Oaxaca, Mexico

Cooking and markets in Oaxaca, Mexico

One of the things Oaxaca is famous for is its food, and particularly mole, which is a generic name for many different sauces, and so my first priority was to find a cooking class. This wasn’t hard to find, and within a few minutes over breakfast we were booked in to the Casa Crespo’s cooking class just a few blocks away.

The class started with a discussion of the menu and we were asked to choose what we would like to make. This proved to be to be the most difficult part of the day, as there were so many delicious choices! But we finally settled on a menu and set off to the local market to purchase the ingredients.

Oaxaca, Mexico

Oaxaca, Mexico

It was absolutely fascinating. Having Oscar, our guide and chef for the day, was fantastic, as he explained all the different herbs, the many different types of chilli, and various other specialities that were on display. For example, amongst the pastries there was a special wreath-like bread concoction that is prepared specifically for Epiphany, on 6th January, which has small baby-Jesus dolls in it, but it is only eaten for the next two days of the year.

Oaxaca, Mexico

Oaxaca, Mexico

From there it was back to Casa Crespo, which is a gorgeous little restaurant filled with beautiful art, and I later discovered was a very upmarket B&B as well. This was to be our base for the next few hours while we worked our way through the extensive menu we’d chosen. It was very informative as we finally figured out what some of the food we had been eating was! As Oscar said, the tortilla is the base of many of their meals – if it’s rolled it’s called this, if it’s rolled and cooked it’s called that, if it’s toasted it’s this, if it’s folded it’s that….and so it went on. As we were making one of the dishes Lucy asked if we could use a different type of chilli. Oscar frowned, and said yes, but then it would be called by a different name. That put us in our place, and also helped explain the vast array of choices on offer.

Oaxaca, Mexico

Oaxaca, Mexico

First up we made tortillas. The dough is bought at the market then we rolled them and cooked them ourselves. When they are cooked they sometimes puff up very satisfyingly, which Oscar said means that you are ready for marriage.

Then we added some chopped up squash blossoms and herbs to the tortilla dough, rolled them much smaller and thicker, cooked them and they were called something else. Then we made a mole, which had a staggering list of ingredients – so not something easily recreated at home, however not impossible if I really apply myself and can find the ingredients. We also made an easy tomato and chilli based salsa, which can then be used as a base to add other flavours. So then we used that base and made three different salsas: one with fried avocado leaves, one with cumin, and one with algarve worms in it. Sounds a bit disgusting but actually it wasn’t dissimilar from anchovy, so naturally I thought it was delicious. We also made quesadillas with a very good local stringy cheese which was incredibly morish, and our choice of flavours. I chose grasshoppers – because where else would I have the chance to be eating them? They were surprisingly delicious and I would order them again in a flash…who would’ve thought?!

Oaxaca, Mexico

Oaxaca, Mexico

The menu was extensive, on top of the other snacks and quesadillas we had shrimp soup, chicken and tomato stuffed jalapeno peppers, and our mole was served with chicken, and then to finish with a rose-water ice cream. Not surprisingly five hours after we started we were completely stuffed. It was one of the best ever cooking classes I have done, and there are definitely things that I will recreate at home. The food generally is absolutely delicious, with a huge amount of variety. I could eat Mexican food for a very long time without getting bored, which is one big difference with the food in Cuba. While is wasn’t as bad as everyone had told me, there wasn’t a huge amount of variety. If you like rice and beans, pork, chicken and shrimps you’ll do fine. In Mexico however the flavours are fantastic, and I’ve been very taken with the delicious salsas and the limes that are served with almost everything.

Probably a good thing I only had a couple of days in Oaxaca. ┬áThe food was so delicious, it could’ve been a very fattening trip!

Oaxaca, Mexico

Oaxaca, Mexico

 

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