Travel Tuesday: A trip down the canals of Xochimilco

las trajineras

When we were visiting Mexico back in December, it turned out that my dear friend Ana and her family were also visiting at the same time. We were determined to see each other, and after some previously derailed plans thanks to illnesses we finally settled on a date and an activity. We’d check out the Museo Dolores Olmedo (which I’ll write about another day), the floating gardens of Xochimilco and then have lunch together on the day after Christmas.

I was so excited when Ana and her family picked me up – first because I’d be exploring some places I’d never visited before, but also because I was so happy to be able to share in these experiences with someone who I knew cherished them as much as I did. Thank you, Ana, Alan, Camila and Patricia for sharing this special day with me.

(Be sure to check out the video after the jump.)… 

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Mexique: Celebrating Mexican Cuisine with a French Twist

A few weeks ago I attended a dinner given by the Mexico Tourism Board and Chef Carlos Gaytan at his restaurant, Mexique, in honor of the recent UNESCO designation of Mexican cuisine as an Intangible Cultural Heritage. The Tourism Board over the last several weeks has hosted authentic Mexican dinners in a number of major North American cities to celebrate, including Chicago, New York, Los Angeles, Washington D.C., Miami, Montreal, Toronto, Ottawa and Vancouver, so I was thrilled to receive the invitation.

Did you know that French recipes and cooking techniques during the French occupation of Mexico in the 1860s became an important element in the evolution of modern Mexican gastronomy?

Gaytan’s concept behind Mexique is modern Mexican food with French influence. Hailing from Huitzuco, Guerrero, Gaytan’s love of food helped him rise from pantry cook to executive chef. He trained with French chef Dominique Tougne of Bistro 110 (Gold Coast) and has also spent time in the kitchens at Bistrot Margo (Old Town) and the Union League Club (Loop), all in Chicago. If you live in Chicago or are visiting, I highly recommend you visit Mexique for a meal.

One thing that left an impression on me at the dinner was when Carlos explained why he doesn’t serve mixed drinks in his restaurant: they take away from the palate and so instead, he serves wine and tequila. And God bless him for telling everyone in the dining room that tequila should be sipped. Someone at a table near me chimed in that “only heathens drink tequila shooters,” which caused an eruption of laughter at my table.

And I can’t end without showing you what we ate. It was a lovely four-course tasting meal with excellent wines and ended with tequila. I can’t wait to return to Mexique for another meal!

PRIMERO: Ceviche

Ahi tuna, avocado mousse, chipotle aioli, mango habanero galette… 

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Celebrate Mexico Every Day

September 16th, Mexican Independence Day, has come and gone, but the celebration of Mexico isn’t really over just yet.

Tomorrow, November 20th, Mexico will celebrate the centennial of its Revolution. This year has been filled with special events all over the world honoring these two important anniversaries in Mexican history.

But there are many everyday reasons to celebrate Mexico, too: the diverse flora and fauna; beautiful ecosystems spanning every kind of terrain from jungles and deserts; the incredible food with worldly influences ranging from pre-Hispanic cultures to European, Asian and beyond; the kind and generous people; the abundance of historical and World Heritage sites… I could probably go on listing the things I love about Mexico for days. I can’t wait to one day have children to teach them all the things we love so much about the country where their papá was born and raised.

In the news in the U.S., Mexico is often painted as a violent, turbulent place and seldom are the positive things about the country and the culture shared in the mainstream media. But to me, Mexico is so much more than what they show on the news. Here on The Other Side of The Tortilla, I choose to focus on the positive aspects of Mexico and Mexican culture because it is what I feel in my heart. It is a mission here to both connect Mexicans at home and abroad to their culture via stories about family and food – two of the most important aspects of the culture – as well as educate those who are not Mexican about traveling the country, absorbing the rich culture and experiencing the incomparable cuisine.

This week, the United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization (UNESCO) awarded Mexican cuisine the status as a Masterpiece of the Oral and Intangible Heritage of Humanity at a ceremony in Nairobi, Kenya. This is big news in Tortillalandia and you can definitely expect to read more about it here soon. In the meantime, check out the Conservatorio de la Cultura Gastronómica Mexicana to learn more about the organization that submitted the proposal that was approved by UNESCO. I’m excited to see that the world is finally acknowledging the importance of Mexican cuisine and it’s even more special that the status is being awarded during the bicentennial year.

