Text and pictures by Anna Bruce
I first visited Juchitan in the Isthmus region of Oaxaca when a group of friends and I went to las Velas* celebrations in May 2014. We were welcomed by the wonderful smell of a home-cooked meal. Our friends’ mother, Nereyda, had prepared a feast of sharing plates, with a centrepiece of grilled mojarra. Our hungry group gathered round, devouring the food that was being poured onto the table. Full and ready for the evening’s celebrations, it was a perfect introduction to Istmeño cuisine.
While Mexican cooking varies from region to region, no state can be compared to Oaxaca for variety. The state is divided by mountain ranges which have created isolated cultures and microclimates within Oaxaca. Different indigenous ingredients and their varied uses by local people have led to an enormous variety of flavours and many different definitions of what makes Oaxacan food, ‘Oaxacan’.
Oaxaca has eight regional culinary styles, the most prevalent in the capital being that from the central valleys, which include moles, tlayudas, and memelas con asiento. Other regions are beginning to find a voice in the capital, not least the food from the Istmo. With a rich tradition of exotic flavour and celebration, Istmeño cuisine is growing in popularity, offering a fruity, tropical addition to dining in Oaxaca.