As I consider current trends and brainstorm the next cuisine to highlight, I think a more regional approach may be appropriate. I covered Mexican cuisine in an earlier entry, but there is so much nuance from other regions, that I think a more detailed look is in order!
Oaxaca is a state in southern Mexico with distinguished cuisines that are having their moment on the world stage. The geography is marked with mountains and valleys off the Pacific shores- meaning that seafood and fruits are abundant! Old meets new in this state. In Oaxaca, more than a dozen indigenous ethnic groups have been preparing traditional dishes for hundreds of years.
Cilantro is well known in Mexican cuisine, but it is often a polarizing flavor. Oaxacan cuisine utilizes a variety of lesser-known, but just as flavorful herbs. Epazote lends an earthy, medicinal flavor to a variety of dishes. It is thought to aid digestion of complex carbohydrates like beans. Hoja Santa also lends a unique flavor of anise, mint, and root beer for both savory and sweet dishes. Both herbs are available dry, but like other more familiar herbs, the true appreciation comes from its fresh form!
Mole is one of the most prominent dishes of Oaxaca! This type of sauce is prepared from one or more chili peppers and serves as a flavorful base to highlight the regions fruits, vegetables, herbs, and meats. While the neighboring state of Puebla may be the birthplace of Mole, Oaxacan has developed over one hundred varieties of the dish. Seven of the varieties are widely known and distinguished by their finished color.
Oaxaca is one of the few Mexican states that produces cacao, and it plays a prominent role in the cuisine of the region. Most are familiar with hot chocolate – a beverage produced from ground cacao beans mixed with sugar and hot water. However, the Oaxacan’s take it to the next level with spices like cinnamon and ground chilies. Chocolate also finds its way into several savory dishes, including moles and other meat preparations. In these dishes, it lends its complex brown, fruity, and acidic notes.
While the idea of eating bugs might evoke strong emotions from some readers (especially those getting ready for the cicada swarm of 2021), it is estimated that more than two billion people regularly consume insects. Worms, ants, and caterpillars are often fried up in Oaxaca. There is one insect that reigns supreme as the snack of choice – grasshoppers known locally as chapulines. Setting aside the ick-factor, insects offer a sustainable source of high-quality protein. In a testament to the curiosity surrounding Oaxacan cuisine, the MLB’s Seattle stadium began offering Chapulines to fans in 2017- selling so many of the fried grasshoppers tossed in chili lime seasoning that they were continually running out.
To learn about the world of Insect protein, check out Ashley’s blog on the topic here! Although these aren’t for everyone, I definitely recommend giving them a try and experiencing something new, from a different culture!