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Oaxaca is known as "the land of seven moles." You may sample a mole made with sesame seeds one day, then a pineapple- or banana-inspired mole the next. Other favorite dishes include jicuatote, a sweet milky dessert flavored with cloves and cinnamon, and chapulines, seasoned and fried grasshoppers, which are said to charm you into returning to Oaxaca.
Whether you want to master a mole or be an expert on the multicolor chili peppers at the local market, cooking courses are a great way to immerse yourself in Oaxacan culture.
The most exclusive course is by Casa Oaxaca's Alejandro Ruiz (951/514-4173 or 951/516-9923 www.casaoaxaca.com.mx), whose take on Nuevo Mexicano cooking is the best in the city.
The cooking classes at Casa Crespo (951/514-1102 www.casacrespo.com) begin with a visit to the market and end four hours later with a delicious meal.
Casa Sagrada (951/516-4275 or 310/455-6085 www.casasagrada.com), in the Central Valley town of Teotitlan, gives half-day or weeklong classes that focus on Zapotec specialties.
Susana Trilling's Seasons of My Heart Cooking School (951/508-0946 www.seasonsofmyheart.com), in the Etla Valley, provides half-day, full-day, weekend, and weeklong classes as well as culinary tours.
Pilar Cabrera (951/516-5704 www.laolla.com.mx), proprietor of La Olla restaurant, gives private or group classes in which you prepare a five-course meal. If you take private lessons, you choose which to prepare, and classes usually start with selecting ingredients at a market.