I Took The Best Cooking Class in Oaxaca, Mexico
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I Took The Best Cooking Class in Oaxaca, Mexico

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[Note: Travel may be complicated right now, but these are great tips to save for later.]

Oaxaca is the BEST destination for foodies in Mexico.  You could spend months in Oaxaca just eating and drinking your way through the state. I recently spent time in Oaxaca City’s colorful, pedestrian-friendly streets and historic plazas full of street vendors and restaurants. Oaxaca is known for its artisanal chocolate and not surprisingly, coffee is hugely popular as well as evidenced by the many coffee shops around Oaxaca City. If you love food and authentic cultural exchanges, I highly recommend taking cooking class in Oaxaca, Mexico with a local.  I signed up for a private cooking class in Oaxaca City and it was one of my favorite activities during my time in Oaxaca.

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Mercado de la Merced in Oaxaca City, where we met to shop for our cooking class.

Visiting El Mercado de la Merced

I booked a cooking class through Airbnb Experiences and arranged to meet Jaqueline at El Mercado de la Merced, a local, authentic market.  El Mercado de la Merced is smaller and less busy than 20 de Noviembre and Benito Juarez, the two largest and most well-known markets in Oaxaca City, which is better for social distancing.  Jaqueline preferred to be somewhere with fewer people due to Covid. We felt at ease about taking the class because she took the necessary Covid-safety precautions.

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Covid Safety Precautions for Oaxaca

Oaxaca really takes their Covid precautions seriously. I saw single passengers wearing a face mask inside their car. Even toddlers wore face masks outdoors. Signs to socially distance are posted everywhere. They want to keep their citizens safe. At the market, we saw the same Covid safety precautions that many markets and establishments were adhering to around Oaxaca City. Before going inside, we washed our hands with soap and water and had our temperature checked on our wrist. We stepped into a mat with disinfectant for our shoes and sanitized our hands. Every single person we saw inside the market wore a face mask. Not surprisingly, Oaxaca was doing a great job keeping their Covid cases low. It could be the strict rules or the fact that tourism was not at full capacity.

The Beauty of Mexican Markets

A big part of the taking a cooking class in Oaxaca is taking a trip to the local market. The small market buzzed with activity. Vendors called out their special of the day as we walked by to entice us to stop and buy something.  Stalls sold every imaginable thing—sweet bread, or pan dulce, sliced, fresh fruit and fresh juice, chocolate, pre-made mole, flowers, vegetables, cheese, piñatas, plastic Tupperware, bright colorful toys, loose-leaf tea, spices, and a small selection of homemade Oaxacan artisanry. 

Warning for Vegans Shopping at the Market

Mexican markets are lovely but I don’t like the meat section. There are actual slabs of raw meat out in the open on display for everyone to see.  Meat is a staple in most markets, so if you’re vegan, just know it’s there and get ready to look away when you see it. 

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My favoite area inside El Mercado de la Merced.

Mole is the Most Popular Dish In Cooking Classes

Before you go the market, you decide what three dishes you want to make. We chose mole, one of the most popular dishes in Oaxaca, sopa Azteca, which is a favorite amongst kids, and quesadillas de huitlacoche, sans cheese for me. Jaqueline was happy to veganize everything and I appreciated her flexibility so much.  Jaqueline paid for the ingredients at the market, and we left the market.

Mezcal vs. Tequila

On the way to Jaqueline’s, we made one last stop at a mezcaleria popular with locals.  Large wooden barrels once used for storing mezcal now stood as a testament to the long history and importance of mezcal in the region. An array of bottles containing different varieties of mezcal lined the shelves behind the glass counter. 

what is the difference between tequila and mezcal?

Fun Fact: Did you know that tequila is actually a type of mezcal? Tequila is made with one specific type of agave called agave azul.  Our host Jaqueline selected a mezcal for us made from espadin, the most common variety of agave that helps introduce newbies to other types of mezcal.   

