Best Cooking Class in Mexico City

Mole Poblano

One of the most rewarding ways to discover the food, culture and traditions of any place you are visiting is to spend a few hours with a local cook perusing the markets, and if you are lucky, having them teach you to prepare some authentic dishes.  The mark of a truly exceptional experience of this kind is when you depart feeling that you have spent a day with long lost family.  This is the feeling you are sure to have when leaving Casa Jacaranda, the stunning home of Beto Estúa and Jorge Fitz in the quaint Colonia Roma neighborhood of Mexico City.  Although Beto and Jorge are quick to reject being labeled “chefs,” they are undeniably extremely talented cooks.

Mercado Medellin

Your morning with Beto and Jorge begins with a brief stop at a local tortilleria, where the warm scent of toasted corn fills the air and the tortillas are made using the same ancient process as the Aztecs.  Then it’s off to nearby Mercado Medellin, a local market with over 500 stalls featuring specialties from all over Mexico and Latin America.  Armed with an arsenal of “abuela-approved” recipes (Beto and Jorge will go over the menu, and suggest creative substitutions for any dietary constraints), your hosts will guide you through the market, stopping at the best vendors for various items like Oaxaca cheese, dried chiles and smoked habanero salsa, and collecting the freshest ingredients for the afternoon feast.

Casa Jacaranda

After a short walk through the tree-lined streets of Colonia Roma, you arrive at Casa Jacaranda, named for the towering Jacaranda tree that delights with beautiful purple blooms in the spring.  Beto and Jorge have lovingly restored the early 19th Century home, which is sparkling clean and adorned with funky art and perfectly-curated furniture.  The centerpiece is the custom cooking area they built for their guests, which lends to a feeling of being at a fun cooking party at your friend’s house.  The day’s menu is scrolled on a giant chalkboard on the wall, and Beto and Jorge expertly guide you through preparing each dish, encouraging you to get your hands dirty and sharing tricks and secrets they swore to their grandmothers they’d never tell.  Staples like guacamole, Smoky Fire-Roasted Tomato Salsa, and coconut flan with caramel, are accompanied by more complex dishes like mole poblano, enchiladas with salsa verde, sweet corn tamales, and squash blossom and mushroom stuffed molotes.

Casa Jacaranda The impressive Mexican spread is then transported to the rooftop garden, and invited guests can join the lunchtime festivities.  An aperitif of artisanal mezcal gets your taste buds jumping, followed by a complimentary selection of wine or perhaps a bespoke tequila sunrise made with fresh-squeezed orange juice and housemade grenadine.  The exquisite food slowly disappears as stories are swapped, laughs are shared, the afternoon sun slowly fades away, and sobremesa  that magical time spent around the table with friends after an extraordinary meal; a word that has no precise English translation  sets in.

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5 Best Mexico City Street Foods

tacos al pastor

Mexico City. A sprawling metropolis in the high plateaus of south-central Mexico, built upon an ancient lake and bursting with world-class museums, architecture, shopping, entertainment and cuisine. Mexican food and culture is inextricably intertwined, and traditional methods transform native ingredients like corn, chile peppers, beans, avocados, tomatoes, guavas, cactus, cacao and vanilla into flavor-packed creations. And there is no easier access point to sample the variety of dishes Mexico City has to offer than its ubiquitous street food vendors. The choices are seemingly endless, but below are five must-try Mexico City street foods.

tacos al pastor 1. Tacos Primarily mid-morning or late night snacks, tacos are the quintessential Mexican street food. Fresh masa is pressed into thin tortilla rounds and toasted for rich corn flavor. Fillings run the gamut, from myrid cuts of beef, pork, lamb, and chicken, to roasted poblano chiles and onions, to diced potato and chorizo. Spicy salsas and chopped veggies like cilantro, onions and radishes add freshness. Be on the lookout for the famous tacos al pastor — easy to spot by the towering stack of chile and pineapple-marinated pork cooked near an open flame on a rotating vertical spit — as well as slow-roasted lamb barbacoa tacos.

tlacoyo2. Tlacoyos You can’t miss the group of ladies huddled around a giant flattop grill flipping oval-shaped, indigo masa cakes stuffed with requesón cheese and beans. Once nice and toasty, the tlacoyos are typically topped with fresh salsa, nopales, sour cream, chopped onion, grated cheese and cilantro. Tlacoyos are best enjoyed hot off the grill.

esquites3. Esquites The smoky aroma of roasted corn lures passersby. The browned kernals are cut from the cob and tossed with pungent epazote, zesty lime juice, spicy chile powder, cool mayonnaise and salty Cotija cheese, and served in cups for easy portability. The perfect blend of sweet, sour, salty, bitter and umami.

