[Part 5] This travel diary explores what are now many destinations in three of our tours – Flavour of Oaxaca, Day of the Dead and Treasures of Oaxaca and gives a taste of what that part of Mexico is like.
After breakfast this morning the food theme continued as we headed to one of the city’s famous restaurant for a cooking course. On the menu were some traditional Oaxacan favourites. We met Oscar, the head chef in the lobby and sat down to discuss what we would be making over the course of the morning and early afternoon. Sipping coffee (or a local “lemon tea” made with a herb similar to lemongrass) we discussed the options and settled on a selection with some gentle nudging from Oscar.
Then it was time to go to a local food market to pick up our ingredients. Oscar’s expert eye and knowledge really brought the market to life, and the colour of the fruit, vegetables and traditional dress meant those of us inclined to reach for a camera could not stop snapping! We had settled on a main course called “mole de fiesta” (or “party sauce”) which had no less than 22 ingredients so we had to visit many stalls to pick up what we needed. In addition we were to make plantain croquettes, guacamole, rose petal ice-cream, some form of almond-based hot drink, cheese and squash flower quesadillas, fresh tortillas and a range of salsas including passion fruit salsa (the latter really intrigued me).
We all got stuck in with most of the chopping, peeling and general tricky work done in the kitchen just out of view by Oscar’s Sioux chefs so we only had to do the measuring, stirring, blending, frying, wrapping, tasting etc (i.e. the fun stuff). The cleaning too was outside our remit for which everyone was grateful. Our group was very mixed including Chinese, American, Canadian, Colombian, Swiss and of course Irish – and everyone was a foodie to one degree or another. Oscar kept everyone involved and the time passed quickly as we all cooked in a way we were far from familiar with. For the hell of it, here are the 22 ingredients in the mole de fiesta: turkey/chicken, garlic, onion, salt, water, pasilla chillies, mulato chillies, cooking oil, raisins, almonds, pecans, pumpkin seeds, sesame seeds, plantains, tomatoes, peppercorns, cloves, oregano, thyme, cinnamon, pork lard and Oaxacan chocolate shavings!
Finally everything was underway and Oscar offered us a drink, and discretely left us to our service. The table was beautifully laid, and the dished came out one after another – small portions, but enough that we were all stuffed and delighted by the time we got to finishing the rose petal ice-cream. I can’t wait to try some of these at home. Certain ingredients will have to be substituted but Oscar was very good at suggesting alternatives that would work instead of some less commonly found ingredients. Again that depended where you live. For those living in San Francisco the availability of Mexican ingredients was not a problem!
We spent the afternoon wandering through the charming crumbling streets of Oaxaca, walking off the excesses of lunch. Well at least till dinner time!