Lisbon, Portugal – Mercado da Ribeira

Mercado da Ribeira, Lisbon, Portugal

Mercado da Ribeira (market near the river) is a Lisbon treasure, and the city’s largest open food market. Housed in a beautiful building topped with a Moorish-style dome, the food market sells everything from inky octopus and fresh seafood to fresh fruit, and funeral flowers. But, beginning in May 2014 the gastronomical area opened, representing the best restaurants and chefs of Lisbon. The area has about 30 spaces for food vendors and seating for around 750 in the center area. Being foodies and on vacation, this was the focus of our attention… thanks for the tasty tip Lisa and Jeff!

Mercado da Ribeira, Lisbon, Portugal

The idea is brilliant: you grab the food and drinks from one or several restaurants of your choice (can be different than your family and friends), and find a seat in the food area where you’ll be able to interact with everyone there.

Mercado da Ribeira, Lisbon, Portugal

Mercado da Ribeira, Lisbon, Portugal

Spit roasted pork belly immediately caught our eye, as did the salads from another booth…

Mercado da Ribeira, Lisbon, Portugal

With delicious results…

Mercado da Ribeira, Lisbon, Portugal

And still room for a sweet or two from Arcadia…

Mercado da Ribeira, Lisbon, Portugal

Mercado da Ribeira, Lisbon, Portugal

We visited a second time on a Saturday night and the food area was overflowing. Seats were full, the most popular stands had lines and the atmosphere was dynamic. Having already eaten dinner, we tried some chocolate cake and stood at the end of a bar-like table. Conversation started flowing when one of the guys heard we were from Seattle – he had seen the recent Seahawks game leading up to to the Superbowl, and was very excited to compare notes with Americans, and Washingtonians at that! Turns out he and his friends are from Iceland, and two of his buddies are competing in the European Open Jiu-Jitsu Championship. Gotta love travel!

The Lisbon Connection is a great resource for travelers in Lisbon with articles and reviews on just about anything having to do with the city. Check it out next time you are traveling to Lisbon. Their article on Cervejaria ‘Ramiro‘ prompted us to check out this very popular seafood restaurant. Serving superb fresh seafood at a really good price, it’s always crowded with tables full of locals, all having a great time. The atmosphere is loud and exciting.

Cervejaria Ramiro
Cervejaria Ramiro
Sampling the seafood at Cervejaria Ramiro
Sampling the seafood at Cervejaria Ramiro

You may also enjoy our other posts on Lisbon:
Lisbon, Portugal – Arrival/Chegada
Lisbon, Portugal – Walkabout

Lisbon’s Rua Nova do Carvalho was cited in a New York Times travel article – Favorite Streets in 12 European Cities. Closed to traffic, painted a cheerful shade of pink it is Lisbon’s most bustling new party strip… and it is just a few blocks from Mercado da Ribeira.

Lisbon, Portugal – Arrival/Chegada

From a spectacular sunrise in Vancouver, BC to a cold and gray Frankfurt morning, to a mild but drizzly day in Lisbon, Portugal… we have traveled far over the last 24 hours. Energized from the excitement of our arrival in Lisbon, the adventure begins as we take the City Centre bus #1 to our hotel – Brown’s Downtown. Making our way to the Rossio stop, Jay writes, “the neighborhoods pass, like waves, each with their own character and pulse – palm trees, cars parked on cobblestone sidewalks, ancient tiled facades, monuments at many intersections.” We sense the history and grandeur of Lisbon.

Arco da Rua Augusta, Lisbon, Portugal
Arco da Rua Augusta, Lisbon

After a siesta and consult with the friendly and helpful hotel staff, we head out for the evening with a loose walking plan and a destination for dinner.

Church on Rue da Alfandega, Lisbon, Portugal
Church on Rue da Alfandega, Lisbon
Populi Caffe, Lisbon, Portugal
Arriving in the square, Populi Caffe in the far corner.
Populi Caffe and Restaurant floor tiles, Lisbon, Portugal
Populi Caffe and Restaurant floor tiles.

Recommended by our hotel concierge, Populi is a short walk away, and very welcoming as we approach it across the square. Beginning with glasses of red wine from the Douro region of Portugal (graceful, with notes of black cherry), and a burlap sack of focaccia and peasant bread we settle right in. Roban, our waiter, guides us through the menu and we enjoy his friendly conversation. After a plate of charcuteries, Jay has a very nicely cooked and tasty duck risotto with fresh rosemary & thyme. I enjoy lighter fare, a bowl of the traditional sausage, potato and kale soup… potatoes pureed into the broth with little chunks of sausage and a chiffonade of kale – perfectly executed.

Populi Caffe and Restaurant in Lisbon, Portugal
Art and sculpture in the Populi Caffe and Restaurant.

At the end of the meal, Roban brings us complimentary glasses of Ginjinha – a delicious Portuguese sour cherry-infused liqueur – popular in Lisbon.

Populi Caffe and; Restaurant, Lisbon, Portugal
View from the balcony
Populi Caffe and Restaurant, Lisbon, Portugal
Sophisticated interior of Populi.