jicama with chile and lime

4. Prepared Fruit Mexico is blessed with a bounty of exotic fruit year-round. Fruit stands are found throughout the city, and vendors will dice up a sampling of the season’s best, like guava, papaya, passion fruit, soursop, mango and pineapple. For a refreshing snack, try crunchy jicama sticks tossed in fresh lime juice and sprinkled with chile salt.

aguas frescas

5. Aguas Frescas No street food meal is complete without aguas frescas (“fresh waters”), colorful beverages made with a variety of fruits, flowers and seeds. Most vendors will let you sample their offerings before making your final selection. Popular choices include agua de flor de Jamaica (hibiscus flower), limón con chia (lime with chia seeds), guanabana (soursop), tamarind and horchata, a creamy blend of rice milk, cinnamon and vanilla.

¡Buen provecho!

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Best Food and Wine Experiences in Napa Valley

Strawberry Shortcake, Cindy's Backstreet Kitchen, St. Helena, Napa Valley, California 2014 © Credit: Krystal M. Hauserman @MsTravelicious

Strawberry Shortcake, Cindy’s Backstreet Kitchen 2014 © Credit: Krystal M. Hauserman @MsTravelicious

One of the world’s best wine and food destinations, Napa Valley is nirvana for those whose greatest pleasure is the perfect pairing amid breathtaking natural beauty.  The first glimpse of the vineyards as you enter the valley on Highway 29 instantly lifts your mood in anticipation of the spectacular culinary delights that await.  Whether a romantic escape, a girls’ weekend or a cycling getaway, Napa Valley offers sensory experiences that make it effortless to unplug from the world and connect with those around you.

Undoubtedly, Napa Valley vintners produce some of the best wine in the world.  The food scene is equally revered, and includes two of the nine U.S. restaurants with a highly-coveted 3-star rating in the 2015 Michelin Guide – Chef Christopher Kostow’s Meadowood, and Chef Thomas Keller’s foodie mecca, The French Laundry.

Then there are the hidden gems of Napa Valley: off-the-beaten path tasting rooms and immersive farm-to-table experiences.  These are the magical experiences that die-hard foodies live for.

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Oakville Grocery, Oakville, Napa Valley, California A morning stop at Oakville Grocery is a delicious way to kick off your Napa Valley adventure.  Although hardly a secret (the store was founded in 1881, and is the oldest continually operating grocery store in California),  Oakville Grocery is a quaint country store supplying the tastiest treasures from Napa and Sonoma farmers and artisans.  Grab an espresso and one of the scrumptious breakfast sandwiches – perhaps the organic scrambled egg with apple wood ham, roasted peppers and pepper jack cheese on a buttery croissant – and enjoy peaceful vineyard views from one of the outdoor benches before you set out for the day.

A tasting at the O’Shaughnessy Estate Winery located high in the hills above St. Helena is a can’t-miss event.  The stunning views of the valley alone would be worth the trek; add the world-class cabernet and your mind will be blown.  O’Shaughnessy’s two offerings – Howell Mountain and Mount Veeder – consistently earn rave reviews from the venerable Robert Parker, who awarded 97 points to the 2012 Mount Veeder.  Relish the powerful, complex flavors of dark cherry, cocoa and spice as you savor every drop.

With your palate awakened, head down the mountain for lunch at local favorite Cindy’s Backstreet Kitchen.  In warmer months, the tables on the charming brick patio underneath the 100-year-old fig tree are the perfect spot to enjoy incredibly fresh summer salads, crisp sauvignon blanc and sinful strawberry shortcake with fresh cream.  Or cozy up inside at the lively bar and trade stories with locals and visitors over wood oven pork shoulder and a glass of earthy pinot noir.

St. Helena Olive Oil Co., St. Helena, Napa Valley, California

After lunch, stop by St. Helena Olive Oil Company around the corner on Main Street, and be sure to try Katz and Company’s exquisite raspberry honey.  About a mile up the road is The Culinary Institute of America at Greystone.  You will find all things culinary at their Spice Islands Marketplace, including a tasting bar where you can sample chocolate, cheese, charcuterie, olive oil and wine.

Pairing wine and food is an art, with thousands of books written on the subject.  When done expertly, the experience is otherworldly.  Seriously.

Austin Gallion, Director of Hospitality and Executive Chef at Vineyard 29, is a pairing pro.  He is the mastermind behind Vineyard 29’s innovative hospitality programs.  Forget the ubiquitous dry breadstick, and reserve your spot for a flight of Vineyard 29’s superb cabernets, cab francs and zinfandel’s perfectly matched with bite-sized “tastes” like duck confit with cherry compote. Guests with good timing might be able to snag Vineyard 29’s coveted sauvignon blanc, which delights with bright citrus, minerality and warm caramel.

