Are you guys ready for part 2 of our trip to Oaxaca? In case you missed part 1, you can find it here.
One of the things that I looked forward to the most during our trip to Oaxaca was taking a cooking class! I'd heard so much about the food in this part of Mexico and was eager to learn everything that I could about Oaxacan cuisine. I couldn’t wait to try mole negro, Oaxacan cheese, huitlacoche (corn fungus) and chapolines (crickets).
After scouring reviews on Trip Advisor, we ended up booking a class with La Casa de los Sabores, a cooking school led by Pilar Cabrera, a local chef and restaurateur. I must admit that I was skeptical of this class, mostly because it was the top rated cooking class on Trip Advisor and I wanted something authentic and not geared toward gringos and tourists. I was worried that it wouldn’t fulfill my dreams of learning authentic Oaxacan cooking like Anthony Bourdain did on his travel show. 😂
Adam and I met my mom and the other class attendees at Pilar's restaurant, La Olla. After some brief introductions, we loaded into Pilar’s car and made our way to La Mercado de la Merced for the first part of our cooking journey, the market tour. La Mercado de la Merced is a bustling mercado nestled in a non-touristy neighborhood about 15 minutes drive from La Olla. Pilar informed us that this is where we would find the locals doing their food shopping.
But just before the market we stopped at the neighborhood molino (grinder). This was a highlight for me! It was a very brief pitstop, but a molino is where people from the neighborhood go to grind their corn, chiles and cacao. Each ingredient has it's own dedicated grinder and we were able to watch a man grinding chiles and I just about lost my mind. Industrial grinders for the community! Food and cooking are such an important part of their culture and lifestyle that every neighborhood has a molino. Can you imagine? Goals.
Anyway, after the very brief visit to the molino, we headed to the mercado. Pilar walked us through the market with our shopping list of ingredients for class, stopping at her favorite vendors while teaching us all about Oaxaca’s local ingredients. She pointed out the freshest chiles and warned us that the chapolines (crickets) were from last years harvest and not fresh. She seemed to know all of the vendors personally and this made for a very pleasant tour. As for my doubts about this class, this market was legit and we were the only gringos there. (even though my mom and I are Mexican, sorry Adam) She also introduced us to her chocolate supplier and to this day I regret not buying more than I did. It was unlike any other chocolate I’ve ever tasted.
We saw so many vibrant fruits and vegetables that we’d never seen before. Alfalfa?!…. It was a food wonderland. It was also so much calmer than the more popular, tourist-packed Mercado 20 de Noviembre. I was super pleased to have seen this authentic side of life in Oaxaca. Thank you, Pilar for the excellent tour. I could have spent all day in this mercado!
After our market tour ended, Pilar drove us back to her home for the cooking portion of class and lunch. I was immediately impressed with how nice her kitchen was. It was the perfect set-up for a cooking class. When we arrived at Pilar’s, her assistants were busy prepping the rest of the ingredients and setting up for us to start cooking. The class was hands-on and we divvied up tasks like chopping garlic, shredding cheese, seeding the chiles, stuffing the chiles and making the tortillas.
I’d be lying if I said that I remember all of the tips and techniques that she taught us, but I do remember being blown away by the meal that we made. It was absolutely delicious. Was it super authentic? Who knows. The ingredients were authentic and from the region and many of the techniques were new to me. It’s a bummer that we can’t get most of the ingredients that make their food so special here in Boston, but that’s what makes travel so special. Things like avocado leaves, black beans from the region, chiles and Oaxacan cheese. Flavors and ingredients that are totally unique to the land that grows it.
The menu that we prepared that day: Chile, Frijol y Maiz
Chiles relleno de flor de calabaza y queso con salsa roja
Arroz a la yerbabuena
Pay de requeson y pina
After we cooked all of this delicious food we sat down to enjoy this feast together. We'd worked up quite the appetite so you can imagine how much we enjoyed this meal. There was also a mezcal tasting after we lunch!
Have you ever taken a cooking class when traveling? We learned so much about Oaxacan cooking and I’m still floored by how limited my knowledge of “Mexican” food is. Even growing up in a Mexican household, Mexico has so many different types of cuisine and history with each state and region. I hope we can explore more parts like Puebla and Chiapas one day too.
Thank you for reading! If you have a cooking story to share with me, please leave a comment below.