Tuesday, October 29, 2013

Guadalajara…Home Sweet Home

Having lived in Guadalajara in the late 60’s, I’ve always considered Guadalajara my home. It’s the first place I traveled to in Mexico. It’s also the first place I fell in love with.

The food scene in Guadalajara is pretty significant and I will admit it’s the first time I’ve paid attention. From restaurants like La Tequila and Cocina 88, Guadalajara is known for its culinary specialties. Just head to any of the fondas in the Mercado San Juan de Dios for authentic Comida Jalisciense- Food of Jalisco State.

Three of the most traditional dishes I had were: 

Tortas Ahogadas, the signature dish of Guadalajara is drowned sandwiches made with a roll and overstuffed with pork and spicy salsa. They actually reminded me a lot of the tortas at XOCO in Chicago. The bolillo is such a beloved part of the culinary scene here that some aficionados want Denomination of Origin status… just like Tequila.

Pozole is a corn hominy soup made with pork or chicken and you can choose red pozole for hot and spicy or white if you prefer a milder version. The famous La Chata restaurant in downtown Guadalajara serves up an incredible bowl and proof is in their long lines out front.

Birria is a fiery meat stew made with goat, beef or lamb. It’s cooked very slowly with spices in an underground oven. Like Barbacoa, it’s served with onion, cilantro and limes. You can eat it two ways. Spoon the intense dried-roasted pepper caldo into your mouth – my favorite way - or scoop it into a tortilla and eat it as a taco.

Available throughout the city are a range of traditional drinks worth sampling such as these Agua Frescas. You can also enjoy a number of Mexican beers but Guadalajara’s own craft beer, Minerva, produces a pale ale and stout in addition to the more common lagers. This was actually my favorite craft beer when I tried them all at the Beer Company in San Miguel a few months back.

Churros, fritters, rice puddings, pumpkin in tacha and jericalla round out local dessert menus. What’s not to love here? I’ve become a churro fanatic since I’ve been here as they are the most delicious excess to eat off the street.

I went back to Tlaquepaque for the side-walk cafes – been there done that but still fantastic - and of course the Sergio Bustamante gallery…my only non-food indulgence in Mexico this trip.

The Tonola market hasn’t changed much except its gotten bigger. The foods and crafts make this market one of the best Mexico.

At a leisurely and very long lunch at Cocina 88, I tried the Shrimp Al Pastor which was rich and smoky and really outstanding. My friends had the vegetarian rice which I tasted and it was also superb. We of course shared the chocolate pear dessert. It looked better than it tasted and did not have that rich chocolate taste. Cocina 88 is in an old, turn of the century mansion at Vallerta 1342, Colonia Americana in Guadalajara.

      Tequila Photos: Cesar Moscorro Perez

Don’t miss the barrel tastings of ultra-premium aged tequila or a sensory work out in smelling and tasting tequila at distilleries all over the town of Tequila, just 65 kilometers NW of Guadalajara. Currently, there are 154 registered tequila distilleries producing 1,324 certified brands and it seems the number changes almost daily.

Elegant and trendy and so extremely popular now you can find good tequila almost anywhere. It’s come a long way since my first sip (and hangover) back in the summer of 66. In fact, with so much experience under my belt, I’ve decided in my next life I’m coming back as a tequila sommelier.

The highlight of my trip was a dinner with Cupcakes and Crableg’s tequila expert César Mascorro Pérez. As a Regional Manager at The Mexican Trade Commission in Guadalajara, he was in charge of exports for tequila and worked with the US, Central America, South America, Japan, Singapore, Hong Kong, China, Russia, United Kingdom, Germany and Holland. He was an advisor to many international companies on Tequila including my former school, the Universidad de Guadalajara Pro Tequila Industry in collaboration with the University of Notre Dame.

Ask him any question about tequila and he has the answer... except maybe a morning after cure. He is also currently working with Mezcals.

La Tequila was a fitting venue for our reunion since we’ve been family for over 15 years when I first did a marketing study on Tequila distribution in the U.S. for his former company.

Located on Avenida Mexico 2830 in Colonia Ladron de Guevara, La Tequila is rated #1 of 394 restaurants on Trip Advisor, the rating king in Mexico. The tequila selection was extensive and both the food and the service were excellent.