Olive Oil and Syrup, Round Pond Estate, Rutherford, Napa Valley, California

Those looking for the full farm-to-fork experience have two first-rate opportunities. Round Pond Estate, located in the acclaimed Rutherford region of Napa Valley, is a family-owned and operated estate comprised of vineyards, gardens and orchards. In addition to excellent wine, the family produces delicious artisanal olive oils, red wine vinegars and citrus fruit syrups. The “Garden to Table Brunch” includes a tour of the biodynamic garden, cooking demonstration (with wine), estate wine tasting and seated brunch on the stunning terrace with sweeping views of Napa Valley. Those looking to get their hands dirty can book a spot for the annual “A Day in the Life” experience, where you will harvest grapes, assist the winemakers, and enjoy all the gourmet food and wine the estate offers.

Grassfed Meatballs with Spiced Tomato Jam, Farmstead, St. Helena, Napa Valley, California

Advocates of sustainable, organic farming will be rapt with Long Meadow Ranch, which produces acclaimed wines, olive oil, grassfed beef, eggs, honey and heirloom fruits and vegetables. Options to see and experience everything LMR has to offer abound, and include extensive tours, kitchen workshops, and multi-course meals hosted by Chef Tim Mosblech. For those with limited time, book a table at LMR’s restaurant, Farmstead, and devour down-home goodies like wood grilled artichokes, meatballs with tomato marmalade, grassfed lamb, and “brick cooked” chicken with salsa verde.

Ma(i)sonry

Ready for more wine tasting? Set aside a couple of hours to lounge in the outdoor sculpture garden at Ma(i)sonry in downtown Yountville. The art collection is intriguing, but the main attraction is tasting hard-to-find wines from over 20 boutique producers like Juslyn, Lail, Pahlmeyer, and Renteria. Don’t miss Blackbird Vineyards’ incredible Pomerol-inspired wines; a glass of the Arriviste rosé is the picture-perfect ending to a day of indulgence.

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Top 5 Food and Wine Experiences in Florence, Italy

Pizza Margherita, Pizzeria Caffé Italiano, Florence, Italy 2013© Credit: Krystal M. Hauserman @MsTravelicious

Pizza Margherita, Pizzeria Caffé Italiano, Florence, Italy 2013© Credit: Krystal M. Hauserman @MsTravelicious

A fashion capital, UNESCO World Heritage Site and one of the most beautiful cities in the world, Florence offers an abundance of history, culture, art and architecture. But for the hungry traveler, discovering the family-run trattorias and wine shops that dot the city’s twisting sidestreets is an equally alluring draw.

One of the first things that springs to the food-obsessed explorer’s mind when visiting Italy is where to find the best pizza. Purists on the hunt for the perfect pizza Marghertia will be in paradise at Pizzeria del Caffé Italiano. There you will find the quintessential bubbly, fire-tinged crust topped with melted mozzarella, tangy tomato sauce, fresh basil, a swirl of extra virgin olive oil and crunchy sea salt. Mangia bene!

Tuscany

Conti gourmet shop, Florence Central Market

After your obligatory pizza fix, one of the most entertaining ways to delve into the Florentine food scene (particularly for solo travelers), is to book a tour with Florence for Foodies. Nat and Sam — two uproarious guides with a passion for food and wine — lead small groups on whirlwind tours of the city’s most delicious attractions. You will start the morning with a lively discussion of Italian coffee culture while sipping macchiatos and devouring Italian pastries. The sinful feast continues at Florence’s Central Market, with a tasting of cheeses, glazes, balsamic vinegars and more at the historic Conti gourmet shop. After a bit of wine and local gossip, be sure to pick up a bag, or three, of the Sicilian “Pachino” sun-dried cherry tomatoes (fantastic gifts), and a jar of the Crema di Pistacchio. A riotous visit to a local wine shop, followed by a generous sampling of gelato, sorbetto and semi-freddi at one of the best gelaterias in town rounds out the afternoon.

Porcini and Arugula Salad, L'Antico Noè, Florence, Italy 2013© Credit: Krystal M. Hauserman @MsTravelicious

Porcini and Arugula Salad, L’Antico Noè

For dinner, seekers of local dining experiences will fall madly in love with l’Antico Noè, a traditional Tuscan trattoria housed in a former butcher’s shop and nestled underneath the Arco di San Pierino. Stacks of wooden crates overflowing with the freshest produce greet you as you enter the restaurant. When in season, try the shaved porcini mushroom salad with wild arugula, salty pecorino cheese and a drizzle of olive oil. Indulge in the Florentine steak (bistecca alla Fiorentina) or homemade pasta, capped off with Authentic Tuscan Biscotti (cantuccini) dipped in vin santo.

