Asiento, the not so ‘secret’ Oaxacan food flavor

Mexican food is among the best in the world. And Oaxacan cuisine has its own particular taste that has made it famous across borders.

variety of dishes, flavors and ingredients make it distinctive enough from other states and a major contribution to the national gastronomy.

One place in Los Angeles where you can find the array of Oaxacan tastes is Madre Oaxacan Restaurant & Mezcaleria, which has locations in Culver City, Torrance and West Hollywood.

Without a doubt, Oaxaca’s official dish is mole, a rich, complex mix of more ingredients that you can count on your fingers and toes. Madre Oaxacan Restaurant offers several verisions: coloradito, negro, rojo, verde. Mole is also used in other dishes, including tamales and enmoladas. These latter ones are enchiladas oaxaquenas, tortillas dipped in mole negro or coloradito and served with white rice. At Madre, you can have them with quesillo, chicken or beef picadillo, tasajo, cecina, carnitas or chorizo.

But the Oaxacan cuisine delights extend to tlayudas, tacos, tortas and a number of other dishes under “Vitamin T” (as Mexicans commonly referred to their food).

Asiento

A good portion of these “Vitamin T” offerings have a common denominator, besides the tortillas.

Asiento, from the Spanish verb asentar (meaning to settle), takes on a culinary role in Oaxacan food, where it refers to the settled fat left over after frying and cooling pig lard.

Asiento is a basic ingredient in two of Oaxaca’s best known dishes, memelas and tlayudas.

Memelas or memelitas are handmade, thick corn tortillas toasted on a hot comal, spread with asiento, black bean sauce and queso fresco (fresh cheese). At Madre Oaxacan Restaurant you can have them vegetarian style as described above, or with your choice of cecina, tasajo, chorizo, quesillo or pork belly. Either way, you won’t go wrong.

Tlayudas consist of a large, thin, crunchy, partially fried or toasted tortilla covered with a spread of refried beans, asiento, lettuce or cabbage, radishes, tomato and avocado, as well as cecina, chorizo, tasajo and salsa.

According to Oaxacan lore, communities in the state began to produce asiento after the Spanish conquest, as the “peninsulares” (Spanish born) brought an increasing consumption of animal products.

Amaranto

The Spanish conquistadors brought new meals with them, but Aztecs and the other indigenous tribes in Mexico had eaten well for millennia, producing many flavorful dishes that are still enjoyed today.

Their diet was based on three major crops, maize, beans and amaranth (amaranto), the last one almost eliminated after the Spanish conquest, but that thankfully did not disappear entirely.

Aztecs prized amaranth so much it was used for ceremonial purposes and their god of war, Huitzlipochtli, was depicted as made from amaranth grains and honey.

The Whole Grain Council says there are over 70 species of the Amaranthus plant, with A. cruentus and A. hypochondriacus indigenous to Mexico and Central America.

The gluten-free, ancient grain is high in protein, vitamins and minerals. The greens of the plant are also edible and rich in iron.

Several Oaxacan organizations still promote its cultivation and use, particularly in alegrias (joys), sweet bars made with puffd amaranth, honey, and sometimes chocolate or seeds.

Mezcales and Tequilas

To enjoy all these delicacies, nothing better than a good mezcal or tequila, and Madre Oaxacan Restaurant has one of the most extensive offerings of these spirits in Los Angeles, and perhaps in the world.

Popular legend has it that the mezcal was born when a bolt hit a maguey during a fierce storm, igniting the first tatema (roasted agave plant).

Whatever the case may be, the “gift from the sky” continues to conquer palates around the world.

Mezcal and tequilas are close cousins, but not the same. Both are made from the agave (maguey) plant, but their similarities end there.

Mezcal can be made from 11 different types of agave native to Oaxaca, which is the state where most of them are made. Tequila is distilled from blue agave in the state of Jalisco.

Mezcal is cooked inside earthen pits lined with lava rocks and filled with wood and charcoal before being distilled in clay or copper pots.

Tequila is produced by steaming the agave inside industrial ovens before being distilled two or three times in copper pots.

Whichever you prefer, owner Ivan Vasquez is constantly adding to an already impressive display of hundreds of mezcal and tequila bottles that will satisfy the most demanding spirit adventurer.

If you want to sample some mezcal, you can enjoy Pierde Almas Botanica, made from agave Espadin in Oaxaca, distilled in copper and with 45% alcohol; Real Minero Barril, produced from agave barril in Santa Catarina Minas, Oaxaca, distilled in clay and with 49.9% or El Mero Mero Tobala from agave Tobala and produced in San Dionisio Ocotepec, Oaxaca and distilled in copper with 46% alcohol.

If your inclination is towards tequila, you might enjoy Ocho Extra Anejo from Arandas, Jalisco, distilled in Stainless Steel and with 40% alcohol; Siete Leguas Reposado hailing from Atotonilco El Alto, Jalisco, distilled in copper with 40% alcohol or Tapatio Blanco 110 produced in Arandas, Jalisco, distilled in copper and with 55% alcohol.

Madre Oaxacan Restaurant also has numerous cocktails and mixed drinks for you to enjoy. You can order them along with your favorite dishes to enjoy at the safety of your home with your loved ones.

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