Since there were no gusanos in the kitchen that day (usually tossed in garlic, onions and a little tequila), we ordered a plate of grasshopper tacos. Surprisingly, they were delicious. They are fed apples and roasted in lime chili and salt. The end product is a nutty, crispy, salty and spicy delicacy. It might change your mind about eating bugs.

We also had sopes with bone marrow, pork and chicharrón. I’ve had bone marrow a dozen different ways and this was a unique recipe which I need to try to perfect at home.

This was all washed down with Tequila and Agave Beer with a promise to meet back here soon. And we will. 

Home is where the heart is and food for thought is no substitute for the real thing.

Buen Apetito!

Saturday, October 26, 2013

Remembrance is powerful…

Dia de Los Muertos is Mexico’s most important holiday. We’re getting ready to celebrate this next weekend.

I’ve loved this holiday ever since I lived in Mexico in the late 60’s and saw the family celebrations first hand. The cemeteries are full of all night gatherings and one tribute is as amazing as the next.

This is the most commanding image I’ve seen for Day of the Dead. It was shot by a UPI photographer in Oaxaca and will forever link me to the significance of this holiday when I look at it. It’s compelling.

It’s also a night when you excuse excessive drinking. I will probably slow sip a shot or two of Amores Mezcal. For me, it’s the perfect Day of the Dead drink. Remembering the ones you love.

The holiday is observed November 1st and 2nd – All Saints Day and All Souls Day - and centers on gathering friends and family to pray for, remember and celebrate friends and family members who have died. I love it because it’s a festive and joyous time of celebration.

People build altars at home to honor the deceased using sugar skulls, marigolds and the favorite foods and beverages of the departed. They also go to the cemetery and decorate the grave building altars and staying up all night on November 1st to commemorate.

I started building my altar years ago. I leave it up during the holidays and it is a daily reminder of the magnificent things that people who have passed brought to my life while they were here. My altar is adorned with many things including a bottle of peppermint schnapps’ in honor of my brother Tim and a pomegranate because my dad loved to bring them home every Christmas. My mom loved Chinese food so I often cook Chinese during this time. I also put up a photo of my old boyfriend who is not dead but it is a time of renewal for me. For me, the holiday is that I bury the past and move on with the new. Honestly, it feels tremendous to get rid of the baggage.

So where will you put your altar? Mine is in my kitchen because nearly all of the people I love truly treasure both cooking and eating.

Isn’t it amazing how your culinary style has been defined by the great chefs of your past? Celebrate by creating the dishes they taught you to love to cook.

This holiday also reminds me that there is something comforting knowing you always will be remembered and I’m hoping that my family will celebrate me on Day of the Dead long after I am gone. Don’t forget to bring the tequila.

I’m claiming my seventh life this year so I am definitely celebrating. I hope you will too.

Buen Apetito!

Friday, October 18, 2013


I recently read on a travel blog “don’t waste your time in Toluca – it’s not nice at all.” My first stop in D.F. was Toluca.

Toluca is accessible by Mexico’s first-rate toll roads, and is only one hour away from Mexico City and 30 minutes away from Mexico City´s financial center, Santa Fe. I was amazed to see that many of the companies I did business with back in the 90’s were now out in Santa Fe.

Toluca is also one of the coldest places in Mexico at 8,793 feet above sea level so bring your sweater although the few days that I was there was San Miguel warm.

The market is held on Fridays and is probably one of the best and most picturesque markets in all Mexico. I would put it on your list if you are exploring the markets in Mexico like I am.

And don’t judge a book by its cover. Graffiti is everywhere in Toluca and since you can’t escape it, accept it and appreciate it for what it is…sometimes talented and other times second-rate street art.

In Toluca the most famous dish is chorizo. It is also known for its legendary dishes such as green sausage tacos.
Toluca also has an assortment of candies such as alegrías (made from popped amaranth), jamoncillos (similar to fudge and contains pecans and a hint of cinnamon), chilacayotes (pumpkin in syrup), cocadas (a coconut candy or cookie), and palanquetas (a peanut bar covered with melted sugar).
There were also many other delicious sweets to sample.
Toluca’s traditional drinks include Garapiña, a drink centered on fermented pineapple and the mosquito which is infused of fruit in alcohol.
If you drive to the SW suburb of Metepec you’ll swear you’re in southern California with all of the shopping malls and luxury car dealerships.
You can also get out of Toluca for a weekend to Valle de Bravo. Located on the shore of Lake Avándaro, approximately 97 miles southwest of DF and west of Toluca, the white stucco houses accented with sienna wainscoting will hypnotize you. It feels classically small-town Mexico but it is the weekend retreat for Mexico City’s corporate, celebrities and rich, drawn by its beauty and traditional charm.
        Photo taken with Miguel Navarro's iPhone
High end restaurants in Toluca? We ate at Norte Sur where the room was so dark it prohibited taking pictures but I can tell you that the food was fantastic and I will go back.
This is also where the owner of La Azotea (San Miguel de Allende and Playa del Carmen) got his inspiration for their own Jicama tacos.
Here’s what was on our menu that night:
Tuna Toasts
Saku tuna on blue corn chips seasoned with sesame, tamarind sauce and chipotle cream.

