Written by and photos by Nadia Ibanez, shot on an iPhone6S
Growing up in San Diego, my idea of Peruvian food was pretty limited – until I made some Peruvian friends who completely opened up my mind and palate to their cuisine. From watching them and their families make their own Aji Amarillo to spending Friendsgiving with them and having the best turkey of my life, my love for Peru is ever-growing.
San Francisco is home to a handful of amazing Peruvian restaurants and I can safely say my friends and I have it at least once a month. One of my favorite restaurants offering Peruvian favorites and inventive dishes is La Mar Cebicheria Peruana on the Embarcadero. If the prime location and gorgeous interiors wasn’t enough to lure you in, the smells and sights of ceviche and anticuchos will have you salivating.
I had the total pleasure of visiting La Mar to check out some new menu items, which will be unveiled officially in May but you’ll see some items as early as this week. La Mar Chef Victoriano Lopez and Owner Gastón Acurio just returned to the states after traveling Peru and invited a handful of travel writers to the Chef’s Table to taste all of his menu favorites and new additions. And with the help of our San Diego friend, Executive Chef Danny Kou, you guys are in for a serious treat.
Warning: If you’re reading this while hungry, grab a bib.
This recent trip to Peru took Victoriano and Gastón everywhere from popular street food vendors to the dozens of restaurants they own in town. Finding fresh and authentic Peruvian ingredients in SF can be a bit tough but they’re doing an amazing job at integrating the culture with local tastes to bring some beautiful dishes to the table.
We started our meal with a Pisco cocktail before we all dove in head and iPhone first into eight courses. EIGHT. I’ll let the photos do the talking. Enjoy ! And for more information, visit http://lamarsf.com/.
We often don’t lump Mexico in as being an exciting international getaway destination. You need to stop this mindset immediately. Born and raised in Los Angeles, but a mere three-hour drive away from the Mexican border, I too was a culprit of this belief. I love my food and I love me some good international travel. I’ve traveled to roughly 40 countries, and other than a brief stint where I got stranded in Tijuana with a donkey painted zebra, I never had any intention of really making a vacation out of Mexico. However, I was absolutely blown away by the food, scuba diving, clear waters, and most importantly, how incredibly affordable Playa Del Carmen is.
Where to stay
For just $33 a night (yes you read that correctly), I’d recommend staying at Hacienda Real del Caribe. It has a beautiful salt-water pool and very spacious rooms. I’m a big fan of flat screen TV’s, which it was lacking, but the location of this hotel is just so perfect that you’ll forget all about that detail. This hotel is literally one block away from all of the night life, a plethora of great restaurants, and only a 5-minute walk to the beach. Ummmm, I think I also mentioned that it was $33 a night…so, yeah…if you’re on a budget, this is an amazing place to go.
A scuba diver’s paradise
Cozumel constantly gets all of the hype for being one of the most amazing diving spots in the world (and rightfully so), but you have to make sure you don’t miss the Cenotes. I’ve been on some cool dives in the past, but the Cenotes….well….just look at these pictures for yourself. You won’t see much sea life down there, but the colors and the fact that you’re 35 feet under the surface of Earth is a pretty cool and special feeling in its own right. You are literally below the bottom of tree roots.
Ditch Cozumel and stay in Playa Del Carmen
Don’t make the mistake that my buddy and I made and get a hotel on this island. There really isn’t all that much going on there other than the best chile relleno you could possibly imagine! Cozumel is known world-wide as being one of the top dive locations in the world because of its ridiculously clear waters and visibility. However, I strongly suggest just staying in Playa Del Carmen and paying the extra $5-10 to the dive shop to take you to some diving out there. If you really want to spend some time on the island, it’s literally a $20 35-minute boat ride that leaves every hour from two different ports in Playa Del Carmen. Don’t bother renting a car either, since you won’t see very much other than the port and undeveloped areas.
