Exploring the Teotihuacan Pyramids in Mexico City

I have always been so fascinated by the history in Mexico, having visited the sites at Chichen Itza a few years ago, and so when visiting Teotihuacan was part of our itinerary during my trip to Mexico City, I was really looking forward to it.

The site is just 30 miles north of Mexico City, and the perfect place to spend a day exploring. Surprisingly the Aztecs or Mayans had nothing to do with it – it was built before their time. There is a mystery that surrounds the early settlers who built the city and multiple theories about it. Very little is known about them and this only adds to the charm of it and it attracts so many people to marvel at it daily. It was called Teotihuacan, which means place of the gods and remains an important part of Mexico City’s history.

After wandering around the Palace of Quetzalpapalotl, which has complex paintings, carvings and lots of ornaments, we started off at the Pyramid of the Sun.

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Now I somehow missed the memo that we were actually climbing the pyramids so when everyone started going up the steps I was panicking as I have a massive fear of heights! I am incredibly unfit (and lazy) but to avoid being a party pooper I slowly started to climb the steps up this 70m high and 215m wide pyramid.

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After having to stop several times I finally got to the top and collapsed for a few minutes while I gathered my breath. When I finally had the courage to look out from the top (I have a fear of heights too!), it was SO WORTH ALL THAT EFFORT. I mean look at that view!

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Also, the Pyramid of the Sun is the third biggest pyramid in the world! So you can add that to your list of amazing things that you have done in your lifetime 😉

Just like the Mayans, the Mexicans have a belief that the Pyramid of the Sun holds astrological powers. Every year, on March 21st (Spring Equinox), people travel from all over the country, as well as from abroad, to climb the pyramid, and charge their energies at the top.

After enjoying the panoramic view, we descended the pyramid, which was equally frightful for me, and walked down the Avenue of the Dead towards the Pyramid of the Moon.

I somehow missed the memo that we were climbing this pyramid too and these steps looked even more steeper than the Pyramid of the Sun!

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Photo credit: Mexico Tourism Board

This Pyramid was built in seven layers, (pyramid on top of pyramid) and is considered to be the starting point of the city.  This was definitely a more strenuous climb than the Pyramid of the Sun, but the good thing was that you could stop lots while you gathered your breath! This is the second largest pyramid in Teotihuacan and is 43m high.

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It was lots of fun, although made me realise how terribly unfit I was – something I am rectifying as part of my new year’s goals.

If you are interested in the historical aspect of travelling and love seeing archaeological sites, this is definitely one to go to! Even if you don’t have an avid interest in history, this is such a great excursion and activity to do whilst visiting Mexico City.

I thoroughly enjoyed our time exploring Teotihuacan, and it proximity makes it ideal for a half a day or day trip! If I can do it being a lazy person and with my fear of heights, anyone can do it! It is just inspiring and I am absolutely in awe of the cleverness of the early settlors and the precision with which they built things. The structures themselves are just magnificent!

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To read more about things to do in Mexico City, go here.

I was hosted by the Mexican Tourism Board, which I am very grateful for.

My Top Ten Travel moments of 2016 and travel plans for 2017

2016 was a year full of such varied travel and I am so grateful for all the experiences that I have been lucky to have. My top ten travel highlights, in no particular order, were as follows:

  1. A BBQ out at sea in Mauritius

Having a BBQ on a Catamaran in the middle of the Indian Ocean in Mauritius was one of those “pinch me, is this real?” moments and was an unforgettable experience. What made it even more special was that we saw some dolphins jumping in and out of the water whilst we were chilling on the Catamaran, soaking up the sunshine. I generally am happiest when on a boat, out at sea, so this was definitely a memory I will cherish forever.

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2. Exploring St Malo, in Brittany 

I had visited St Malo, when I was 15, as part of a school trip to spend a few weeks there, attending a school to learn French. In 2016, I was invited by Brittany Ferries, to experience St Malo again and it was just stunning! I fell in love with it all over again and ate all the salted caramel I could manage. It is such an easy trip from the UK and I highly recommend it.

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3. Making my own pizza in Naples, Italy

As part of our cruise in September 2016, one of our stops was Naples, in Italy and it happened to be during the Pizza Festival. We spent the day exploring Naples by foot, learning about the history and then went to a restaurant where we learned how to make the pizzas Naples is famous for ourselves! It was such a lovely experience and one of the top foodie moments of 2016 for me. The pizza was delicious too!

