Lunch at Xanat Bistro and Terrace in Mexico City

Xanat Bistro and Terrace is the upscale contemporary Mexican restaurant in the recently renovated five-star JW Marriott Hotel Mexico City.

The hotel, located in the Polanco neighborhood, is steps from Paseo de la Reforma, the Auditorio Nacional, Chapultepec and the Museo Nacional de Antropología. Xanat opened in October 2014.

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On our recent visit to Mexico in December 2014, I had a chance to dine there for lunch with my cuñada. The hotel’s executive chef, Ciro Mejia, came up with the concept for Xanat (pronounced “shah-naht”). The restaurant’s name is an ancient Totonaca word that means “vanilla flower.” In Totonaca mythology, the vanilla orchid was born when the princess Xanat, who had an affair with a mortal man, ran away to the forest with her lover. The two were captured and beheaded for their offense to the gods, and in the place where their blood seeped into the soil, the first vanilla orchid grew.

The Totonacas were the first to cultivate the vanilla orchid, and Mexico is considered the birthplace of vanilla. Xanat is still used today as a girl’s name in Papantla, Veracruz, where most of Mexico’s vanilla is cultivated. Mexican vanilla beans have a signature creamy flavor and a unique woody spice profile different from other kinds of vanilla.

RELATED RECIPE: Atole de vainilla

At Xanat Bistro and Terrace, many items on the menu have a touch of vanilla incorporated, both in sweet and savory dishes, paying unique homage to this truly Mexican ingredient. I liked that they also focus on using local and national Mexican ingredients to elevate traditional Mexican dishes with a modern spin.
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Mexico City in watercolors

There is so much to love about Mexico City.

I’ve been traveling to Mexico City—affectionately known as Chilangolandia—several times a year for the better part of a decade to visit my husband’s family, and it never ceases to amaze me. From the world-class museums and interesting historic landmarks to the variety of culinary experiences, ranging from street food to haute cuisine, I have a serious love affair with this city that is home to more than 21 million people (including the metro area). You can see and experience everything from fancy, modern skyscrapers to old-school open air markets. At times it can feel like a major metropolis, but at the drop of a hat, you may find yourself in a neighborhood that feels less like the city and more like a pueblo. It’s a diverse city with so much culture and history to explore.

Everything about the place calls my name, and each snapshot I take while visiting is a permanent memory embedded in my mind and heart. It’s strange, but when I’m away, I sometimes feel homesick for this magical place although it’s not where I was born and raised. Having spent so much time there, though, it has become like my second hometown. Recently, I discovered an app called Waterlogue that blew me away with its ability to turn my photos into stunning watercolor painted images. I started sorting through some of my favorite travel photos from Mexico City as well as other places in Mexico that I’ve visited, and have become addicted to turning my photos into works of art. Here are 10 photos I’ve taken in Mexico City over the years that I’ve turned into watercolor images.

A chicharrón vendor on the UNAM (Universidad Nacional Autónoma de México) campus, Cuidad Universitaria

A chicharrón vendor on the UNAM campus in Ciudad Universitaria, Mexico City | More watercolor images of Mexico City on theothersideofthetortilla.com… 

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Wordless Wednesday: Cielito Querido Café in Mexico City

Cielito Querido Café Mexico City

Last week while we were visiting Mexico City, we checked out a new coffee shop we hadn’t seen before called Cielito Querido Café. Not only is the coffee some of the best we’ve tasted in Mexico (even their café de olla passed my test), but I also loved their cute, cheeky to-go cups that poke fun at Starbucks. Like Starbucks, they have the normal assortment of coffees, espresso and frappes, but they have a host of other offerings on the menu that are muy Mexicano, such as chamoyadas (in no less than four flavors), additions to your café con leche that include cajeta and rompope, chocolate caliente con chile and a house-made horchata. The snack offerings didn’t disappoint either, with selections such as muéganos, palanqueta, molletes, panqué, pasteles and galletas.

I was surprised to learn that the quickly-growing Mexican chain has more than 30 locations in Mexico City as of July 2013 and that I hadn’t stumbled upon one before. I went looking for some more information after a friend on Instagram mentioned that the company is looking to expand to the U.S. (and possibly to Los Angeles) and and found this story on NBC Latino with a great slideshow so you can get a feel for the ambience of Cielito Querido Café. We’ll definitely be back again the next time we visit.

  • Have you been to Cielito Querido Café? What did you order? If you haven’t been, do you think you’ll try it out next time you’re in Mexico City? 

Wordless Wednesday: A new book for my collection

México Sano by Pia Quintana Beristain

Each time I visit Mexico City, I end up going home with my suitcase full of books that aren’t available in the U.S. Lately, my bookshelves are looking rather full (despite thinning my library when we moved) so I’ve been a bit choosier about which books I take home since I’m running out of places to put them. I always browse the cookbook and culinary history sections for books that are new since my last visit. Yesterday, I made a stop at the bookstore nearby José’s parents’ house. This book caught my eye because there are tons of books in Spanish about Mexican cuisine and using traditional ingredients, but not as many that highlight healthy recipes. It’s the latest acquisition for my extensive collection of books about Mexican cuisine. I can’t wait to cook my way through it!

If you want to try your luck looking for it, the book is called “México Sano” and is written by Pía Quintana Beristain.

  • Do you like to buy books in Mexico? What kind of books do you look for that you can’t get in the U.S.?

Lunch at El Cardenal in Mexico City

Whenever we visit Mexico City, I always hope to visit El Cardenal—a restaurant with a focus on classic Mexican cuisine.

On one of my first visits to Mexico City, I ate lunch with my future suegros at the Alameda location in the Hilton downtown (although at the time, it was a Sheraton). It was there that I was introduced to chongos zamoranos, a traditional dessert made of milk, sugar, cinnamon, and rennet, used to curdle the milk. Since then, we’ve always gone to another location in the Centro Histórico (Palma #23, between Cinco de Mayo and Francisco I. Madero; opened in 1984) that has a stunning French-Porfirian facade and stained-glass windows bearing the restaurant’s namesake bird, the cardinal.

Aside from dessert, my favorite thing on the menu there is an appetizer—a molcajete filled with queso fresco, avocado, salsa verde and cilantro that’s served with warm tortillas. So simple, yet the dish is so satisfying and representative of El Cardenal.

José has been visiting his parents this week and ate lunch at El Cardenal a few days ago. He sent these photos to share here on The Other Side of The Tortilla. I hope you like them as much as I do.

Queso fresco with flor de calabaza and jalapeño, wrapped in a banana leaf

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Lunch at El Cardenal in Mexico City

  • Have you ever been to El Cardenal? What is your favorite dish on the menu?

Chicharrón de queso

On any trip to Mexico City, I look forward to my first visit to any of my usual taquerías. Not only because I need to satiate my appetite for tacos (read: stuff myself to practically the point of no return), but also because I get an order of chicharrón de queso while I wait.

It’s a delicate, crunchy salty treat—the name basically translates to cheese cracklings.

For years, I never considered making my own chicharrón de queso. Not because I thought it was too hard, but because I don’t have a flat top griddle like the taquerías do. I thought the hot griddle was the key to the texture and the high heat was responsible for the ability to mold it; but one day I had a nagging craving that forced me to experiment and I discovered it can be done at home in an easy way that doesn’t sacrifice any of the things that you’d expect from a good chicharrón de queso…. 

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