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EXPLORING OAXACA IN JULY: The Vibrant Celebration of La Guelaguetza

July, 2024

By Chef Fernando Stovell


July is a particularly significant month for Oaxaca as it hosts the vibrant and colourful festival of La Guelaguetza.

This festival, deeply rooted in the region’s indigenous traditions, celebrates community, dance, music, and, of course, food. As an Anglo-Mexican chef with a passion for food and travel, I find Oaxaca’s culinary heritage both inspiring and delightfully diverse. This month, I invite you to join me on a journey through the flavours of Oaxaca, culminating in a delightful recipe featuring one of my favourite ingredients: plátano macho (plantain).

A Feast for the Senses.

La Guelaguetza, also known as Los Lunes del Cerro, is celebrated on the last two Mondays of July. The festival brings together people from various indigenous communities across Oaxaca to share their unique cultural practices. The name “Guelaguetza” comes from the Zapotec word “guelaguetza,” meaning “offering” or “gift.” It embodies the spirit of reciprocity and communal support.

The festivities include traditional dances, such as the Danza de la Pluma and the Danza de los Diablos, performed in vibrant costumes that reflect the region’s rich cultural tapestry. The sounds of traditional music fill the air, creating an atmosphere of joy and celebration. But no festival is complete without indulging in the local cuisine.

A Culinary Adventure

Oaxaca is renowned for its diverse and flavourful cuisine. The region’s dishes are a testament to its rich agricultural heritage and the influence of indigenous ingredients and cooking techniques.

From mole, a complex and savoury sauce, to tlayudas, large, crispy tortillas topped with beans, cheese, and meats, Oaxacan food is a culinary adventure.

One ingredient that stands out in Oaxacan cuisine is the plátano macho, or plantain. Unlike its sweeter cousin, the banana, plantain is starchier and often used in savoury dishes. It’s versatile and can be prepared in numerous ways, from frying and baking to grilling and boiling.

Sweet and Savory Plantain Tamales

To honour the spirit of La Guelaguetza and the rich culinary traditions of Oaxaca, I present to you a recipe for Sweet and Savoury Plantain Tamales. This dish beautifully combines the sweetness of ripe plantains with savoury elements, creating a harmonious blend of flavors that celebrate the essence of Oaxacan cuisine.


  • 4 large ripe plantains plátano macho), peeled and mashed
  • 2 cups masa harina (corn dough flour)
  • 1 cup vegetable shortening or lard
  • 1 cup chicken or vegetable broth
  • 1/2 cup sugar
  • 1/2 teaspoon cinnamon
  • 1/2 teaspoon salt
  • 1 cup cooked and shredded chicken or pork (optional for a savoury touch)
  • 1/2 cup raisins
  • Corn husks, soaked in warm water until pliable



  1. In a large mixing bowl, beat the vegetable shortening or lard until fluffy.
  2. Gradually add the masa harina, sugar, cinnamon, and salt, mixing until well combined.
  3. Slowly incorporate the broth, mixing until the dough is smooth and slightly sticky. If needed, add more broth to achieve the desired consistency.


  1. In a separate bowl, combine the mashed plantains with the masa mixture. Mix until fully integrated.
  2. If using, fold in the shredded chicken or pork and raisins.


  1. Take a soaked corn husk and spread a generous amount of the plantain masa mixture in the centre.
  2. Fold the sides of the husk towards the centre, then fold the bottom up to enclose the filling. Tie with a strip of corn husk to secure if necessary.


  1. Place the tamales upright in a steamer basket, ensuring they are not packed too tightly.
  2. Steam over medium heat for about 1.5 to 2 hours, or until the masa is firm and cooked through. You may need to add more water to the steamer as needed.


Allow the tamales to cool slightly before serving. They can be enjoyed on their own or with a side of salsa or mole.

These Sweet and Savoury Plantain Tamales are a tribute to the flavours and traditions of Oaxaca.

As you savor each bite, you’ll experience the blend of sweet plantains and savoury elements, a true reflection of the culinary diversity that makes Oaxacan cuisine so special.

This July, as we celebrate La Guelaguetza, let’s also celebrate the rich cultural and culinary heritage of Oaxaca. Whether you’re attending the festival in person or experiencing it through its flavours, may your journey be filled with joy, tradition, and delicious discoveries.

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