Why here and why now?

Oaxaca is one of the traditional cradles of Mexican cuisine. This safe and easy-to-navigate city is the perfect place to explore the origin of authentic flavours.

Underpinning Oaxacan cuisine are the region's moles (pronounced "mo-lays"), complex sauces meticulously crafted from a head-spinningly diverse array of ingredients incorporating chillies, nuts, dark chocolate , cinnamon and cumin. Mini-mountains of ready-made mole pastes are piled high at Oaxaca's markets, but the best ones are made fresh daily by home cooks and the city's best chefs.

Mole pastes in the markets, Oaxaca, Mexico. Photo / Carol Atkinson
Mole pastes in the markets, Oaxaca, Mexico. Photo / Carol Atkinson

Book ahead for Casa Oaxaca's rooftop dining area and try turkey breast cooked in a spicy mole. The city's best margarita cocktails are also dispensed and there's accommodation nearby at Casa Oaxaca's boutique hotel (casaoaxaca.com.mx).

The city's markets and street food vendors also offer tasty shortcuts to understanding Mexican food. Served on street corners around the city, tlayudas are crunchy tortillas topped with refried beans, lettuce, avocado and shredded chicken, and dressed with crumbled feta-like Oaxacan cheese. At around NZ$5, tlayudas are a great value lunch option. Oaxaca's markets feature colourful jugs of aguas frescas (fresh fruit juice), and refreshing mugs of spice-laced horchata, a local drink crafted from rice.

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Tlayuda being prepared, Oaxaca, Mexico. Photo / Carol Atkinson
Tlayuda being prepared, Oaxaca, Mexico. Photo / Carol Atkinson

The region's traditional flavours are also being reinvented and reinvigorated by local Oaxacan chefs and artisan producers. In a heritage wooden mansion, Origen (origenoaxaca.com) is one of the city's most innovative restaurants with multi-course tasting menus including rabbit, duck and hyper-local ingredients such as edible ants and blue corn.

Local cafe Mayordomo (chocolatemayordomo.com.mx) builds on Mexico's 4000-year-old chocolate culture with sustainable and organic bars and iced chocolate incorporating cinnamon and almonds, while the hip Mezcalite Pop! harnesses seasonal fruit juice and local mezcal – a more refined version of tequila – for thoroughly grown-up ice-blocks.

Distilled around Oaxaca from the giant hearts of the agave plant, mezcal is making waves in bars around the world. The potent, smoky spirit is used for cocktails and tasting flights. At Mezcaleria Los Amantes (mezcalerialosamantes.com), the local tradition is to refresh your palate between sips with fresh oranges and zingy salt made from grasshoppers.

Offering a final reason for foodie travellers to venture to Oaxaca, the city has one of Mexico's best craft beer scenes. Turning out small-batch brews of just 30 litres, La Santsima Flor de Lupulo (The Holy Hop Flower) often incorporates local ingredients like hibiscus into their brews.

Market meal, Oaxaca, Mexico. Photo / Carol Atkinson
Market meal, Oaxaca, Mexico. Photo / Carol Atkinson

Local tip

Pasillo de Carnes (Grilled Meat Alley) in Oaxaca's Mercado 20 de Noviembre is an essential destination for travelling carnivores. Order up a plate of chorizo sausages or grilled pork and beef - and definitely go an on empty stomach.

When to go

November to March offers cooler weather conditions with blue sky days and virtually no rain.

Getting there

offers direct flights to Houston. Star Alliance partner

flies Houston to Oaxaca.

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