Gathered around several stoves in the little blue kitchen in Oaxaca, a student gingerly holds the frying pan over the flames as the plantains quietly sizzle. He glances nervously at his Oaxacan cooking teacher, Betsaida. She gives him a friendly smile and tells him, “an eight-year-old can cook this, you can do it too.”
They pour in the mezcal and within seconds the fire ignites the spirit and the sweet bananas are momentarily engulfed in an orange blaze that climbs out of the pan. Eyes widen and nervous laughter turns to smiles following the “oohs” and “ahhs” emitted from the other students. The excitement and delight shared by the new chefs are only outmatched by Betsaida’s. Flambe plantains is her favorite meal to teach.
Oaxaca is a destination known throughout the world for its food. Travelers come from far and wide to experience the different flavors, colors, spices, and traditions of preparation that make Oaxaca so unique.
As one of the most biodiverse locations in Mexico and home to multiple indigenous peoples, the variety of tastes manifests in some of the most savory recipes on the planet. Conscious Travel Collective is proud to partner with Me Encanta Oaxaca, the local food tour and cooking class business that leads you in experiencing the culture through cuisine that lures explorers.
Not just a cooking class, but an experience that feels more like the beginning of a beautiful friendship to connect you with the culture that will have you saying: Me Encanta Oaxaca.
How did Me Encanta Oaxaca begin?
Born and raised in the isthmus of Tehuantepec, Betsaida carries on the family tradition of meal-making: her father was a cook, and much of her childhood was spent making salsas and fresh tortillas. It was through her family’s traditions that Betaida learned to cook.
During a family trip to Oaxaca, Betsaida’s family explored one of the many mercados, and her father ordered a strawberry milkshake. A new set of flavors she had not experienced prior hooked her interest in the many tastes that converge in the various dishes of Oaxaca city. She wanted to learn them all, and then share them with others.
Betsaida and her husband, Javier, moved to Oaxaca city and decided to begin a family business in cooking traditional Oaxacan recipes (with a taste of Tehuantepec).
“I remember for the first class, my whole family was working together— me, my husband, my father, my son— to move the furniture out of our living room to make space for the cooking!” Bestaida recalled.
As their little business has grown, they have since expanded their “home office” to include a separate delightfully colorful cooking space to host their authentic Oaxaca cooking classes.
What does the Me Encanta Oaxaca experience look like?
Me Encanta Oaxaca specializes in two types of travel experiences: Oaxacan Walking Food Tour and Small Group Cooking Classes featuring authentic Oaxacan staples and family recipes from Tehuantepec.
The Oaxaca food tours
Betsaida will lead a fully-guided adventure into the gastronomic delights of Oaxaca’s food markets, and it’s not just the “SparkNotes” version of an educational experience. You’re getting a cultural history while you eat. Betsaida shares her knowledge as she connects you with the artists behind the dishes that define Oaxacan culture. Each individual artist not only carries a family tradition with their work, but each generation adds a little of their own personality to the recipes.
Feast on tlayudas (think pizza with unique toppings) or sample the many different moles hailing from the seven different regions in Oaxaca state. You may never want to leave.
Cooking Class with a Tehuana
While the markets act as a gathering place where cuisines from the eight different subregions of Oaxaca can be found, Betsaida has her own art to share with travelers. And it all takes place in her own home.
Betsaida offers classes in cooking many of the common Oaxacan meals founds around the city, but she specializes in food from Tehuantepec. She often returns to the Isthmus to cook with her grandmother and learn recipes and techniques, always keeping her menu options versatile. Many of the popular recipes featured in the Me Encanta Oaxaca classes feature the seafood not often found in the city, but often served on the Isthmus.
Reminiscent of preparing a holiday meal with family and friends, the mood of Me Encanta Oaxaca cooking classes is fun and energetic. Enjoy a cerveza and some laughs while you chop and saute. Pair the finished product with some local mezcal while you enjoy the fruits of your efforts for a delicious finale to your Oaxacan food education.
A commitment to community
Me Encanta Oaxaca’s mission is two-fold:
share the various culinary traditions of Oaxaca through small-group cooking classes
support the local community of Oaxaca city through walking food tours.
The Food Tours & Sustainability:
The walking food tours are Me Encanta Oaxaca’s means of supporting other local businesses by connecting travelers with local market vendors in the various mercados throughout Oaxaca city. By guiding the travelers to local vendors, they encourage them to experience the city as a local might, eat some pretty delicious Oaxacan staples, and in doing so, often they support an entire family.
“The owner of a market stall could be an 80-year-old woman. And often you see her son cooking, his wife taking the money in the transaction, his kids serving, and a young child playing under the table. The market is a whole family business, a tradition,” Betsaida says. “When you are spending your money at their stall instead of a major restaurant, you are keeping them in business.”
The cooking class is similar. When you join an Oaxacan cooking class with Me Encanta Oaxaca, you’ll receive the menu options from Bestaida in an email. A list is compiled of all the necessary ingredients for the day’s menu (selected by the students), and together they head to the local market to collect the necessary items. Some highly specific items even need to be fetched from the local farms just outside of the city if the market doesn’t have it. All the fresh ingredients are local, seasonal, sustainable, and a foodie’s dream. That’s CTC’s kinda vibe.
Tips for travelers and preparers of delicious food from Betsaida
What do you recommend travelers cook when taking your class?
A popular dish is mole negro, or “black mole.” If you’re coming in October into November, you will see it is very popular. It’s a cultural tradition that we make it for an offering for family members who have passed away during Dia de Los Muertos, the day of the dead.
Another favorite is garnachas from the Isthmus!
What is a “must-do” or “must-see” for travelers visiting Oaxaca?
You HAVE to visit a mezcal farm. There is a science and an art that mezcal farmers are so skilled in when harvesting the agave and turning it into mezcal. It’s so fascinating and something very special to Oaxaca.
Any tips for people learning to cook?
I always tell my students, and my mother always told me, whenever you are preparing food, always, always make sure you are cooking with lots of energy and love. That way, when you share the meal with others, that energy and love is passed to them.
We can’t wait to cook with you, Betsaida.
(Check out the CTC Oaxaca itinerary to learn more about Betsaida’s cooking class, the mezcal farm tour, and TONS more here)
The author of this blog is the oh-so-talented, Shelagh Hogan.
You can find out more about her work on our team page