Jícama Tacos
Jicama tortilla stuffed with pico de gallo, pineapple, chipotle dressing and breaded shrimp.

Arrachera Tacos
Corn Tortillas with Arrachera served with onion, cilantro and cream salsa of Jalapeno.

Duo of Chocolate with Mezcal
Two chocolate mousse with Mezcal, served with cocoa and caramel sauce.

Crepes Nortesur
Millefeuille crispy crepe stuffed with vanilla ice cream and topped with caramel sauce and roasted peanuts.

Tortas and Carnitas…

The little place I’ve dreamed about for the past 15 years, Tacos Pepe, was breakfast and it turned out to be as good as I remembered.

Of course I also had to try La Vaquita Negra del Portal’s famous chorizo torta. A lot of other people had the same idea.

Death by Sugar…
The Feria de Alfeñique was going on and that was the food highlight of my trip to Toluca. It has about 85 stands that offer delicious sweets including animals made from the fair’s namesake product “alfenique”, a mixture of sugar and almond oil. It goes on during the month of October leading up to Day of the Dead, my favorite Mexican holiday.

For the last 60 years, candy-makers have lined up their products in Los Portales, a historic yellow building in the heart of the city. I was astonished at the number of things that were there.

It’s believed that the spirits have a sweet tooth…just like me.

I ended up consuming more than my fair share of sweets that day.

The Paloma

This is my new favorite drink that I had when I was in Mexico City. Friends tell me that Mexicans drink these instead of Margaritas.

1 oz tequila blanco or 2 oz if you want to get your guests drunk from the start.
Juice of half a lime - squeezed at moment of serving
Grapefruit Soft Drink - I used grapefruit juice and soda
Pinch of salt
Ice in a tall glass
Lime juice in a plate (for separate use)
Salt in another plate (for rim of glass)
Lime slices for garnish

Dip rim of tall glass into lime juice on plate.
Dip dampened rim of glass into plate of salt.
Fill glass with ice.
Pour tequila into the glass.
Squeeze half a lime into the glass.
Add pinch of salt.
Fill glass with grapefruit soft drink.
Stir very slightly.
Garnish rim of glass with a slice of lime.
Serves one, repeat as necessary.


With Toluca in my rear view mirror, I was headed back home. Mexico City was my second home back in the 90's and even though it’s changed considerably over the last 15 years, I felt at home the minute I got there.

There are neighborhoods like Chapultepec Park and Polanco, Condessa and Roma that are the center of the good life in Mexico City. Chapultepec Park and Polanco is a big residential area west of the city’s center. Along with neighboring Polanco, this is Mexico City's most fashionable address and is filled with high-end restaurants and shops. Avenida Presidente Masaryk is the main street where some of the city's finest hotels are located along with Campos Eliseos, Polanco's version of the Champs-Elysées.

Condesa and Roma, located just south of Zona Rosa, are home to some of the city's trendiest cafes and bars, from avant-garde restaurants to unconventional shops, galleries, and nightclubs.

The highlight of my trip to D.F. was a lunch at legendary Azul Condessa (Nuevo León #68) with renowned Mexico City food writer Cristina Potters. I’ve followed Cristina's work for years and her blog Mexico Cooks was voted the number one food blog in the world.

She was as I expected after having months of email conversations with her...warm, friendly and so knowledgeable about Mexican food that I would place her right up there with Diana Kennedy. That day, Cristina taught me a lot about Mexican cuisine. She is truly one of those rare gems who loves teaching people about Mexican food.

On Cristina’s recommendation, our meal was:

Black Mole with Chicken Notice I put the Black Mole first. This was truly Mole to Die for. The chicken was just a secondary ingredient.