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4. Visiting Monaco

Monaco had been one of the destinations on my travel wish list for so long so when it was part of the destinations our cruise was going to I was ecstatic! I loved exploring Monaco and taking in the views and aspiring to own a yacht parked in the marina one day!

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5. The Sagrada Familia in Barcelona

Barcelona is one of my favourite cities in the world, and this was my third visit to the Catalonian capital and I can never tire of seeing the sights.

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6. Climbing the Pyramid of the Sun, Mexico City 

Climbing the third biggest pyramid in the world in Mexico City was also a top travel moment. I was very unfit and had to stop several times before I made it to the top! However, the view from the top made up for the exhaustion! If you ever visit Mexico City do not miss this out and make sure you climb it!

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7. Visiting my husband’s family’s Kesar Mango Farm in India

This year my husband took me to India to visit his ancestral home outside of Bhuj. They grow the famous Kesar Mangoes at the farmland close to his home and trust me those mangoes, when in season, are the best mangoes you will ever eat!

It was nice to have a (forced) social media detox and not be able to check emails and just immerse myself in the laid back culture and breath that fresh air every day.

PS: I know I look like a Kesar Mango myself in this bright yellow outfit LOL

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8. Seeing the Gateway of India in Mumbai

Another landmark, top of my list to see, was the Gateway of India, and in 2016 I ticked this off the list. It had always interested me, especially after reading about the Mumbai Terror Attacks, and the major plus point was it was right opposite the Taj Mahal Palace Hotel, which we stayed at and also ticked off our hotel wish list.

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9. Going to the top of the Burj Khalifa in Dubai

Although I have visited Dubai several times, we have never actually gone to the top of the Burj Khalifa until 2016 on a family trip there. It was dark when we got to the top at our scheduled time so we saw all the pretty lights making the city sparkle. I would love to go again during the day time on my next visit to Dubai.

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10. Attending The Latin America Top 50 Restaurant Awards

The final highlight of many, was attending the Latin America Top 50 Restaurant Awards in a very glitzy ceremony in Mexico City, as part of a press trip. This trip was especially confidence boosting for me as I had never travelled so far by myself before and with a lack of knowledge of much Spanish I did struggle a little. However, it has also led to one of my new year’s resolution being to learn Spanish as I would love to visit other parts of Latin America.

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So far in 2017 I have plans to visit Athens in January, Paris in February and a long trip back to Kenya in March to attend my youngest brother’s wedding as well as spend lots of time with family and friends.

We have yet to plan a trip for our seven (gasp) year wedding anniversary as well as a big trip for when I end my career at some point this year (tbc).

I would love to see more of Asia, Latin America, North America as well as some more city breaks in Europe.

Keep an eye out on my Instagram to find out as and when I make some more travel plans.

What is on your travel wish list this year? I would love to know in the c0mments section below 🙂

Highlights of 2016 for Binny’s Kitchen & Travel Diaries

2016 has been a whirlwind year where plenty of Mojitos were consumed, lots of new friendships were made, several destinations were visited, both in the UK and abroad, and lots of dining out occurred at various new and classic restaurants!

Best Mojito of 2016

First things first! My favourite Mojito was at the Langham hotel. Trust me I have had a lot of Mojitos in the name of research to come to this conclusion 😉

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Now we can carry on to the rest of the year. Here is my round up of my year with lots of photos.

January

The year started quietly as we had just returned from a trip back home in Kenya which had been pretty hectic with a wedding to attend and some family time split between Mombasa and Nairobi. The highlight of January however, was getting to meet Jason Atherton and getting a signed cook book. I somehow managed to win an Instagram competition on Jason’s feed and had won a meal for 2 at his restaurant Social Wine and Tapas, which was brilliant. I didn’t take my camera though and didn’t blog about it. A lesson I learned from and didn’t repeat for the rest of the year. That camera is permanently in my handbag!

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February

The shortest month of the year and we had our first staycation of the year in Nottingham. It was fun exploring the city and visiting the castle. The highlight of the staycation was visiting the Kitty Café because if you know me you know I am a super crazy cat lady!

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In London we also visited the Magic lantern festival and that was quite spectacular! I hope that there is something similar to see next year!

