Aside from arts and crafts, mezcal and mole are what visitors want to take home from Oaxaca. So, where do you get the best?
For those who think “chocolate” when they hear the word mole, know that only three of the seven Oaxacan moles use chocolate in the mix.First, immerse yourself in mole while in Oaxaca. Your first stop should be Restaurant los Pacos, a restaurant in Oaxaca City that serves a sampler of six of the seven types of Oaxacan mole. For those who think “chocolate” when they hear the word mole, know that only three of the seven Oaxacan moles use chocolate in the mix. For take-home moles, there’s a great selection at the Mayordomo chocolate stores (at Aldama 209, 20 de Noviembre 219, and Alcalá 302). Or head into the Mercado Juárez to puesto Tonita (no. 80) for a great selection of mole pastes. Just add water or stock for a perfect, made-at-home mole sauce. The following are the names of Oaxaca’s seven moles (the first three use chocolate, the rest do not): negro, rojo, coloradito, amarillo, verde, chichilo, and manchamantel.
Mezcal is a growth “industry” right now in Oaxaca—witness the countless acres of agave you see growing practically everywhere outside the city limits, and the countless brands of mezcal on display in stores all over town.
Trying to figure out which mezcal you like, or might want to take home, can be daunting. A few facts might help: most mezcal is made from Espadin, a specific type of agave (although other agaves get in the mix, which never happens with tequila), and like tequila it is served blanco (white or young), reposado (rested), or añejo (aged). But you can get mezcals made from other types of agaves, even wild ones. It is usually drunk straight up with a slice of orange and sal gusano (salt with chile and ground-up worms—trust me, it’s very tasty!) on the side, but many bartenders are beginning to mix it up. Just go to any bar in Oaxaca and try a few rounds. Most have plenty of brands on the shelf.
Some favorite mezcal stops in Oaxaca City include Mezcaleria Los Amantes and La Biznaga, or park yourself at the late-night hot spot Café Central if Los Amantes is too small and sedate for your taste. But, there are dozens and dozens of mezcals available in every bar in Oaxaca City, and at countless stores and distilleries in small towns and in the countryside. As for which are the best there are many opinions. There are plenty of great mezcals to sample, the best invariably being small batch, artisanal brands, such as Mezcal Unión, Yuu Baal (made from wild agave), Los Siete Misterios, or Pierde Almas.
Avoid the major labels. Mass production and mezcal don’t mix. Your best bet is not so much to shop around as to sip around. Sample your way to the ones you like, find out where to get them, and pick up a few bottles. Every sip you take back home will deliver Oaxaca back into your heart.
Excerpted from the Seventh Edition of Moon Oaxaca.