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Local mezcaleria

Learning About Oaxacan Cuisine

Back at Jaqueline’s, we found ourselves in an open patio decorated with dozens of potted plants, colorful flowers, and palm trees. After a thorough handwashing in her fully-equipped outdoor kitchen, Jaqueline tasked us with chopping vegetables, cutting tortillas into strips, deseeding dried chiles and soaking them for the sopa Azteca, quesadillas and the mole.  Music played in the background as a hot pan sizzled on the stove.  Jaqueline explained which spices to use and in what order to fry them in as she simultaneously gave us directions for making the sopa Azteca.  We started the prep work for the mole first because it takes the longest to took. The combined smell of the different dishes wafting in the air made my mouth water. 

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Sopa Azteca

Mezcal Tasting and Mole

We sat down to have our first spoonful of sopa Azteca, but not before we had a sip of mezcal to cleanse our palate. According to Jaqueline, the best way for beginners to drink mezcal is to take a small sip of mezcal and swish it around softly in your mouth for a few seconds. This helps your taste buds become accustomed to it and to activates your salivary glands.  I felt the first sip burn slightly as it went down. Then I tried the soup.  It is easily the best soup I’ve ever had in my life. The flavorful tomato and crunchy fried tortilla strips contrasted well with the creaminess of the avocado. I could see why it was so popular with the children, and I imagine that it’s a hit with the adults, too.

Huitlacoches in Oaxacan Cuisine

In preparation for our next dish, Jaqueline topped our shot glass with mezcal, and our host reminded us to sip it slowly and savory it. I rarely drink so I already felt a bit warm and fuzzy from the first round The second shot went down more easily than the first. I made veganized my quesadillas by stuffing them with sautéed huitlacoches and topped it with fresh green salsa.  The huitlacoches are savory and earthy, a perfect combination with the salsa and maiz (corn) tortillas. While bountiful during the rainy months, huitlacoches are harder to find in December so do try them if you have the chance.   

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Huitlacoches are a dark mushroom that grows on corn during the rainy season.

Did you know mole, one of the most well-known dishes from Oaxaca, contains more than ten different types of chiles? In addition to the chiles, its mouth-watering flavor is achieved by frying a plethora of ingredients such as cumin, cinnamon, cloves, nuts, and most importantly chocolate. This was the grand finale of our cooking lesson. We made two versions, a vegan one for me, and the traditional one for my partner.

Is Mole Vegan?

Mole is generally not vegan since the traditional recipe calls for chicken broth. To replace the chicken broth in mine, Jaqueline added few extra spices to mine. As a result, my mole was creamy and packed with more flavor than the mole with meat. This vegan mole is the best one I’ve ever tasted, and my partner and Jaqueline liked the vegan version better than theirs, too.

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From top to bottom: sauteeing the huitlacoches, toasting cinnamon for the mole, and preparing the sopa Azteca.

Vegan Cooking in Oaxaca

There are many vegan options and even Mexican dishes that are already vegan. However, you have to watch out for hidden ingredients such as lard (manteca) or chicken brother (consome de pollo). This seems to be a tradition in typical Mexican cuisine. Jaqueline said that her mother, a very traditional Oaxacan woman, would have scoffed and turned her nose up at the vegan mole. She believes that if a dish is made without meat, it shouldn’t be made at all. While you will encounter other people who share this belief, being vegan in Mexico is definitely possible. To prepare for your cooking class, you just have to speak up and ask questions about the ingredients used. That being said, I’m happy that they were accommodating about my request to make my food vegan from the beginning.

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This vegan mushroom mole deserved a Michelin star.

Tips for Having the Best Cooking Class

  • Don’t go with the first cooking class you find. Read a few reviews first.
  • Ask if accommodations are possible ahead of time. I always make sure there will be vegan options for me.
  • You will be eating several dishes so have a light breakfast the morning of the cooking class. We made so much food that we ended up taking some back to our Airbnb with us.
  • Wear your apron because salsa can stain your clothing.
  • Tipping is not required, but if you enjoy your experience, tipping is a great way to show your appreciation for the hard work and effort your host puts in.
  • Taking pictures is encouraged, and you will want to remember this.
  • Be open-minded. You might be surprised to find new dishes you will like.