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March

March was the only month where I seem to have stayed in and cooked more than I went out for some bizarre reason. I did however go to Hoppers London for some Egg Hoppers, which has definitely been a very fabulous experience.

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I also had Bao, and fell in love with the Horlicks Bao. It is heavenly!

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April

April was a month of celebrations with my Blog having its first year anniversary as well as it being our sixth wedding anniversary! We celebrated both and went for meals to Bob Bob Ricard, famous for its “Press for Champagne” button/switch as well as one of my favourites, and evidently a favourite of Michel Roux Jr too, Michelin starred Gymkhana.

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With spring settling in we also visited the Cotswolds for a weekend trip and stayed at The Falcon, in the very cute and quaint town of Painswick.

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We also celebrated our anniversary with a long haul trip to Mauritius where we stayed at the St Regis, which was out of this world.

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May

May was the UK Blog Awards 2016 ceremony for which I was a finalist in both the Food & Drink and Travel categories. My work bff Anne came to stay the night with me to attend the ceremony, along with Mandy, and we went to the ceremony in a chauffeur driven BMW 7 series which had massage seats! Thank you to BMW for that little treat!

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The next day we went on a road trip to Liverpool, and Amit and I explored the city and had a memorable meal at Mowgli Street Food. If you go to Liverpool it is a must try!

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I went on my first ever press trip abroad too and to a destination I had visited when I was 15! It was to St. Malo in Brittany and it was such a lovely trip and I ate all the Salted Caramel I could, as well as some delicious pancakes. I got to go with my blogger friends Sandra, Omo and Eulanda and we had such a fabulous time.

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June

June was the start of good weather and I enjoyed the Taste of London festival, a food festival where you can try dishes from most of the restaurants in London.

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Got to catch up with one of my faves – Chef Vivek Singh too and got a copy of his book.

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I also got to meet one of my food heroes in June and had the opportunity to have a short interview with him – the legendary Antonio Carluccio. He is such a cutie! He did answer a very important question I had for him too. Click on the link on his name above to find out what!

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I also went for a fix of Asma Khan’s delicious food at Druid Street Market, where proceeds of her food went towards charity. Excited to have more of her amazing dishes in 2017.

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June was also the month I worked on my first big campaign with Nescafe! It was such fun to shoot and it is my favourite brand of coffee too so worked out perfectly.

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July

In July we made the most of the gorgeous weather and visited Rye, were we stayed at the marvellous Gallivant hotel. If you are thinking of visiting Rye, it is such a gorgeous hotel!

I also took a day out to volunteer at the charity I wholeheartedly support, the David Sheldrick Wildlife Trust. Amit and I make it a point to do this yearly. To find out how you too can help have a read about it here.

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I had my fix of summer ice cream in Suffolk too with a dose of some much needed beach time and some fantastic Indian food at Sea Spice restaurant in Aldeburgh.

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The highlight of the month, however, (and I probably am showing my craziness here), was meeting Grumpy Cat! I stood by myself in a queue for an hour and a half and no I am not ashamed to admit it lol.

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August

August started with a super fun tea-athon with Starwood hotels and I later returned to review my favourite afternoon tea venue at the Sheraton Grand London.

The launch party of the much anticipated Symmetry Breakfast cook book was also in August and could not be happier for Michael Zee. It was an extra special evening as Michael proposed to Mark in the book and at the launch party and a few tears of joy were shared.

Amit’s birthday is in August and this year I treated him to a 3 Michelin star meal at the Waterside inn. We loved our meal and even had the opportunity to meet Chef Alain Roux as well as get a sneak peek into the kitchen.

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September

September was a month of travel for me and we started off with a Mediterranean Cruise with P&O where we sailed to Cadiz, Barcelona, Monaco, Rome and Naples. I also got to meet the lovely Karen from Lavender and Lovage as well as Amanda from Glamourous Glutton on the trip and we all had such a fantastic time!

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As part of the cruise, we had a dinner date with THE James Martin and I am sure everyone is sick of me gushing about him now but I can’t help it. I love the man and especially love his monkey bread and snickers ice cream too.

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I bravely went to Mexico City by myself too to attend the Latin America 50 Best Restaurant awards and this was such a wonderful experience and such a superbly organized press trip. I got to experience the food, culture, arts and main sights in Mexico City.

