Oaxaca - Mexican Chocolate & Mole
I am heading to Oaxaca in May and before I forget (based on a post below), I would like an explanation of which shops/markets make the best chocolate. Does anyone have any recommendations for particular places that I should check out?
I figure I will bring multiple samples of chocolate back home.
Most of the chocolate shops that I tried actually make some of the worst chocolate imaginable. A joke, really. Very grainy. But still, it is chocolate; and it comes in a variety of flavors. The shops around the downtown market give out free samples. Perhaps there is a gourmet chocolate place that I don't know about. Let us know what you find.
I posted some restaurant suggestions a year or so ago. Don't miss El Red for seafood, and Cathedral for squash blossom soup.
re: Travis Leroy
I kind of like the graininess of Mexican chocolate. I mainly get my authentic chocolate supply in Guadalajara, but we have only located one good version there. I am curious to test out the Oaxacan versions and I will report back upon my return.
I will definitely run a search for the food options before I go. Thanks!
I like it too - great drinking chocolate. As you already know, it's not Belgium -- it's a totally different chocolate experience from that.
There's a ton of places in the 20 de Nov market in the middle of town - the major Mayordomo cafe and outlet which has more refined bars of chocolate if you want something a little more packaged, including instant chocolate milk powder. On the edges of the sprawling Abastos market, there's a street of roaster/grinder places. At Merced, in the east side of town, more great mole and chiles and lunch/breakfast stalls. I like everything I brought home, none particularly more than the others - chocolate that is.
I wouldn't mind spending enough time to refine my own sense of how much almond to sugar to cocoa to cinnamon for a custom grind; that's a whole 'nother culinary adventure.
- try chocolate "con agua", not just "con leche"
The bars you buy premade have a different blend for each of those usages.
- taste those dabs of mole that the market ladies offer. The cheaper stuff is noticably sweet, to mask inferior ingredients. Bring home all the different kinds you like - it's really easy to make at home with the paste or powder. I wish I had more of the green (pumpkin seed based) mole, and I like the red mole as much if not more than the black.
Essentially, you can't go wrong!
Wow - thanks for your post!! Essentially, I just want to bring back a good variety that will last for a year or so - I think chocolate can be stored for long periods of time. The same holds true for mole.
I have always preferred chocolate made with milk, but my mom always tell me that her aunts used to have their small cup of chocolate in the afternoon with water. They were intense little cups of chocolate too.
So basically, I can't go wrong with the brands of chocolate or the ground mole - sounds great!!
even better, you have maternal guidance. I LOVE those little intense chocolates con aqua!
and yes, it all stores very well.
freeze the mole paste ("en pasta") - I've doled it out for at least a year from my freezer, packed in small fist sized portions.
I froze the mole verde powder too, but I don't know if you have to...I suppose they all have nut oils that could go off, so clear out your freezer before you go . . .
if you have a stopover in Mexico City, you might enjoy the Mercado San Juan. It is the higher end, very high quality food market, and an absolute dream. I got my very favorite mole poblano (en polvo/powder) there.
You probably know this, but just in case
Diana Kennedy and Rick Bayless have both written alot about mole and chocolate and other treats in Oaxaca.
re: Travis Leroy
Artisanal Oaxacan chocolate of the highest standard should never be grainy. This is one of the quality distinctions that can be made between machine-milled chocolate and chocolate that has been processed by traditional means: that is, with a metate. There is a fundamental difference between cacao that has been painstakingly crushed so that the aromatic oils and flavor compounds are slowly released and cacao that is simply pulverized. Grainy chocolate also suggests that some sort of extender has been added: perhaps something as seemingly innocuous as the "cascara" (shell/skin) of the bean. Even fairly well-regarded chocolate brands are known to add these to extend their product. This is not to demonize all the commercial mills around (and all the major names in Oaxaca: La Soledad, Mayordomo, Guelaguetza and so on are lined up in a row of storefronts at the southern end of 20 de Nov Market, on c/Mina if my meory is correct). They serve a purpose in the larger scheme of commerce. But for the finest chocolate: it is still worth searching for traditional chocolate de metate. And yes, they are widely available. No, I correct that. Not WIDELY available: but they are there for those who are persistent enough to seek them. Ask around in the markets of villages. You can even find superior chocolate de metate in Oaxaca itself: try for instance the excellent product sold by stall #80 in Juarez Market (the stall is called Ton~ita, I think). They source their chocolate as well as wonderful mole pastes from Zaachila. But this is only one purveyor: there are many more. Search for them!
excellent post! i learned something.
we bought some excellent chocolate last month (not grainy at all! i am snacking on some) from a couple of women in the market at ocotlan about 30 km south of oaxaca city. love that market on fridays. the women were selling their chocolate from a table they had out in the hallway along the inner perimeter of the market; they didn't have a stall.
re: babar ganesh
Yes. This is exactly what I am talking about: home-made chocolate prepared the traditional way by old (Indian) women who often simply walk around with their goods in a basket. The market regulars recognize them and know exactly what they sell. The chocolate is usually offered simply as "chocolate casero" (home-style) not as "chocolate de metate". But be careful: not all chocolate casero is ground on the metate. Often it is meticulously prepared according to old family procedures but then taken to the local mill to be ground. For instance, there is in the Ocotlan market a stall that offers very fine chocolate tablets that are machine-milled (I am reconstructing the location from memory, completely without notes: it is in the middle of the second? third? row from the north wall of the market//if you look to the right while facing the stall, you will see the baked goods stalls with the regan~adas, the pan de yema and all the other goodies for which Ocotlan is famous.) Again, I am not suggesting that machine-milled is necessarily "bad". Just pointing out that there is a completely different level of artisanal excellence, beyond Sol/Soledad/Mayordomo/et al, that remains mostly unexplored. Excellent chocolate de metate could be found in Reyes Etla. I have found a source in Teotitlan. I also took extensive notes at the Sunday market in Tlacolula so that hopefully I would some day recognize the woman from whom I bought chocolate de metate. Unfortunately, it's impossible to share these notes: they're nothing more than the name of the woman, a description of what she looks like to jog my own memory, what time she says she's usually walking around the market. But start with the chocolate de metate of Ton~ita (stall 80 of Juarez Market). They're very good (the mole pastes are also terrific-specially the mole negro and the coloradito). Take a few bars and ask one of the ladies running the comedores at 20 de Nov if one of them could prepare it for you. Use this product as a basis for comparison, and then do your own exploring! After a while, you will start being able to make distinctions and recognize quality.
I am not familiar with the prices of Sol/Guelaguetza/Mayordomo and so on and so cannot say how the prices compare with chocolate casero. But I imagine chocolate from one of the mills on calle Mina to be more expensive (Mayordomo now has a sharp looking boutique right smack in the middle of 20 de Nov Market, selling all sorts of fancy-pants products.) Chocolate casero runs anywhere from USD2-4 for several tablets or bars.
Incidentally, rough, unpolished but vivid, characterful home-distilled mezcal could be found at the Sunday market in Tlacolula. Hang around near the pulque stalls: you might be approach by an old lady selling this excellent product.
I have more notes on Ocotlan and all the other villages at home. Just need to find the time to put them together in a post.
I enjoyed watching the various ingredients pushed into the grinder and then the liquid chocolate pour out at the bottom - and the smell. Yes - it's grainier. However - I noticed that locals each had their own proportions of ingredients. If you get your own special mix - be sure to break it up into smaller pieces instead of letting it harden into one massive chunk. It's great for blending with either mik or water.