Do make sure that you go on some dives out there though as the swim-throughs are spectacular and plentiful. If you go within the next couple of years, be ready to see a lot of Lionfish and don’t be an idiot like me and get too close. Yes, they’re beautiful, but they are also extremely poisonous. Enjoy them from afar but don’t try to take that coveted selfie with one. Your underwater selfie can wait until you’ve entered one of the very few shipwrecks in the area. Look for the slightly dirty restroom and make sure you keep your eyes open for some of the biggest eels you’ve ever seen hanging underneath the cracks of the floorboards.
Overall, Playa Del Carmen is definitely a place you don’t want to miss. The food is great, the stay is cheap, and there is beauty all around you — and under you in the case of the Cenotes.
With this blistering heatwave that has come through San Diego the last few days, I’m seeking daily, cooling refuge in the form of jumping into the ocean and seeking out food and drink that’s light and bright. Lucky for me, the Latin Food Fest in San Diego last weekend was just what the doctor ordered. Cocktails, tequila tastings, cool ceviche, delicious tacos and so much more were offered at the Grand Tasting Village at San Diego’s Embarcadero Marina Park.
San Diegans truly are blessed with easy access to some of the country’s best latin food. The team behind the Latin Food Fest work hard every year to bring forth the best restaurants and beverage vendors to accumulate over a single weekend.
When I’m totally parched, the first thing I look for is fresh coconut water. Since the trend has gained momentum, this thirst-quenching juice can get a bit pricey at your local grocery store. Luckily the guys behind Coco Jack have created a line of tools so that you can break through your own young coconut and serve yourself. The tools may look like they’re straight out of the caveman era but they do the trick within seconds.
By far, my favorite taste of the day was the Smoked Albacore Ceviche from the Tequila Bar & Grille located inside the Marriott Marquis San Diego Marina. The ceviche was perfectly seasoned and sat on top of a crunchy tostada.
Another favorite of the day was the Choritos a la Chalaca from Cafe Secret in Del Mar. I’m not a huge mussel fan but these were served with perfection. Ceviche was plentiful throughout the Grand Tasting Village, but I especially loved the Ahi Ceviche from Venga Venga. Bright with citrus, avocado and fresh fish, this ceviche was fantastic.
While I wish there were a few more dessert offerings at the event, one of my favorites was the Chocolate Mole and Tres Leche ice creams from Calexico Creamery. The ice cream was super creamy and their mobile ice cream shop was absolutely adorable.
The drinks were flowing at the Latin Food Festival and we had our pick from dozens of different tequilas, cocktails, beers, micheladas and wines. It was like having a taste of Tijuana and Ensenada without ever crossing the border. Attending foodie festivals like this one is great because you find out about restaurants, wineries and spirit purveyors that you would have never stumbled upon otherwise. The Latin Food Fest in San Diego is one of my favorites each year and I’m always so excited to be invited back to cover this delicious event. From the tequila tent and endless food, to the entertainment and beautiful San Diego skyline backdrop, the Latin Food Fest is definitely one to add to your calendar. For more information, visit www.latinfoodfest.com.
It seems like it was just yesterday that we were sipping tequila and Baja-brewed beer and tasting all of the tacos, ceviche, pozole and tostadas our bellies could hold at the ¡Latin Food Fest! in San Diego. This year’s event, which will be held September 11-13, 2014, promises another star-studded Latin extravaganza.
Deemed as the largest Latin culinary festival in California, the Latin Food Fest brings in restaurants, chefs, artisanal food makers and wine, beer and spirit makers to the three-day event. I can’t wait until the Grand Tasting Village on September 13th at the Embarcadero Marina Park North. I’m also looking forward to the Modern-Mexican Dinner on Friday September 12th where restaurateur Richard Sandoval and Malva Cocina’s Roberto Alcocer will offer a six-course tasting menu paired with craft cocktails and Baja wines.
New to this event this year will be the themed tasting tents found throughout the Grand Tasting Village. Have your pick from wine tastings, a TJ street food tent, or a spirits and craft cocktail party. The Latin Food Fest will also offer several culinary competitions, cooking demos, live music, silent auction, book signings and more.
Going on a cruise always comes with certain expectations: meeting new friends at the bar, going on exciting excursions for the day, and making new friends. However, Ecuador’s ecotourism company, Tropic Journeys in Nature, have added a whole new layer of excitement to cruise travel with Tren Crucero, train cruises through beautiful Ecuador.