October

I went to the glitzy Sheraton Grand London relaunch party with my blogger friends Em and Aftab and had a fun filled evening of champagne, good chat and fantastic food.

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I also went to a pasta making masterclass hosted by Theo Randall which was great fun. Most of the month was spent planning our upcoming trip to Dubai and India.

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November

November is always my favourite month as it is my Birthday month! This year I decided to have my birthday meals at Michelin starred Kai in Mayfair, a birthday brunch with my favourite bloggers Angie from Silverspoon London and Aftab from Fresh and Fearless in the Mirror room at Rosewood London and a very special meal with Amit at Vineet Bhatia London.

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We then flew to Dubai, where we stayed at the Sheraton Dubai Creek, and spent a few days on a family holiday.

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We then went onwards to India where we visited Bhuj and my husband’s ancestral home, followed by a luxurious break in Mumbai at the Taj Mahal Palace Hotel, which had been high on my list of hotels to visit.

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December

December kicked off with one of my favourite meals of the year at Jamavar. If you haven’t been yet it is a must! I have already been twice and already looking for excuses to go back. If anyone wants to go with me let me know!

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I was also lucky to meet another food hero, Eric Lanlard at his Patisserie ,Cake boy thanks to Meantime Brewing Company. To kick off the festive period we made some Mince Pies with a special ingredient – Cake Boy’s Hazelnut Ale. Utterly scrumptious!

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For the rest of the month I have spent some much needed time relaxing, catching up with family and friends and spending some time getting to know my brand new godson.

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2016 has been a wonderful year and I am so grateful for all the experiences I have been fortunate to have, especially in terms of travel, and for the fantastic friends I have made along the way. I am really looking forward to 2017, which is set to be a year of change for me in terms of career.

As for New Years Resolutions, I want to continually improve on my blog, spend some time improving my photography and getting to use my Canon 760D better and learn Spanish (Geri if you are reading this I am learning Spanish for my return to Mexico one day).

The travel priority is going home to Kenya as I didn’t manage to make it home this year. We have also booked a weekend in Paris so am looking forward to that too.

What have been the highlights of 2016 for you? I would love to know in the comments section below.

The Sheraton Mexico City Maria Isabel Hotel

The Sheraton Maria Isabel, also known as Sheraton Mexico City, is centrally located on Paseo de la Reforma, overlooking the famous Angel of Independence. The drive to the hotel was only 30 minutes from Mexico City International Airport. The hotel was originally built in 1962 by the Bolivian tycoon Antenor Patiño.

I was staying at the hotel as part of a press trip to attend the Latin America 50 Best Restaurant Awards, with a group of bloggers and journalists.

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The hotel has 755 rooms and suites, and is close to the Reforma 22 shopping mall, as well as Zona Rosa, where you can find many Mexican eateries and shops. It is such a convenient location and the subway station is really close by too. It is based in the financial district and close to major banks and offices.
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My room was on the SPG floor and was a club room. It had that wonderful Sheraton  Sweet Sleeper™ Bed, which is one of the cosiest beds I have ever slept in. What I love about staying at Sheraton hotels is that you get the same experience no matter where you are in the world so as soon as your head hits the pillow it feels like you are in the comfort of your own home.
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The room itself was large with a lovely desk, which I made my temporary office, as well as a nice spacious bathroom, with a lovely tub, which was very well used daily after long days of excursions. There was also a dressing table area, with excellent lighting, and a hairdryer, ironing board as well as massive cupboard space, in case you wanted to unpack your belongings.
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There were ample plugs dotted around the room, as well as a very handy full length mirror, which made getting ready that much more convenient.
The hotel had various restaurants and bars, including the Jorongo bar, where you could listen to live Mariachi music, an Italian restaurant called Restaurant Amici, a Japanese restaurant and a deli.

There is also a Sheraton Club Lounge for club level guests and SPG Platinum members where you can enjoy complimentary breakfast, afternoon hors d’oeuvres and a variety of beverage options all with a lovely view from the 18th floor.

As it is a business hotel, it has ample amenities for meetings and conferences. There were several conferences going on whilst we were staying there.

