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Fall 2006 | Eating in Oaxaca

Fall 2006 | Eating in Oaxaca

Queer Eye foodinista Ted Allen shares a few moments from his recent trip to Oaxaca, Mexico, where he and his boyfriend indulged in spicy, chocolaty mole (“mo-lay”).

"I took a lot of crap once for forcing a straight guy to make mole on Queer Eye," says Ted Allen, whose most memorable culinary adventure was a trip to Oaxaca, Mexico, with his boyfriend. "The guy messed it up because it's a ludicrously complicated sauce with many ingredients, best left to the professionals who invented it, the people in Oaxaca."

As sophisticated in its culinary traditions as Tuscany, this small city in southern Mexico hosts an annual Food of the Gods Festival October 7–14, offering tastes of everything from chilies to chocolate to mole, which may be the one recipe that's not in Allen's cookbook, The Food You Want to Eat: 100 Smart, Simple Recipes.

Black mole (there are roughly seven standard varieties) is the best known. "It goes very well with chicken," Allen says. "It actually pairs perfectly with Negra Modelo, a dark Mexican beer that has chocolate notes in it. It's like the two things came from the same playbook, palette-wise."

For a taste of the "truest possible" mole, Allen advises visiting Oaxaca's charming zocalo (town square). "It's lined with restaurants with tables out on the verandas, and you drink Negro Modelo beer for 10 cents a bottle and eat mole until you explode."

Can't stomach the idea of chocolate on your chicken? Help us out, Queer Eye! "Traditional mole is actually kind of a modern idea in a lot of cooking: mixing sweet and savory. Like a red zinfandel wine, chocolate is just one of many spices in it. And if you just don't like the chocolate mole, there are six more you can try."

Ted dishes more about his trip in this online exclusive:

"We started out traveling on a tiny budget. The first hotel we checked into was $15 a night. It was clean but depressing. It had fluorescent lights and linoleum floors. After one night there we immediately moved to what we think is the best hotel at the zocalo, the Marques Del Valle. There's a really expensive hotel that's away from the square, but we didn't go there. This was a local hotel. It was $50 a night. Suddenly, we had a marble bathroom and a view overlooking the zocalo, which was just storybook. There's a big gazebo in the square where bands play."

"One day we were looking for something different to do to get out of the city, and we found a brochure for a woman who offers horseback riding. It was so funny because the people running the operation were ex-professors from Berkeley, a woman and her husband who had decided that their dream was to move to Oaxaca and start a mescal farm. Unfortunately, they didn't realize that an agave cactus takes 10 years to mature. They needed to do something in the interim, so they started offering rides on these ancient horses. Not that pretty-looking, but we had fun."

"Oaxaca is famous for it's brightly colored wood carvings. Our friend started collecting these things on eBay, but you can get them much cheaper in person. You hire a driver, and they'll take you out to these villages where they make wood carvings and black pottery. Much of it is very lacy, with beautiful perforated designs and shiny black colors. The prices were so good and the pieces were so nice that we just collected wildly. We ended up having a huge stack and wondered how the hell were we going to get them home. I frantically ran down to the market and bought two handmade baskets, the best I could do. We stuffed all of the sculptures in the bags--we had to look like the most idiotic drug smugglers--but we landed in Chicago and these odd-sized bags came running down the baggage claim. And nothing broke."

"A lot of the moles you get in the United States are probably butchered. You'd have to go to a really authentic place. It's an incredibly complicated sauce. If you were in New York City, you would have to go to La Palapa Rockola on Seventh Avenue, which is where we sourced the mole when we did it on Queer Eye. It's an incredible restaurant with a whole bunch of sauces, and they do it right. They have a real Mexican chef there, and they know what they're doing."

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