Wandering back to the hotel after dinner, enjoying the fresh air and quiet energy of the city, a sliver of moon appears as we round the corner.

Moon in Lisbon, Portugal

You may also enjoy our other posts on Lisbon:
Lisbon, Portugal – Mercado da Ribeira
Lisbon, Portugal – Walkabout

Victoria, British Columbia: Restaurants, cafes and bakeries

In autumn Vancouver Island abounds with heirloom tomatoes, pears, apples, plums, exotic squash, pumpkins, wild mushrooms…

Restaurants

The Fairmont Empress Hotel

Bengal Lounge ~ Fairmont Empress Hotel (721 Government Street). Drawing inspiration from Queen Victoria’s role as the Empress of India, this colonial style lounge is known throughout Victoria for its authentic curry buffet and signature cocktail menu. Frequented by residents and visitors alike, the lounge offers a delicious curry lunch and dinner buffet, an international à la carte menu, and signature cocktail and martini drinks. On the evening we dine, the Indian buffets tempts us with butter chicken, tandoori chicken, lamb stew, basmati rice, paprika onions, mango chutney, cilantro green sauce, pappadoms, and a cardamom crème brûlée for dessert. This authentic buffet is delicious with many gluten-free options.

Camille’s~ Located in Bastion Square, in the heart of Old Town Victoria; Local Food Restaurant Of The Year 2012. Camille’s is nestled into the cozy nooks of an 1898 heritage building giving the restaurant a lovely combination of fine dining in a comfortable, casual atmosphere. The menu is diverse, seasonal and changes daily. The evening we visit, several entrees are prepared sous-vide. I choose the flank steak stuffed with sausage and Jay has line caught ling cod with a tarragon mouse and crumbles of dried chorizo. Both are delectable – cooked perfectly and moist. Camille’s is a restaurant at the top of its game. (Sous-vide is a culinary technique in which vacuum-sealed food is immersed in a water bath and cooked at a very precise, consistent low temperature for longer periods of time.)

Cafe Brio ~ 944 Fort Street. An old favorite that we return to each visit to Victoria. Tonight we begin with a homemade pâté with pistachios, lamb salami, and an olive stuffed with meat and fried. On this cool, damp night I settle on the venison loin with red wine, cabbage, apples, and a pear with cacao nibs. Jay hones in on the succulent lamb shoulder steak with braised fennel, heirloom tomatoes, and cannelli beans. Very full, but still sipping a little red wine we end with two homemade chocolate truffles. Glorious… thank goodness we are walking back to our hotel.

Brasserie L’Ecole ~ 1715 Government Street. A Brasserie is “an unpretentious restaurant that serves drinks, especially beer, and simple or hearty food“. This definition parallels Brasserie L’école classic French bistro/brasserie design and nightly changing menu. This time of year you can enjoy Mussels & frites, Sooke trout, Roasted chicken with chanterelle, Steak & frites… The name “l’école is a nod to the history of the building, which once was a Chinese Schoolhouse. They don’t take reservations so plan to arrive a bit before they open.

Red fish Blue fish ~ 1006 Wharf Street (at the foot of Broughton on the pier). This funky seaside fish shack is an outdoor waterfront eatery in an up-cycled cargo container on a wooden pier in Victoria’s Inner Harbour. It’s a unique, fresh, and sustainable approach to the old fish ‘n’ chip shop. There is always a line and we jump right in, ordering a BBQ wild salmon tacone with spicy spot prawn mayo, and a Seafood Poutine (local shrimp + smoked tuna belly bacon bits + crispy shallots & miso-clam gravy) with Kennebec Chips. Top notch food and a fun waterfront experience. Closed November, December & January.

Rebar Modern Food ~ 50 Bastion Square. Since 1988, Rebar Modern Food has been Victoria’s favorite restaurant and juice bar, featuring fresh, healthy, predominantly vegetarian fare. We stepped in for a late morning meal. My decaf mocha made with almond milk was delicious; my scrambled eggs okay. Jay dug his Miso soup and Blue bridge fruit drink (blueberry, apple and grapefruit juices). The Rebar Modern Food Cookbook is popular with vegans, vegetarians, and anyone looking for delicious ideas with a funky twist.

Tre Fantastico ~ Parkside Victoria Resort & Spa, 810 Humboldt Street. Born from a passion for ale, wine & coffee, and featuring great food accompaniments & light meals using house-made products and local food. We don’t usually eat in the hotel, but this café is an exception… great coffee, and our favorite breakfast becomes Poached Eggs & Beans: 2 Kalamoon Farm Eggs served over Spiced White Cannellini Beans with Double-Smoked Bacon. We notice the Housemade Granola with pecans, pumpkin seeds, raisins, natural yogurt & rhubarb compote is very popular…

Murchies Tea & Coffee ~ 1110 Government Street. John Murchie immigrated to Canada from Scotland in 1894 and founded Murchie’s Tea & Coffee. Today the downtown location is a vibrant tea room, bakery, coffee shop and retail store. Seeking respite from the cold we duck into Murchies for another yummy almond milk mocha, hazelnut hot cocoa, and warm slice of their flourless chocolate cake. YUM.

