A really great way to immerse yourself in local food culture and taste is to do a simple cooking class. The last time I did one was many years ago in Hoi An, Vietnam and I enjoyed that so much that I need to give myself an uppercut for not doing them more often. I simply have not indulged in these as often as I should have, but at the suggestion of my travel buddy in Oaxaca, Mexico I decided it was time to give it another crack.
The usual routine for a cooking class is to hit the local market early in the morning to buy the ingredients. This also gives a far more detailed idea of how the local markets work and just what is available. Just strolling around taking photos does not provide a true indication of what is really available in these local markets. The Central Market in Oaxaca is absolutely massive and the quality of the produce left me spellbound. Stall after stall of super fresh and ripe seasonal produce is laid out as far as the eye can see. Our chef, teacher and all round good bloke Geraldo was our chef, teacher and mentor. He patiently explained the in & outs of both the produce and the people in the market.
Ingredients procured, it was time to head back to Geraldos home, kitchen and classroom. Without going into intimate detail of the preparation of ingredients, the basic idea was to prepare and cook tamales, a salsa de Gusanito, guacamole, a traditional Oaxaca soup and a mole negro. Now, I have tried a couple of moles before but pretty much had little idea of what actually goes into developing the deep flavours required. To be honest, a mole is not the prettiest dish in the world. It looks a little as though a pile of mud was thoughtfully retrieved from the nearest boggy road. The deep smells of the spices as they are pounded in a mortar and pestle however, suggests something very different indeed.
Firstly, the Tameles were prepared with long banana leaves, trimmed and cut into portions. The freshly ground corn was mixed with a preprepared red Mole sauce, folded up and laid in a steamer to cook. Now the big guns were brought out and heavy mortars and pestles were distributed throughout. Without going into the long list of fresh spices to be pounded into shape, ( a photo of the recipe follows ), our little group was soon head down, pounding, mashing and stirring to our hearts content.
Meanwhile, others were busy deseeding and roasting the fresh chillies to be blended and added to the spice mixture.
Yep, cactus worms are are a key ingredient of the tasty salsa. These are also often mixed with salt and used to coat the glass rim of the various local margaritas. The delicious Mexican margaritas are worthy of a blog post of their own !!!! My favourite is made with Mezcal, passionfruit juice, red apple and the above salt coating on the glass rim.
After much ado and not a little elbow grease, the mixtures were toasted, pounded, strained and blended and ready to be cooked and consolidated in a clay pot before the grand finale lunch. The highlight of the lunch was undoubtably the Mole which was poured over some fresh pork also procured at the morning market. The deep smokey flavours lingered on the palette, and certainly overwhelmed its basic appearance.
As an added bonus, a bottle of Vino Tinto miraculously appeared, along with the obligatory shot or two of Mezcal.
All in all, an entirely enjoyable day and highly recommended. Wherever you happen to be in the world, a local cooking class will introduce you to a range of flavours, local culture and some seriously delicious food.
And then, Viola !!!! the final climax.
There was actually quite a bit more involved than mentioned above. Fresh Tortillas were also pressed and roasted.
The fresh fried pig skin, cheese, raisin and herb soup was delicious !!!!
A spicy guacamole was prepared.
So, if you happen to be in Oaxaca, The La Cocina Oaxaqueña Cooking School is highly recommended. You can book through your hotel or hostel or contact them directly at http://www.cooking.com.mx
So there you go, local cooking classes can add an extra dimension to your travels. Just get out and do it !!!!!!!