This isn’t your average train ride with uncomfortable, cramped seating and glimpses of the landscape as you fly by. The Ecuadorian train ride has been designed with luxury and sightseeing in mind, transporting travelers through a country dotted with volcanoes, mountainous terrain, and breathtaking flora.
The Tren Crucero’s journey begins in Quito, a UNESCO World Heritage Site in the Andes crowned by majestic Cotopaxi Volcano, and ends in Guayaquil on the Pacific. Traversing 450 kilometers along the Avenue of Volcanoes, an early 20th Century steam-engine locomotive pulls passengers to heights of 3,600 meters and down to sea level.
While the idea of the train cruise is relatively new, the route travelers will take is not. As a matter of fact, Ecuadorians have traveled on the same line for over a century. The original Guayaquil and Quito Railways Company was created in 1897 with an expenditure of $12 million to link the two cities. As the track advanced, so did the telegraph. Posts along the route are the only remains of the telegraph used to send messages in Morse code.
According to Jasci Carvalho, director of Tropic Journeys in Nature, the idea of uniting Quito, which is housed in the Andes, with the coastal city of Guayaquil came to President Eloy Alfaro.
“It was a huge, crazy challenge because of the difficulties made by a very dramatic landscape,” he said. “The venture lasted for a few years, but when roads and modern construction started to appear, the train and railway part of our cultural heritage was lost.”
After decades of neglect, in 2008 Ecuador’s National Institute of Cultural Heritage officially declared the Railway Network in Ecuador as property belonging to the state’s cultural heritage and work began to begin restoring portions of the rail network. On April 30, 2013, Tren Crucero made its maiden voyage between Latacunga and Durán.
Now travelers can enjoy various aspects of Ecuador’s beauty, with Tren Crucero’s guests traveling southward to explore a rose plantation and learn the history of Ecuadorian roses, a major contributor to the country’s gross domestic product, and then dining in an ancient colonial house in Ambato.
“Ecuador is known for having the most beautiful roses in the world, and travelers can now see how they grow,” said Carvalho.
Conditions permitting, the train will stop to allow travelers to view the very active Ttungurahua volcano that is currently spewing ash and gas daily, followed by a presentation by an ice trader who will explain how he digs ice from a glacier on the Chimborazo volcano.
And that’s all in day one.
The trip is filled with cultural aspects that couldn’t be enjoyed otherwise, including Guamote’s indigenous market, one of the last authentic markets in the Andes, with traders exchanging products as they did 4,000 years ago.
In between stops, the train will press on through geological formations in Alausi, dropping over 12 kilometers down Devil’s Nose. As the train progresses through Ecuador, passengers will sit in newly built carriages, each having a different motif and connection to Ecuadorian culture.
“Each seat is more like a lounge,” said Carvalho. “There is a bar, and even a carriage that is open so that passengers can stand, stretch their legs and see the environment outside while enjoying the weather. The train is like a hotel without the beds.”
Carvalho feels that a big draw is the novelty of seeing the vast changes in the country’s terrain.
“We drop from a high altitude, over 3,000 meters, to sea level,” he continued. “It’s quite amazing. The last day of the journey is interesting for train lovers because a steam train takes us along the coast to Guayaquil. The train is rebuilt in the traditional style, and is quite impressive. We cross many villages along the coast, with people stopping to wave as we pass. It’s a great way to finish a dramatic journey of change.”
But what many will find appealing, apart from the beautiful sights, is the fact that Tren Crucero has a joint venture with local entrepreneurs, who benefit from train operations.
“Travelers are now stopping in places where once nothing was going on, which is helping develop their capacities,” said Carvalho. “This is a big development. In the past, Ecuador has only been known for the Galapagos Islands, where there is always something going on. Now we have something on the mainland that is able to compete in terms of beauty and infrastructure to the island.”
For information and reservations contact Tropic Ecological Adventures LLC, go to Website: http://www.destinationecuador.com/, or call +593-02-2234-594 / (202) 657-5072 (US) / 593-2-222-5907 (EC) / 1(888)207-8615.