The hotel has a swimming pool and fitness amenities as well, in case you fancy keeping fit whilst staying in Mexico City.
The room service choices are excellent and I treated myself to pancakes one morning, with a nice steaming hot cup of coffee, and some freshly squeezed orange juice.
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On my last day I also ordered in Pizza, as I was working hard from my room, catching up on emails and blog posts and it was so delicious! Room service is available 24/7 and is really quick.
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Needless to say I couldn’t resist the comfort of the bed and ended up working from it eventually!
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If you are planning on  visiting Mexico City, this hotel is just perfect in terms of location, the rooms, amenities and service. It is also in a safe neighbourhood, and at no point did I feel concerned about my safety.
My room was complimentary as I was staying at the hotel as part of a press trip, however, rates start from USD 98 a night.
To read more about my time in Mexico City, click here.

A Trajinera ride in the canals of Xochimilco, Mexico City

 If you are visiting Mexico City, or even live there, a fantastic excursion to do during the day is to visit the historic canals of Xochimilco, pronounced (So-Chee-Mil-Co), and known as the Venice of Mexico.

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The name Xochimilco means “garden of flowers” and is truly a very apt name. It is one of few places where historical Mexican culture, which dates back to the Aztec times, and agricultural practice which was in place centuries ago are still in force and use today. Back in the Aztec times, floating gardens, called Chinampas, were built on the surface waters of Lake Xochimilco. Cane was used for the exterior structure, and mud from the bed of the lake was filled inside the containers and anchored in place using trees. This was such a fantastic use of resources available at the time and the intelligence and foresight of adapting to harsh environments is really impressive. It remains a very sustainable and productive source of over 70 varieties of fruits and vegetables even today and it is still so successful that in 1987, UNESCO even named it a world heritage site.

There are actually three Xochimilcos. The first is the touristy Xochimilco in the area of Nativitas, which is full of colourful Trajineras (wooden boats). While you relax on the boat, you are serenaded by musicians and have a variety of food and drink vendors to purchase from. It is a very fun activity as well as an important source of ecological tourism.

The second type is a productive Xochimilco, in the area of San Gregorio, which is slightly more harmful to the ecological environment. This is where flowers sold in the markets in Mexico City are grown, however the methods used have evolved into industrial methods and sadly artificial fertilizers and pesticides are in use here.

The third Xochimilco is where we took a leisurely ride on a colourful Trajinera through the gorgeous canals in Cuemanco, whilst taking in the beautiful surroundings. The owner of De La Chinampa, Ricardo Rodriguez, was on the boat with us and he told us all about the Chinampas. We started our journey from the Cuemanco docks and our tour lasted around 3 and a half hours.

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It was hard to believe that this tranquil, idyllic place was part of Mexico City, as it was so far removed from the hustle and bustle of the city. This part, where lots of produce is grown, doesn’t use any artificial fertilizers or pesticides at all and everything grown here is purely organic, from soil to table.

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We were treated to a delicious variety of food whilst on our Trajinera ride, which included Tamales, salad, cheese, tortilla chips and freshly made guacamole, using the produce from the Chinampas, as well as sipped on cafe de olla, which is traditional Mexican coffee served in earthen clay pots. If anyone knows where I can buy these clay pots please let me know as dashing for my flight on my last day meant I didn’t get a chance to shop!

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Some of the chefs from Mexico City’s restaurants featured in the Latin America’s Top 50 restaurants, list including Pujol, , purchase their produce from Xochimilco, as well as locals who are health conscious and into organic produce.

We soon made a stop to have a look at one of the Chinampas, where a farmer was plucking organic radishes from the vibrant green grounds. It was fascinating to see the farmland and the colour and richness of the soil.

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The rustic, earthy feel and the look of the produce was enough for me to resort to purchasing organic produce when I got back to the UK. What is even more amazing is that they run an e-commerce type service where you can actually order the produce online and have it delivered.

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Fresh organic vegetables make a world of difference in taste and are so much healthier than non-organic vegetables. In Kenya, where I grew up, we are used to having a supply of fresh organic, and also sometimes wonky, vegetables available. I am so glad that wonky vegetables are being used more and more and not wasted in favour of perfect looking vegetables. At the end of the day they all taste exactly the same and once chopped up, you would not even know what it originally looked like!

A great deal of work is being done to preserve and ensure the ecological restoration of the Chinampas through selling the organic produce through e-commerce, the ecological tourism side, as well as raising awareness of the produce available and the Chinampas themselves.

