Oaxaca: The Proud Cuisine of a Humble People
May 14, 2012 § 3 Comments
Known all throughout the world, Mexico’s (especially Oaxaca’s) food culture is nothing short of vivacious, but what gives it the pure liveliness we know and love it for today?
The Mexican foodways are part of a dynamic culture rooted in resistance, but also in adaption. As we look at our diets now, in the modern era, it is imperative to consider who we are, who came before us and who came before them; as all these details determine the foodways in which we take part.
Mexico’s cuisine is defined by an intense preservation of indigenous foodways combine with those of the conquistador settlers. Many of the indigenous foodways have been preserved, many adapted and some eliminated. As food cultures evolve from cultural encounters, social and political hierarchies, socioeconomic castes, and the conjunction of surrounding life, Mexico is a prime example of how the richest food culture, those of the Aztecs, Miztecs, Zapotecs and Mayans, are those that have endured the test of time (even if they have had to adapt to do so).
Food, and how it is portrayed within a society often speaks volumes about that society’s culture, and in Oaxaca it’s clear that influences from all around the world play a pivotal role in the ever-evolving food culture. One trip to Oaxaca and it is quite obvious that influences from ancient, pre-Colombian Mayan and Aztec civilizations, from Spaniards during post-conquest period, from West Africa during the slave trade, and from Europe and America, also known as “Creole” have penetrated the Mesoamerican foodways yielding those of Mexico.
Oaxaca, known to many as the Land of the Seven Moles, has preserved the ways of the indigenous people, sticking to hyper-locally grown produce, spices and meat as well as traditional food preparations and gatherings.
What is so impressive about Oaxaca is that good, integral food is expected from and by everyone. Between the open-air markets and the sustenance farming, the women (and some men) of Oaxaca have fanned the flame of what it means to eat “slow food”.
The cuisine of Oaxaca is incredibly labor intensive (both in the kitchen and in the field) due to the from-scratch mentality, yet regardless of where you go, the women will only feed you the best of what they have. While in Oaxaca I tasted everything: mole, tamales, hand-pressed blue corn quesadillas, tlayudas, elotes, traditional guacamole, chapalinas (crickets), chocolateatole, mezcal, agua frescas, agua de chocolate, flan, stuffed squash blossoms, etc, etc.
Despite the fact that I’ve been back home, in the US, for a few months now, the spirit of the rich Oaxacan food culture still resonate with me. Each time I experience a new culture it becomes part of me. The spirit of the humble Oaxacan people serving their proud cuisine is now one of my favorites.
Now off to Israel and Greece!