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Oaxaca Mole Festival Signals Return of Tourism with a Vengeance

July has traditionally been a high season for tourism in Oaxaca, Mexico. However, over the past few years tourism has been muted and marred by misguided media reports. But on July 22, 2011, the inauguration of the annual mole festival in Oaxaca marked a return to strong tourism in the state. Tourism returned with a vengeance, sparked by festivities which extend from July 22 through August 5. Mole, of course, is that thick, rich sauce with a diversity of formulations, for which Oaxaca has become internationally renowned.

Precursor of Return to Strong Tourism in Oaxaca, Mexico

The Mexican federal government selected Oaxaca as the city for the kick-off of its Mexico Today project, a program for Marca País-Imagen de México, a bold initiative to promote investment in Mexico and return tourism to its deserved level. That was in June, 2011. The strategic planning of the launch in Oaxaca was presumably in part connected to a recognition of the summer season’s events in the city such as The Guelaguetza, that famed folkloric dance festival, and other events which have traditionally come together with it or on its heels.

July and August festivities in Mexico are showcased in Oaxaca, year in and year out. In addition to the Guelaguetza, the city and region play host to the festival in honor of tamales and tejate (the pre – Hispanic “Drink of the Gods”) in nearby San Andrés Huayápam, the mushroom festival and feast in the Sierra Norte of the state, and the Festival of the Seven Moles.

Festival of the Seven Moles in Oaxaca

For many years, the Oaxaca division of the Mexican national restaurant association (CANIRAC) has hosted an annual festival celebrating the seven moles. But this year was just a little different, coming on the tail of the Oaxaca Mexico Today initiative, and the country’s push towards economic recovery in the investment and tourism sectors.

CANIRAC pulled out all the stops. Spokesperson Luis Espinosa, co-owner of the popular Oaxaca restaurant La Olla, while dancing in the streets and knocking back a couple of mezcals, stated “Look at the crowds here, the dancing, the music, the joy of all the people, both Oaxacans and tourists alike who are fortunate enough to be with us at this watershed time of our modern history. Now we’re celebrating in El Pañuelito [a small outdoor areas beside the Santa Domingo church, where food booths were set up], and tonight we inaugurate the mezcal festival.” Espinosa was referring to the same-day inauguration of the annual Feria de Mezcal, where 50 producers of the uniquely Mexican spirit would be kicking off their own event just up the street at the park known as El Llano.

But during the day, here at El Pañuelito, the focus was on Oaxaxan culinary arts. In many circles Oaxaca is known as the gastronomic capital of Mexico, and some mavens of mole go so far as to elevate the region to having the best food and dining in all of Latin America.

Posters were plastered throughout Oaxaca in restaurants as well as the streets that listed 44 different restaurants with special menus honoring the seven different moles: negro, verde, coloradito, chichilo, mancha mantela, rojo and amarillo. The event featured complimentary samples as well as live traditional music and dance. For foodies in general and for aficionados of Mexican cuisine, summertime in Oaxaca and the Festival of the Seven Moles provides a prime opportunity to learn, indulge, and rejoice.

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