As the generation who currently work in the Chinampas are predominantly slightly older, there is a threat that the younger generations will choose jobs in the city in favour of working on the Chinampas. Hopefully by raising awareness, as well as an increase in the demand for organic produce, this dynamic will change in the future.

It is truly a beautiful place within Mexico City – a real gem and I whole heartedly feel blessed to have been able to visit it. If you are visiting Mexico City, this, or the touristy Trajinera ride, is definitely a fantastic activity to do, and one which is slightly different in terms of excursions available in the city.

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For more information or to book a tour, email to: ricardo[at]delachinampa.mx or go to http://delachinampa.mx/nuevaImagen/

My tour was courtesy of Mexican Tourism Board, however all views and photos are my own.

 

 

A food market tour and learning how to make Corn Tamales at Casa Jacaranda, in Mexico City

One of the best ways to learn about the culture of a city, I find, is to immerse yourself in the food scene and I was lucky enough to be able to experience that during my press trip to Mexico City.

Thanks to Jorge and Beto from Casa Jacaranda, we first spent an early crisp morning exploring a local food market, called Mercado Medellin,which has over 500 stalls featuring specialties from all over Mexico and Latin America, where we saw various local produce and ingredients and also sampled a few different varieties.

Jorge explained what various popular ingredients were used for in Mexican cooking, and it was such an interesting tour around the market. He really enhanced the experience and it just would not have been the same if I had wandered around the market myself as I would not have stopped to appreciate the aspects he highlighted.

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Along the way he told us lovely stories about each part of the market and the different vendors. For example the gentleman pictured below, is Don Julio, and has manned his stall since 1968! Selling produce from the Yucatan province, he has some pretty awesome sauces in his stall, as well as lots of fresh chillies. How adorable is he 🙂

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We also had the opportunity to try Mexican chocolate, which was a real treat. I had never previously thought that Mexico was a producer of chocolate but you always learn new things.

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A very famous Ice Cream stall can be found in the market too and we had great pleasure trying a few different flavours. The owner of the stall is Eugenio Palmeiro Ríos, and he makes Cuban Ice Cream from real cream, fresh fruit and sugar. He doesn’t use artificial flavors or chemicals. The icd cream is so refreshing and delicious!

 

After the market, we stopped off at a local tortilleria, where the warm scent of toasted corn filled the air and the tortillas are made using the same ancient process as the Aztecs, and the same machinery. Nothing electronic here!

 

 

We simply ate them while they were hot with a little salt and oh my goodness were they delicious!

We then took a short walk through Colonia Roma and soon arrived at Casa Jacaranda, where we spent the rest of the day having a cookery class in Mexican food, as well as a cocktail masterclass.

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Casa Jacaranda is an early 19th Century home, which has been restored by Jorge and Beto. It is so gorgeous and the kind of house which would be a gem to find in an Air BnB search. It is also totally Instagram worthy.

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There is a stunning spacious cooking area in the house (pictured above), which is just fantastic.  We split into teams, and prepared dishes with very easy to follow recipes in our teams, and then all got together to eat the Mexican food we had made on the long black glossy table.

In my team we learned how to make Corn Tamales and had such fun doing it, from the mixing, blending and filling of the corn husks with the tamale mixture and then waiting for them to patiently steam.We had a great team too!

 

 

After cooking and then eating a fantastic meal, we ventured upstairs to the terrace of Casa Jacaranda, where we were treated to a fabulous cocktail masterclass  by Patrick Seppa.

Pictured below is the crafted Paloma cocktail, which is made from pink grapefruit juice, Altos Plata Tequila, lemon and agave syrup.

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We also had another delicious cocktail with Altos Tequila, which was equally as refreshing.

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The weather was stunning on the day s0 we had a great time relaxing on the terrace, right before we were due to attend the Latin America’s Top 50 Restaurant Awards.

The whole day was amazing, from the market to the cookery class, and just so much fun. Jorge and Beto are superb cooks and teach in such a engaging way and you learn real nuggets of information along the way, which you would never pick up in a book. This is such a great way to learn more about Mexican food and the culture in a unqiue way.

If you are travelling to Mexico City and are looking for something different to do, I can’t recommend this enough as a must do experience. I learned so much and this was one of my favourite days from my trip to Mexico City.

There are a variety of cooking classes available so there is bound to be one that suits everyone! The hosts are fantastic and you leave feeling like you have made friends for life.

For more information on Casa Jacaranda go here.