From November 29-December 10, Mexico will also be hosting the United Nations Climate Change Conference (also know as COP16/CMP6) in Cancun. I was delighted to hear that the conference will be planting around 10,000 trees and bushes in Cancun as part of their way of giving back to the city for hosting. I’m very excited to see all the sustainability efforts being implemented during the conference, as environmental sustainability and caring for the natural resources of the area are very important to the local habitat. The Riviera Maya has much to offer in terms of natural beauty, historic landmarks and world-class culture and food. In fact, the ruins at Tulum are one of my favorite gems in that area because they incorporate both the lush vegetation and the incredible building skills of a civilization that is not physically present, but still lives on in the heart of Mexican history.

I encourage you to follow along with the conference and check out the resources on their website as Mexico steps into the limelight to become part of the solution, bridging the gap between the developed and developing worlds and educating others on how to preserve our beautiful natural spaces and reduce our carbon footprints for generations to come.

I plan to continue celebrating the magic of the Bicentenario through the rest of 2010 and well into the future. I’ll be visiting Mexico for most of the month of December and into early January so you can count on a daily serving of whatever I’m up to, all laid out here in stories, photos and video every day while I’m there. Ven conmigo and subscribe via email or RSS so you don’t miss out on the fun!

Without Mexico, my life would be a lot less picante, verdad? And to me, life without a little spice is boring so I’m proud to say that Mexico is my home away from home.

If you missed the espectáculo, check out this video below for a glimpse of how the bicentenario was celebrated in Mexico City’s zócalo. To learn more about Mexico’s rich history and the events still to come in 2010, check out the Bicentennial websites in Spanish and English.

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200 AÑOS DE SER ORGULLOSAMENTE MEXICANOS

  • HOW DO YOU CELEBRATE MEXICO EVERY DAY?
The photos in this post were provided by the government of Mexico through Ogilvy Public Relations Worldwide.
Ogilvy is working with the government of Mexico as a communications partner to help promote Mexico worldwide as a global business partner and unrivaled tourist destination. To accomplish this, they are working with writers like me to provide interesting information, additional facts, economic information, and new perspectives about the country to a range of interested audiences. The words and opinions here are my own.

AGUA FRESCA: AGUA DE TUNA ROJA

I still remember the first time I saw tunas growing wild – José and I were visiting Mexico City one warm week at the end of the summer several years ago. One afternoon we were bored, so my suegra suggested that José take me on an official tour of Ciudad Universitaria. Also referred to as CU, it is home to the main campus of Universidad Nacional Autónoma de México (la UNAM or in English, the National Autonomous University of Mexico), the largest university in Latin America and a UNESCO World Heritage site since 2007.

This year on September 22, UNAM celebrated 100 years since its founding as the National University of Mexico as it was conceptualized by Secretary and Minister of Public Instruction and Fine Arts, Justo Sierra, and inaugurated in 1910 by President Porfirio Díaz. The university is also the successor to the Royal and Pontifical University of Mexico, founded by Spanish Royal Decree in 1551 – technically making UNAM one of the oldest universities in the Americas.

On the campus grounds, besides the historic buildings designed by some of Mexico’s most well-known architects, murals and sculptures by famous Mexican artists, an Olympic stadium that has hosted a Summer Olympic Games (1968) and a World Cup (1986), and an impressive number of students, faculty and staff, there exists a serene, green space that is as close to the original land’s flora and fauna as it might have grown freely during the height of the Aztec empire…. 

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Classic guacamole recipe

mi papel picado bicentenario

¡Feliz Día de la Independencia, México!

Did you watch the Grito last night?

In my house, we hung papel picado and waved our Mexican flag as we watched the celebration starting in Mexico City’s zócalo. My heart was filled with emotion seeing the zócalo, where I have stood in awe many times, brimming with people from all corners of Mexico to celebrate the bicentennial of Independence from Spain and 100 years since the Revolution.

If you missed the Grito, the shout of independence honoring Mexico’s national heroes, you can watch it here:

If you want to watch last year’s Grito and attempt a very traditional Independence Day recipe, you can check out the chiles en nogada I made and posted last year here on The Other Side of The Tortilla…. 

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