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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Gluten-Free Chocolate Amaranth Bars

Mexican Chocolate Amaranth Bar recipe using Wilton Candy Melts on theothersideofthetortilla.com

This post is part of a compensated collaboration with Wilton. All experiences, opinions and the recipe here are my own.

In Mexico City’s San Ángel neighborhood, there’s an artisanal candy store I love called Dulcería El Secreto. They make authentic, traditional and artisanal Mexican candies—the kind that were made long before commercial candy production, with recipes that have been passed down through generations. They carry a variety of palanquetas, garapiñados, pepitorias, pulpa de tamarindo con chile, and a lot of traditional Mexican candies that may have fallen somewhat out of favor in recent decades, but are currently having a renaissance.

One of these traditional candies, barras de chocolate con amaranto—known in English as chocolate and amaranth bars—is a very simple but authentic candy that has been enjoyed in Mexico for many decades. You may also know these treats by another name (with a variation of ingredients) — they are similar to alegrías. They’re typically cut into bars or circles and sold everywhere from street vendor stands to high-end artisan candy stores. They’re also a naturally gluten-free treat, and Wilton Candy Melts are also safe for those who follow a gluten-free diet.

 

RELATED RECIPE: How to make pepitorias… 

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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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Carnitas at El Venadito in Mexico City

Basically every carnitas joint in Mexico claims they have the best carnitas. Who can blame them? To somebody, each place DOES have the best carnitas. One of my favorite places in Mexico City, El Venadito, is no exception. This restaurant, which is a neighborhood staple and has no other locations, has been open since 1950. Like many other places, they have a sign that says “super carnitas, las mejores de México.” I will say: They are pretty spectacular, and among my top choices when I’m craving carnitas in Mexico City. After all, what place could stay open for more than six decades with signs saying they have the best carnitas if they didn’t?

Although there’s a restaurant where you can actually sit down in the back, I prefer the charming, tiny curbside taco stand. The only thing separating me from Tomás—the taquero who has been there as long as anyone I know can remember—is a window that’s about five feet high with a counter on top, so I can watch my carnitas go from being chopped to tortilla, salivating while I watch.

I always order them the same way: Surtido, which is a mix of white meat, dark meat, other parts, skin and some crunchy bits of chicharron. Top it with fresh, raw salsa verde and it’s truly a heavenly taco. If you’re squeamish about eating certain parts of the pig, you can always ask for maciza, which is white meat only.

Mexico City eats: El Venadito carnitas, Av. Universidad 1701, Col.Agrícola Chimalistac (Coyoacán) | More recommendations on theothersideofthetortilla.com… 

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Mexico Travel Tips: When My Friends Visit Mexico

When you write a blog about Mexican food and travel within Mexico, you’re bound to be asked for recommendations by… well, EVERYONE. I’m talking family, friends, coworkers, friends of friends, blog readers, complete strangers—it really runs the gamut. But it’s a true source of joy when you share Mexico travel tips with people, and they send you thanks in the form of a video, a photo, a tweet (or whatever else) to let you know they’re thinking of you and appreciate a recommendation that has improved their experience while visiting Mexico.

In the last week, I’ve received two such messages that I wanted to share.

Several years ago, I mentioned to my friend Ramon and his wife how much I love El Globo, a bakery chain that makes one of my favorite kinds of pan dulce—garibaldi. They’re a little upside-down poundcake-like treat that’s bathed in (usually) apricot jam and rolled in white nonpareils. You can even make garibaldi at home with my recipe. A few days ago, while they were in León, Guanajuato, they sent this video while visiting an El Globo location there.

A few weeks ago, another friend told me she’d be traveling to Mexico City on business and needed some recommendations for places to go for breakfast and dinners when she was able to go out on her own. I sent her a list of some of my favorite places near where she was staying and she shared this photo when she visited Churrería El Moro.

  • Have you taken my travel or dining advice in Mexico? I’d love to hear about it! Leave a comment below, tag me on Twitter or Instagram @MauraHernandez, or tag The Other Side of The Tortilla on Facebook with a photo and note to let us know where you went and what you ate!

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?