Salad of Arrugula, Pear, Roquefort Cheese, and Cashew in Balsamic Vinegar. One of the best salads I’ve had in Mexico.

Mezcal Amores served in a gourd. The more I drink Mezcal, the more I like it…perhaps even more than tequila? Still a question but soon to be answered.

Tres leches Cake with Rumpope I’m becoming a real fan of Rumpope made with egg yolks, vanilla,  cinnamon, ground almonds, milk, sugar and liquor.

Chocolate Molten Cake This cake was so rich and was loaded with chunks of hazelnuts and chocolate.

After lunch, I was grateful to be invited me to her home. Too bad it wasn’t long enough to count the cookbooks in her kitchen. I’ll let you know when I go back next spring. I wanted to spend the rest of the day reading.

Some great additions to D.F…


Ecobici (modeled on bike-lending programs in Barcelona, Paris; and Copenhagen.) users pay a $24 yearly registration fee and get a membership card, which they can swipe across an electronic reader at any station. Riders have free use for up to 30 minutes and are charged $3 an hour for longer intervals.

Pink Taxi Cabs:

These cabs are part of the government’s assistance to female passengers tired of the security issue. I took them while I was in DF and loved them. The pink taxi cabs are driven by female drivers and will not stop for male passengers. Women-only taxis have been catching on in cities from Moscow to Dubai.

Mezcal Moments…

A magical Mezcal moment in Mexico City motivated me to do a little research this past week. I love doing these beverage studies, especially when it comes to agave spirits. Remember, I am a tequila girl from way back.

First off, Mezcal is often served with Sal de Gusano. It is an Oaxacan salt that is blended with desiccated caterpillar. That’s enough of the details for me. Good thing Cristina told me this after I had tried it. Azul Condessa served this salt on orange slices as a side with the mescal. Best thing… I liked it despite the fact that caterpillars make me cringe.

Mezcal is becoming more mainstream as aficionados come to appreciate its smooth, complex, smoky flavor. It always proves its depth no matter how much fruit juice or agave syrup you happen to stream into the mix.

A long time favorite with Mexican ranchers and horsemen, Mezcal has found a new respect with young professionals in both Mexico City as well as Chicago. It’s served in Pujol in Mexico City – one of the top 50 restaurants in the world - as well as at ground zero for Chicago's cocktail culture where the Violet Hour offers mezcal creations even undertaking house infusions. It’s also becoming very popular with connoisseurs of high-end spirits.

Mezcal has genuine flavor, and it’s much more terroir-driven. My understanding of terroir-driven, and I am just learning too, is that two mezcals made from the same variety grown in sites only a few hundred yards apart can taste entirely different.

What Tequila is to Jalisco, Mezcal is Oaxaca. One of the major differences is that Mezcal is roasted underground while tequila is primed in stainless steel steamers. Mezcal is also produced in Guerrero, Durango, San Luis Potosí, Zacatecas, Tamaulipas, and Guanajuato but most of the really good, high-end Mezcal like Elixir de los Reyes comes from Oaxaca. Elixir ruled at both the Spirits of American competition this past year as well as the San Francisco World Spirits competition taking top prize.

Like Tequila, Mezcal is either 100% agave or a mixto. A mixto Tequila is 51% agave but a mixto Mezcal is required to be at least 80%.

Joven mezcals are young and fairly strong. In fact, after having one shot I felt it. Smoother options are Reposados which are aged for two months and Añejo which is aged for at least one year. In fact, here is the aging process which is the same as tequila:

Silver or Joven is freshly distilled and clear in color.
Reposado is rested in oak from 2-11 months.
Anejo is aged 1 year or longer in oak.

Some top-of-the-line Mezcals are aged 7 years and triple distilled. They are more parallel to a cognac than a tequila.

The small-batch producers in Oaxaca are eager to introduce Mezcal as a spirit best consumed neat. I like it that way too. In fact, in the past few years an increasing number of high-end Mezcals have been introduced including some interesting “single village” bottling.

What Mezcal does for me is raises my depth of curiosity to a whole new level. I am just beginning to explore its intensity.

My favorite Mezcal so far is Amores. The review said: “Soft bodied with bright platinum shades, citrus aroma and slightly smoky, with lingering notes of wild flowers and wet earth.

Wet earth? Have I got a lot to learn!

Buen Apetito!