Oaxaca is such an amazing foodie city that I don’t want to make one “must eats” post – I don’t think that does the traditional food culture here justice. Instead I want to focus on certain important dishes (like tlayudas), markets, and food collections in separate posts. One of the most important culinary gems of in Oaxaca is a drink you probably haven’t heard of – Tejate.
Tejate is a traditional, non-alcoholic drink that is still made by hand by women in this region. It’s traditionally drank mid-afternoon out of a colorful, handpainted jicara (a shell, like a coconut or calabaza gourd).
So What is Tejate?
Tejate (pronounced “teh – ha – tay”) is a drink that originates from pre-hispanic times. It is made from toasted maize, fermented cacao (chocolate) beans, toasted mamey (a tropical fruit) pits, and flor (flower) de cacao.
All the ingredients are finely ground into a paste on a metate (a stone platform with a rolling pin-like instrument for grinding). The paste is then mixed with water slowly by hand in a clay pot.
You can spot tejate by the big clay bowl it’s served in and the foamy beige top. Don’t be alarmed by the foam – this is caused by the fats from the beans and other ingredients that rise to the top.
The foam is often a factor in how locals judge if a tejate is good. The bigger the foam, the better the tejate!
It’s often served with a sugar water addition to make it subtly sweet. All vendors add a different level of sweetness – feel free to ask for as little or as much as you like. And you can also ask for tejate “sin dulce” (without the sweet syrup), if you prefer it unsweetened.
What does Tejate Taste Like?
As for flavor, a really basic way to describe the flavor is a subtle, complex, and much more delicious mocha. But it’s more involved than that. And since it’s made every day by hand, and each family has a slightly different recipe, you’ll find many variations in flavor from every one you taste (and maybe even from day to day from the same vendor).
Where to Drink Tejate in Oaxaca
Flor de Huayapam: Mercado Benito Juarez
This popular tejate vendor is easy for any tourist to visit because it’s in one of the most popular and centrally located markets – Mercado Benito Juarez.
It’s hard to give exact directions or locations of vendors in the market because many don’t have names and there is no map to follow. But Flor de Huayapas is pretty close to being in the center of the market. Wander the central rows and look for the huge Tejate black sign as pictured, with the rounded wooden counter. There will surely be a crowd of people sitting and drinking tejate, especially if it’s mid or late afternoon.
Tejate Vendor 1, Huayapam: Sold Out of a Woman’s Home
I thought about trying to force two options from in the Centro area where most tourists will be staying, but I just can’t do it. Tejate originated in the little village of San Andres Huayapam (or Huayapam) for short, and this is where the drink’s cullture is strongest. If you’re truly serious about trying and learning about tejate, you have to make a stop here.
Huayapam isn’t on the typical tourist path, but you can take a taxi here, a colectivo (or a shared taxi), or a bus. You can also easily drive here if you’ve rented a car. It’s an easy 20 minute drive and you’ll be at the base of the beautiful mountains.
Since I’ve housesat in this tiny village several times for a total of about 5 months, I’ve made it my mission to try every regular tejate stand that sells daily. I’ve decided on my two favorites, and this woman’s tejate is one of them.
She sells the traditional drink from the front of her home, across from the main church. You’ll see the table with colorful tablecloth, large clay pot, and red hand painted jicara bowls out front. Walk up and call “Buenos Tardes” (if it’s the afternoon) and someone will be out shortly to prepare your tejate.
Tejate Vendor 2, Huayapam: LIttle Storefront
This is my other favorite spot in Huayapam – a little store at the eastern edge of the town. You can sit inside at one of the tables to enjoy the tejate in the traditional way from a hand-painted jicara, or get it to go from the front. If you want it to go, ask for it “en vaso” (in a plastic to go cup).
Other Safe Bets:
I know not every tourist will be able to make it out to Huayapam to try tejate from its birthplace, so I wanted to mention a couple other options.
Be sure to try it from Flor de Huayapam as mentioned above – every tourist should make it to Mercado Benito Juarez so this should be an easy one to try. But if you’re looking for more, here are a couple further ideas in the Centro and vicinity.
Vendor in Mercado 20 de Noviembre
I’ve tried this woman’s tejate several times and it’s always good. She has a little table just inside the west (and slightly southern) entrance of Mercado 20 de Noviembre. Walk up the steps and she’ll be on the right
Vendors in Most Markets
Another safe bet is heading to almost any of the markets. Central de Abastos (but if you head here, just stay aware – there have been instances of pick pocketing), La Merced, Las Flores, Mercado Hidalgo, and almost any other market.
Oaxaca is known for many of it’s unique and famous dishes, but don’t forget to try the traditional beverage of tejate while you’re here. It’s complex, tasty, and steeped in tradition.
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