Oaxaca is a lively colonial-style city located in central Mexico that boasts many grand churches, trendy restaurants, and hip Mezcal bars! But it is also the producer of the best chocolate in Mexico. Rich Mole Negro, Mexican Hot Chocolate and freshly-made chocolate treats are consumed at almost every meal in Oaxaca. Chocolate lovers will be in heaven!
The Birthplace of Chocolate
Not many people are aware that Oaxaca is the birthplace of Chocolate. The Aztecs believed chocolate was the food of the gods. At one point it was such a valuable commodity that they even used it as currency. The Aztecs and Mayans were the first consumers of chocolate although not in its current familiar form. A popular drink among the Aztecs was Xocolatl; a bitter chocolate concoction made from ground cacao beans, vanilla, chili peppers and spices. The famous explorer Hernan Cortes introduced chocolate to Europe in the 1500’s when he brought it back home from his journey to Mexico. The Spaniards created their own version of the Aztec’s chocolate beverage by adding sugar and removing the chilies. This creamy hot chocolate beverage became a hit that spread across Spain and then throughout the world. As it turn out the Aztecs and Spaniards were onto something in their obsession with Chocolate! Many people now believe that chocolate has proven health benefits; it is shown to be rich in antioxidants, have anti-aging properties and is a mood enhancer.
Traditional Mole and Chocolate in Oaxaca
Chocolate is a main staple of the cuisine of Oaxaca. Chocolate is not just used in beverages and desserts but to make a variety of dishes as well. Rich chocolate in its raw form is used to produce a delicious traditional dish in Oaxaca called Mole Negro. Most are familiar with Mole; a sauce typically served over pork, chicken, turkey or enchiladas, but Mole Negro is a rich sauce made from dark chocolate, garlic, sesames seeds, cloves and many other spices and ingredients.
The actual chocolate is locally produced in Oaxaca, but the seeds come from the Theobroma Cacao tree that grows in the Tabasco and Chiapas regions of Mexico. The cocoa beans are then locally produced into a variety of chunky bars, slightly different than what Americans may be used to. This pure dark chocolate has a grainier texture and is semi-sweet. Popular bars are made with Canela (cinnamon), Vanilla, Mezcal, con leche (with milk) and sin azucar (without sugar).
Calle Mina or Chocolate Street
The best place for you to sample this rich delicious chocolate is on Calle Mina; coined Chocolate Street because of the concentration of chocolate shops located on it. Within a couple block radius of Mina you will notice the scent of richly ground chocolate that fills the air. It is intoxicating! Their are three main chocolate purveyors located on the same block; Mayordomo, La Soledad, and Guelaguetza.
If the scent doesn’t lead you to this chocolate strip-here are some directions; start at the corner of Calle 20 de Noviembre and Mina at Mayordomo- the biggest chocolate producer in Mexico. They have a multitude of shops in Oaxaca including a large one in the main bus station. This large shop located on Calle Mina produces chocolate right in the front of the store. They sell a large variety of rich chocolate products including Mole Negro. People can bring in their own family recipe and wait for the chocolatiers to grind and prepare it for them. This large shop also has a chocolate bar where visitors can indulge in a frothy Mexican Hot Chocolate or other snacks.
The fun part is watching the chocolate makers make the chocolate right in the front of the shop! Groups of visitors frequently crowd to watch the production of freshly made chocolate at the first shop they come to but you can see this process at all three shops. First they grind the roasted cocoa beans in large grinders then they mix in vanilla and nuts or cinnamon. The result is a pure dark chocolate paste that can be made into bars or mole.
Chocolate Lovers Vacation
Chocolate fanatics can overdose on all things chocolate at La Soledad, located at Mina 212. This bustling Chocolatier produces chocolate on-site but also has a hotel and restaurant specializing in the decadent treat! Plan to have breakfast or lunch at the Chocolateria Restaurant de Soledad where they specialize in many chocolate-filled desserts, moles and beverages. Need a quick burst of natural energy? Soledad sells a delicious product called Choco-energetico; a fresh chocolate treat made with chocolate and honey guaranteed to kick you into high gear. Still need more chocolate immersion? Stay above La Soledad at the Chocolate Posada Hotel. This cute little bed and breakfast has 15 rooms centered around a courtyard. The best part is waking up or going to sleep to the delicious smell and taste of chocolate.
After chocolate street, head over to Oaxaca’s central fresh food market; 20 de Noviembre Market. This is a lively market to shop and have an authentic Mexican Hot Chocolate beverage. Mexican Hot Chocolate can be made with aqua or leche (water or milk) and is served in a small bowl with a side or pan or bread for dipping. Vendors sample and sell a variety of traditional Moles such as Rojo or Negro to try or to prepare at home.
How to Make Authentic Mexican Hot Chocolate
If you can’t make it to Mexico try this recipe for authentic Mexican Hot chocolate at home. You will need a Mexican molinillo; a whisk used to froth hot chocolate. In a medium sauce pan melt 2-4 squares of dark chocolate such a Mayordomo or Abuelita. Slowly mix in 4 cups milk (almond milk or water). Stir constantly using the molinillo or wire whisk until the mixture is frothy and the chocolate is melted. Add sugar, cinnamon or vanilla to taste; serves four.
For a thicker and creamier hot chocolate try a traditional Champurrado. In a medium saucepan over medium heat, mix 1/4 cup masa flour (light corn meal) and 1 cup hot water. Stir with whisk constantly to remove all lumps. Slowly add 4 cups milk and 2 squares of Mexican chocolate (or amount desired). Stir with a wire Wisk until all chocolate is melted and allow it to reach a boil. Reduce heat until it reaches desired consistency. If it is too thick add more water or strain. Serve immediately.
Visitors to Oaxaca fall in love with this charming colonial-style city rich in culture and tradition, but its the prevalence of rich chocolate treats that will draw them back time and time again!