Music, mezcal and mole

The whole point of heading to Oaxaca was to learn Spanish. What we ended up with was a basic ability to converse, an addiction to mole, an education in the arts of making and drinking mezcal, and about half a dozen new drinking buddies. A few of them were from Perth, and of course, Perth being what it is, at least one of them knows my sister. They went to school together. Of course.

One of our most memorable excursions was to a small bar that one of the girls – Lisa – had found the previous evening. It had a sweet deal going on, for every beer you ordered, they gave you a small plate of tapas, which was actually really tasty. So more than three beers effectively gets you a meal. Four beers and you don’t really care if you eat any more or not. The live salsa band was amazing, and it was enough to just sit back and listen to music. By halfway through the night all the girls in our group were out on the floor, attempting to salsa, having been cajoled out there by the local guys. I saw some poorly disguised giggles as we stepped on our partners toes or spun in the wrong direction, or generally took out anyone within 2 metres of us. Regardless, they must have liked us because in a gorgeous display of gentlemanly behaviour, they bought all of us roses at the end of the evening. (Australian men, please take note.)
Of course mezcal being the local drink, we had to go and find out what it was all about. I had wrongly believed that mezcal was in fact a version of tequilla, but a tour of a mezcal factory in nearby Teotilan put paid to all my misgivings. We learned that like any good whiskey or scotch, good mezcal is actually put through an ageing process of anywhere up to 12 years. In the factory shop we were given samples of mezcal of different ages, ranging from straight from the still, which was  pure rocket fuel, to the 12 year old mezcal that slid down your throat without any burn. We were also introduced to the crema de mezcal which comes in numerous flavours, including pistachio, hazelnut, coffee, burned cream and strawberry. At last count I had sampled close to 10. When we walked out of that factory we were – predictably – very happy mezcal converts.

And then there was the food. Or most importantlyspecifically, the mole (pronounced moh-lay). This is a thick rich sauce that has anywhere up to 30 ingredients, including fruit, cinnamon, chillies and assorted spices. The process to make mole is a long one, it takes days in fact. There are about half a dozen or so different varieties but my favourite was mole negro – which had dark Oaxacan chocolate as one of its ingredients. You wouldn’t think chocolate sauce poured over chicken would work but it really, really does. After the first time I tasted it, I was hooked, and was regularly scanning menus for this dish – trying to sample as many varieties as possible.

My addiction to mole also left me wanting to write letters of complaint to every Mexican restaurant I have ever set foot in back home. I’ve never seen it listed among the tacos, nachos and burritos and I want to know why! At the very least I’m determined to learn how to cook this dish, even if it does take a week every time.

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