Optimum Wellness Fall 2018

Page 52


Explore one of Mexico’s most intriguing culinary regions. BY REBECCA TREON

The southwestern Mexican state of Oaxaca (pronounced wä’-hä-kä) is home to the country’s most diverse gastronomy. Known around the world for its unique contributions to Mexican cuisine, it’s varied both because of its geographical differences and its 16 indigenous cultures, like the Mixtecs and Zapotecs, for whom dwelling in isolated valleys has preserved their distinctive culinary traditions. 50





he cuisine is mind-boggling,” says Pati Jinich, a chef, author and host of the award-winning Pati’s Mexican Table on PBS. “Oaxaca is the universe of little universes. In terms of food, it is one of the most rich, diverse and multilayered cuisines from all of Mexico.” Oaxaca’s main staples are corn, black beans and chiles, and it’s a region that produces coffee, chocolate and mezcal. As in most of Mexico, corn is a staple in a typical Oaxacan diet—in fact, one traditional creation myth is that the first humans were made of white and yellow corn and came out of a husk, as seen in murals in Tlaxcala in central Mexico. Domesticated 7,000 years ago, Mexican corn now comes in 59 varieties (the United States grows only six), and it’s so important to the culture that seed banks have been started to preserve the distinct cultivars. From the corn flour, staples like tortillas and masa for tamales are made. A popular delicacy made from corn is huitlacoche, or corn smut, an earthy, mushroomy fungus that grows on the cob and is used as a filling in quesadillas. Tortillas are obviously versatile (think tacos), but in Oaxaca, large, semidry tortillas are used to make tlayudas (or clayudas), a sort of Oaxacan pizza topped in refried black beans, tomatoes, avocados, stringy Oaxacan cheese (quesillo) and meat—typically chorizo, tasajo ( jerky) or chicken tinga. Tetelas—tortillas stuffed with black beans and then folded into triangles and cooked on a comal, or griddle—are a Mixtec specialty unique to Oaxaca. A

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