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, whose take on Nuevo Mexicano cooking is the best in the city.

The cooking classes at Casa Crespo (951/514-1102 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, 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, in the Etla Valley, provides half-day, full-day, weekend, and weeklong classes as well as culinary tours.

Pilar Cabrera (951/516-5704, 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.