Take a reprieve from your Florentine food fest and drop by Antica Cuoieria to admire the handcrafted leather and suede shoes in a myriad of brightly-colored hues. Florence is renowned for its leather goods, and the offerings here are of the finest quality. Spend an hour or two exploring the nearby boutiques on Via del Corso, which are exceptional.

All'Antico Vinaio, Florence, Italy

All’Antico Vinaio

With your appetite restored, head over to All’antico Vinaio, for what will possibly be one of the best sandwiches you will consume in your lifetime. Take the edge off the long line with a glass of Brunello from the self-serve wine bar. Once inside, select your preferred oven-fresh bread, and for 5 euros, a spirited young man will pile it high with your choice of Italian meats, cheeses and accoutrement like truffles, artichoke spread and roasted eggplant. Your mouthwatering creation is expertly wrapped in butcher paper for easy eating. Grab a seat and another glass of wine and watch the world go by.

Zeno and Edoardo Fioravanti, and Manuele Giovanelli, Enoteca Pitti Gola e Cantina, Florence, Italy

Zeno and Edoardo Fioravanti, and Manuele Giovanelli, Enoteca Pitti Gola e Cantina

Top off a day of sightseeing with a glass of Prosecco at one of Florence’s most lively wine bars, Enoteca Pitti Gola e Cantina. Owners Edoardo, Zeno and Manuele will regale you with their extensive knowledge of Italian varietals, and pour you curated selections of Chianti Classico, Brunello, and Barolo from local producers. An accompanying plate of farm fresh cheese and antipasti is the flawless finish to your Florentine food adventure.

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Top Food Markets to See Before You Die

cactus

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

1. FERRY PLAZA FARMERS MARKET San Francisco, California

Not too far from the epicenter of the organic food movement popularized by renowned chef, food activist and writer Alice Waters, the Ferry Plaza Farmers Market has a seemingly endless offering of organic fruits, vegetables, meat, cheese and prepared foods from over 80 Bay Area producers. While the farmers market is open three days a week (Tuesday, Thursday, and Saturday), the Ferry Building Marketplace, open daily, is a destination in its own right. Must Try: Ethereal beignets from Boulettes Larder, burnt caramel hazelnuts from Recchiuti Confections, and almond brittle with dark chocolate from Alfieri Farms.

2. MERCADO DE LA MERCED Mexico City, Mexico

The largest market in Mexico City, La Merced sprawls across four city blocks and offers an boundless bounty of Mexico’s finest provisions from over 3,000 vendors, including dozens of dries and fresh chiles, moles, Oaxacan cheese, nopals (cactus paddles) and avocados. Pick up the freshest ingredients for this unforgettable guacamole. Must Try: Rich, spicy, fragrant Mexican vanilla, and homemade grilled masa cakes.

3. LA BOQUERIA Barcelona, Spain

Dating back to 1217, La Boqueria is one of the oldest, and arguably finest, markets in Europe. With a dizzying array of produce, meat, seafood, cheese, olives, spices and much more, you could easily spend a whole day here, winding down with a glass of cava and tapas at Bar Pinotxo. Or book a class at La Boqueria’s cooking school. Must try: Iberico ham, manchego cheese, and one of the myriad brightly-colored fruit popsicles.

4. TSUKIJI FISH MARKET Tokyo, Japan

The main attraction at Tsukiji Fish Market is the early morning tuna auction, where visitors (capped at 120 a day) line up at 5:00 a.m. to observe the spectacle. Must try: Incomparably fresh sushi and sashimi at Daiwa Sushi.

5. COURS SALEYA Nice, France

Nestled among picturesque buildings and mere steps away from the turquoise Mediterranean Sea, Cours Saleya is one of the most beautiful markets in France. Although largely a flower market, you will find a generous offering of the freshest fruits and vegetables in Southern France, including the elusive and fragrant fraises des bois (wild strawberries). Must try: Sundried tomatoes and vanilla sea salt.

BONUS: WAIMEA TOWN MARKET Waimea, Hawaii

Undoubtedly the best little market you’ve probably never heard of, the Saturday Waimea Town Market is a relatively undiscovered gem nestled among the gently rolling hills of the upcountry. Over 30 vendors offer beautiful produce, meat and prepared foods from the Big Island — most produced within miles — including exotic items like lilikoi (passion fruit), ginger, coconut, papayas, and rambutans, which can be difficult to find as fresh stateside. And if all this wasn’t enough, the market is run on a volunteer basis and has raised over $150,000 in the last six years for Parker School. Must try: Macadamia nut tarts and pineapple and toasted coconut macadamia nuts from Ahualoa Farms

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