transformed the first floor into a bakery, Masea, Trigo, and Maîz, where she sells breads and other pastries baked fresh daily.
- Three Generations Mole
- Aromatic Mole
- Laurel Mole
- White Mole
Calle Reforma #411 Oaxaca Juarez
Casa de Oaxaca
Chef Alejandro Ruiz celebrates the heart of Oaxacan gastronomy “food of the gods" chocolate, an essential cornerstone of the region's culinary heritage.
Renowned for its cacao-centric mole negro sauce, that involves a remarkable blend of 28 ingredients. This is the restaurant to order the traditional Mole Negro with the turkey as per the cherished Oaxacan tradition. As with many restaurants in Oaxaca City we are seated in a rooftop terrace to enjoy the cool breeze and the view of Santo Domingo Church.
- Mole Negro
- Short Rib with Manchamanteles mole with smoked plantain puree
Calle de la Constitucion #104 Oaxaca de Juarez
Amul -Cocina de Humo
Jacobo and María Angeles are perhaps the most well-known artisans known for their alebrije workshop in San Martin Tilcajete. They recently opened an open-air kitchen called Amul, refered to as a smoked kitchen Cocina de Humo.
The open kitchen has a wood-burning stove situated in a beautiful garden of local plants and herbs used in Almú’s dishes and cocktails. The property is surrounded by huge tree plantations intended for conservation and also alebrije wood. All of Almú’s furniture is recycled, and each wooden table and chair is unique
The head of the kitchen, Teresa de Jesús Reyes Martínez, proudly utilizes various kinds of tomatoes, cinnamon, chocolate, sesame seeds, almonds, herbs in her dishes. Everything is toasted on the comal, one ingredient after another; never together. After that, everything is blended together and cooked into a paste. Mole is on the menu daily, as are classic local meals prepared with tortillas, such as tlayudas, quesadillas or memelitas. The outdoor seating was a relaxed, as prior to our seating the wait staff cleansed the space with copal.
- Enchiladas and Quesadillas with flor the calabaza
Calle Progreso San Martin Tilcajete
Hierba Dulce, Chef Georgina Cruz describing her restaurant:
“A feminist Oaxaca restaurant that encourages conscious consumerism"
We offer plant-based food, we cook with ingredients from local trade and clean cultivation. We are a slow fire kitchen, which recognizes in the Mayoras, the authority and mastery in the kitchens. Completely deindustrialized restaurant, we prepare everything from the base, without accelerating cooking or fermentation processes. No added sugars and oils. We serve what we eat, Hierba Dulce was born in 2016 out of a need to nourish ourselves, and our families, with locally grown ingredients, but also, free of industrially processed products and animal products. Our deindustrialized kitchen is an effort to share the taste for milpa crops and Mesoamerican food.
- Sopa de guias -Traditional sopa Oaxacana base de guias y flor de calabaza
- Mole Almendrado - An almond base with tomate crillo y canela, con apas, aceitunas and raja en escabeche
Calle Porfirio Daiz # 311 Oaxaca de Juarez
Interested in this experience? Send me an email Rose@dulcevidatravel.com
I provide full itinerary services to Oaxaca City!