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Mexico City, Puebla, Oaxaca


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What are the rules on bringing dried chiles and other foods back? I'd love to bring back dried chiles and some corn husks for tamales if I can avoid my wife's rolling eyes when I try to stuff them in the suitcase.

Dried chiles and corn husks are absolutely legal, I brought back A LOT of chiles. They're great for gifts and also to just stash in your freezer to dole out as you please. I'll never forget my suitcase search in DF. The officer opened up my bag and simply exclaimed "muy picante!"

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As Abbylovi says, dried chiles are legal to bring back as are most dried things. You can bring back dried beans, jamacia, Mexican oregano, vanilla bean, canela, dried corn for pozole, sal grano.

 

In the markets in Oaxaca you may see dried black bean labeled "criolla". These are usually smaller, and are more desirable, as they are the local bean. (Tomatoes labeled criolla can usually be some kind of local heirloom variety). If you find Flor de Mayo or Flor de Junio beans, be sure to bring some back, they are really good. With jamacia you need to be a little careful because some of the choices aren't so hot. Luckily, most of the vendors do label the products so that you can tell the difference. If the jamacia bin includes the words "china" or some that looks like "senegal" it is of lower quality, they are imports. Jamacia labeled "colima" is considered the best quality and is NOT imported.

 

Chiles come in different quality levels as well, but the quality level is determined by what the chile will be used for not necessarily the chile itself. Size is not usually a determining factor either in chile quality. When buying chiles to bring home try and find the most supple, most pliant, bug free chiles you can. They're fresher and last longer once you get them home. Pasilla Oaxaquenos and chihuacles are not cheap in Mexico either. I think I paid the equivalent of $20 USD/kilo for the smoked pasillas in October 2004, which would make them about $10 USD/pound. Well worth it if you cook a lot of Mexican food, and let's face it a pound of chiles is a lot of chiles :lol:

 

Yes, there are 1/2 day cooking classes available in Oaxaca and they'll range from around $40 - $100 (or more). In Oaxaca you don't need a guide for 2 of the 3 markets in town. The large Abasots market operates 7 days aweek with Tuesday and Saturday's being the primary market day. If you go on these days, DO NOT look or act like tourists and leave all your valuables in your hotel. Tell your wife to hold on to her purse and keep your money safe. The market is extremely busy and "slash & dash" pickpockets abound. I've never had a problem and if you blend in and use the usual precautions you'll be fine. If you have specific things in mind that you want to see or purchase there, it might help to have a guide with you.

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Thanks.

 

Considering that a few ounces of chiles in a local grocery store can run you a few bucks, $10/pound seems quite reasonable for pasillas de oaxaca. They'll be one of my main goals.

 

I looked at Trilling's website and it appears there are no classes in May. I emailed but haven't gotten a response. Prices seemed reasonable as compared with your average class at Sur La Table.

 

I have the May 2003 Bon Appetit, a "special collector's edition" entitled "The Soul of Mexico". Pretty decent issue. It has a list of Mexican cooking schools I'm planning on looking through. I'm not even sure where some of them are. I'll give the whole list for others' sakes:

 

* Seasons of My Heart, http://www.seasonsofmyheart.com (Trilling's that I just mentioned), Oaxaca

 

* Cooking with Cuata, http://www.genio.net/cuata, Mazatlan

 

* Flavors of Mexico, http://www.marilyntausend.com

 

* Mexican Home Cooking, http://www.mexicanhomecooking.com, Tlaxcala

 

* La Villa Bonita, http://www.lavillabonita.com, Cuernavaca

 

* Culinary Adventures of Mexico, San Miguel de Allende

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Here's a link to another mouthfuls thread on oaxaca cooking classes: http://www.mouthfulsfood.com/forums/index.php?showtopic=3006

 

I enjoyed the Seasons of My Heart cooking class quite a bit, and mostly for the market tour in Etla that went with it.

 

I got a number of recs for restaurants from Susana Trilling, mostly for taquerias in oaxaca city, but I haven't been able to find where I put the list (I could mostly kill myself for this). You could probably convince me to try emailing her through her school, or you could try yourself, though she doesn't do email much. Actually there were a bunch of projects that she was talking about doing but probably wasn't going to get around to, like making a directory of what to buy and where at Abastos market. I find that place completely overwhelming.

 

One place she recommended that I remember is Tacos Roy a couple blocks south of the Alameda. They open for tacos and pozole (GET THE POZOLE! THE TACOS AREN'T BAD, BUT GET THE POZOLE) around 8 or 9 pm. The pozole is really great. I was walking around the city all day taking photos, and walked past this place about 10 times and could smell them preparing it all day, and I tell you, the memory of just walking past this place is enough to make me melt in my chair. Did I mention the pozole?

 

By the way, we stayed at a pretty nice hotel which was new and close to the center but not loud. It was called Maella and it was about $40 per night. I'd recommend it if you don't want to be right in the center (3 or so blocks away) and if you don't need colonial charm (which i find tedious). They have a web site somewhere, could probably dig it up.