We were lucky to find Jaqueline’s cooking class. Not only was she an expert about Oaxacan cuisine and mezcal, but also about the local history and traditions. I thoroughly enjoyed our day with Jaqueline cooking authentic Oaxacan food, and it was a fun surprise to have a mezcal tasting, too. This is one experience in Oaxaca that you cannot miss. If you have any questions about being vegan in Mexico or taking a cooking class in Oaxaca (or with Jaqueline, specifically), I would love to hear from you!

Thank you for reading! If you know anyone visiting Oaxaca, be sure to share this post with them, and remember to pin it or bookmark it for later.

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This Post Has 15 Comments

    1. Happy Vegan Trip

      Hi Carly! Isn’t the Oaxaca amazing?? Talk about food coma for days! You will love a cooking class there!

  1. Shelley

    This looks like such a great class! I live in Mexico & I’m so glad you got to sample & cook huitlacoche… it’s one of my favorite things in Mexico. I’ll be sharing this post with any vegans I know headed to OAX.

    1. Happy Vegan Trip

      Hi, Shelley! That’s amazing! Where in Mexico do you live? Mexico is a diverse country with so much to do. I can’t wait to read more of your posts about different places you go to. I’m soo glad you’ve had huitlacoche, too. It sounds like you are living the dream in Mexico and having all the amazing dishes. Yes, please share this with any other vegans or anyone looking for a cooking class in Oaxaca. How long have you been living in Mexico?

  2. Krista

    I love taking cooking classes when I travel! This one looks like an amazing experience – and great food too!

    1. Happy Vegan Trip

      Hi, Krista! So do I! It’s a great way to learn about the local cuisine and meeting great people. You also get to take a little piece of the country back home with you. What’s your favorite cooking class you’ve taken?

  3. This looks great! It’s good to hear that they were accommodating to vegans – I’m also plant-based and it’s a struggle in a lot of countries. I’m so spoilt being used to easily getting vegan options everywhere here in the UK. But the world is changing 🙂

    1. Happy Vegan Trip

      Hi, Caroline! They were accommodating right from the beginning, so I knew I made the right choice with the cooking class. It’s so nice to talk to someone who gets the struggle, too. You guys have great vegan options in the UK! I am so happy that’s becoming more and more widely accepted. From your travels, what country do you think is the most vegan-friendly?

  4. Ashlee Fechino

    Yuuummm! We love Mexico and authentic Mexican food. What a fun article on the markets, a cooking class, and food we cannot miss in Oaxaca!

    1. Happy Vegan Trip

      Hi Ashlee! Authentic food is the way to go. I love eating what the locals eat and try my best to stay away from any food chains unless it’s an amazing local food chain, then I’m in! Oaxaca should definitely be high on your list–I can’t wait to go back. It’s so unlike any other part of Mexico I’ve been to. Where is your favorite place to visit in Mexico?

  5. Emma

    I love cooking classes when I travel. I think it’s the best way to learn more about local food, especially as a vegan or vegetarian to know what you can eat and what’s typically in some dishes. I’m vegetarian and I found these classes invaluable where I don’t always speak the local language too. This class looks great, and so good they took ample safety precautions.

  6. Lyne

    I love cooking classes! They’re a great way to discover local food and be able to reproduce it at home later on! The dishes you prepared looks delicious!

    1. Happy Vegan Trip

      I agree, Lynn! It’s such a fun way to learn about the local culture & food, too. And when the trip is over, it’s a great way to relive the travel experience. Cooking classes are great! What is your favorite cooking class you’ve taken?

  7. Diana

    I am heading to Oaxaca in August and would love to take a cooking class. I am vegan so appreciate all the info you provided re your experience. How do I get in contact with Jacqueline?

    1. hellosoyadriana

      Hi Diana! I’m so glad that the information was useful for you! It’s always good to do a bit of research before traveling somewhere if you’re vegan. ? I’m super excited for you about your upcoming trip! Have you been to Oaxaca before? I have Jaqueline’s contact info and I can message her for you if you’d like! How long will you be in Oaxaca for?

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