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If you're really interested in it, you might just email them and ask if the guy who does the market tour (Roger Brooks) is going to be around -- maybe you could just arrange a market tour with him. He lives just outside of Etla. One of the advantages of going with a guide is that he has vetted the food vendors and knows which ones are safe with water so you can safely eat what they have.

 

If you do end up going alone to the Etla market, consider eating at Comedor Conchitas. Roger took our group there. It was one of the best meals I had the week I was in Oaxaca.

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Susanna Trilling does do private sessions. Cost is $500. A local friend is leaving for Oaxaca on Saturday who was also interested in classes with her but there weren't any offered. She enquired as to what it would cost to come out and do a private session and was quoted the $500 rate. Having done a few sessions with Susanna, I think she's a tremendous resource, but I'm not sure even I'd pay $500.

 

I, too, thought the Bon Apetite Mexico edition was very well done (the Lamb with Pecan/Chipotle Sauce is wonderful), below are 2 cooking schools that I'm aware of that were not listed in Bon Apetite. There is also a fairly new service being offered for a week cooking in Tepotzlan. It was profiled in (I believe) the January issues of "O" magazine.

 

Casa Cerro Segrado offers cooking classes which will get you high on a hill overlooking Teotitlan del Valle. You can contact them via their web site, or drop in at La Mano Magica on Alcala (the closed pedestrian street) and enquire. Arnufol and Mary Jane Mendoza own both. Mary Jane is a Canadian ex-pat, Arnufol is a fairly well-known (i.e. famous) Zapotec weaver whose works have been exhibited all over the world. Casa Cerro Segrado is rustic (though not primitive) and cooking classes there are small and interactive. Many are actually taught by Reyna who is married to one of the other Mendoza brothers. I can't say enough about Reyna, she is a very talented cook with an innate feel for what works and doesn't.

 

There is also a very new cooking school on Lake Chapala on the other side of the lake from Ajijic (which is 45 mins. South of Guadalajara). It is called Xilnon. The woman who runs it lived in Guadalajara for years and ran both a restaurant and cooking school there. Quality of life and wanting to spend more time with her children led her to make the lifestyle change and move to the Lake Chapala region. Rose Marie (the proprietress) supports and is part of the Slow Food movement, and in fact hosted a recent SF gathering at Xilnon. She offers classes on a nearly weekly basis, covering a wide variety of topics. Xilnon is also a B&B so it is possible to spend a day or 2 there while taking classes. There is a web site (not the most user friendly, but you'll get the drift) which lists all the classes as well as the B&B services.

 

I'll see if I can find the web sites for these two schools and post them later today.

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A little bit of an off-topic question:

 

What to wear in Oaxaca? It's gonna be warm. If I'm in a Mexican border town or resort town, I'll wear shorts and t-shirts. But when I've been to interior cities, I've generally wore pants and polos no matter how warm to try to fit in to some degree. What about Oaxaca? My wife would also like some clothing and footwear recommendations for Oaxaca.

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A little bit of an off-topic question:

 

What to wear in Oaxaca? It's gonna be warm. If I'm in a Mexican border town or resort town, I'll wear shorts and t-shirts. But when I've been to interior cities, I've generally wore pants and polos no matter how warm to try to fit in to some degree. What about Oaxaca? My wife would also like some clothing and footwear recommendations for Oaxaca.

I think you can buy ropas there cheaply.

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In Oaxaca, both you and your wife will be comfortable in pants and polos. If she prefers a skirt or a dress, a comfortable light one is good. You'll want shoes that you know to be comfortable for walking--this isn't the time to break in a new pair.

 

You'll see a lot of tourists in shorts, even in Oaxaca, but here's an illustrative rule of thumb for you:

 

I was talking last night with my dear friend Paty, a Mexican woman in her mid-forties. She was scandalized that her Canadian husband, who is about 20 years older than she, had gone out on the Guadalajara streets yesterday in Bermuda-length shorts. "¡Esto no se ve bien para nada!"

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Just discovered this thread and am so glad because I just started researching a cooking school vacation in Mexico. Thank you for the recommendations and experiences you've posted here (and any more that you might add) cuz they are helping me a lot.

 

I am thinking of a two part trip--one focused on beach fun with the kids, and then, because they would be bored to tears by the mere thought of cooking school, sending them home, and staying a while to enjoy a cooking school, probably in a beautiful inland town with vibrant markets, great dining, art, etc.

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Thanks for the clothing recs. That's kind of what I figured. My wife, however, is strongly leaning towards shorts. Being the type of guy I am, I wouldn't mind if Mexicans adopted the Polynesian way, instead, of wearing nothing but shorts and slippahs.

 

TamIam,

 

I don't know where you were planning on going, but for a resort town, Puerto Vallarta has some very good food at all levels of dining. It's also relatively close to Guadalajara, a great city. (Guadalajara is a city I would have no problem choosing to live in.)

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