Santé Gluten-Free Café ~ 2630A Quadra Street. Victoria’s first dedicated gluten-free café. Santé accommodates dairy-free, soy-free, low/no sugar and almost any other sensitivity. Desserts, muffins, and other baked goods are created daily. We pick up a grilled chicken wrap and a breakfast wrap to go which are yummy. The menu also includes a Paleo section, a soup du jour, Quiche, pizza, lasagna and salads.

Origin Bakery (Gluten-free)
Origin opened its doors in March 2010 to become the first bakery in Victoria to offer exclusively gluten-free baked goods! It all started when two friends, Tara Black and Marion Neuhauser, realized that their friends with dietary restrictions were having a hard time finding tasty wheat-free baking. “Our use of high quality, natural ingredients (many are local and/or organic), along with our discerning sense of taste, ensures we provide baking that everyone – gluten intolerant or not – can love. Since we only use gluten-free ingredients, we can make sure there is no gluten contamination, so go ahead and enjoy without worry!” We didn’t get to indulge this trip, but will next visit.

Camille's welcoming entry.

Victoria, British Columbia, Canada

Rich fall colors of Virginia creeper.

Off to Victoria, British Columbia, for three nights to escape phones, computers and all the trimmings that come with working at home. The reality of our sweet retreat sinks in as we park in the ferry lane and seek warmth from our fleece blanket on this crisp autumn morning.

We plan to walk everywhere, exploring Victoria on foot – visually soaking in  the rich fall colors and feasting on the bounty of foods from the farmer’s fall harvest. A poetic time of year, Keats called the autumn – “Season of mists and mellow fruitfulness”. While Albert Camus felt “Autumn is a second spring when every leaf is a flower”.

Later in the morning the sun is shining brightly as the Washington State ferry (from Friday Harbor, WA to Sidney, BC) glides smoothly across the glassy water. Soon the ferry is passing the mostly barren side of  Spieden Island with its randomly placed ice age boulders. In the early 1960′s the actor, John Wayne, and his business partners imported big game animals here. Their vision was to have a private island for their sport game and hunting hobby. Fortunately, the idea was short-lived and today the forested north side of the island is home to hundreds of European Sika deer, Asian Fallow deer and Corsican Big Horn sheep.

Passing by Spieden Island on the ferry.

About 75 minutes after departing the San Juan Islands we are slowing for our landing in the port of Sidney, British Columbia. Located at the northern end of the Saanich Peninsula, on Vancouver Island, Sidney is a popular eco-tourist destination, with whale-watching, bird-watching, kayaking and scuba-diving… and a 2o minute drive from Victoria.

Not sure when we last visited Victoria, maybe 6 years ago? In preparation for our trip, and open to the mystery and savings of booking our lodging on Hotwire, I visited their website. After providing the details of our trip (dates of stay, area we want to stay in, how many people) Hotwire provides a list of available hotels in that area with the star rating. The mystery is that Hotwire will only show you the name of the hotel after you have paid for the booking. I prefer 3.5 stars or better, and have read that Hotwire gives the most savings if you use it to book hotels that are better than 3.5 stars (three stars or lower and the savings become small, so you are better booking through the hotel itself). Important note:  Hotwire does not refund, so you want to be pretty sure you will be there!

Atrium entrance to the Parkside Resort & Spa.

I choose a four star hotel for $80 a night, and am very pleased when Hotwire reveals that we have selected Parkside Victoria Resort & Spa. Situated just one block from the Victoria Conference Center and two blocks from the Inner Harbor, the location is perfect for us – we can walk everywhere and enjoy the quiet that sets in just a few blocks from the downtown. Designed, built, and furnished with sustainable development in mind, it is Canada’s first resort hotel built to LEED® (Leadership in Energy and Environmental Design)  standards. The grey, charcoal and earth tone palette throughout the hotel helps bring the beauty of the West Coast outdoors inside, and creates a peaceful and calm environment. We thoroughly enjoy our three nights stay in the one-bedroom suite with a kitchenette, and balcony overlooking the interior plant-filled atrium.

The Fairmont Empress Hotel in downtown Victoria, BC.

Elegant Victoria retains “a bit of Old England” with its beautiful gardens and historic buildings. Named after Queen Victoria of the United Kingdom and of the Dominion of Canada, Victoria is one of the oldest cities in the Pacific Northwest, with British settlement beginning in 1841.

Blue skies shine through a building façade being saved (and decorated) during renovation.
Fairmont Empress Hotel bee hives.

Overlooking the inner harbor, the Fairmont Empress Hotel is one of the oldest and most famous hotels in the city. On May 26, 2011, the hotel welcomed the Queen Bee and 400,000 honeybees. The bees now live in the Centennial Garden of The Fairmont Empress and will pollinate Victoria’s hotel gardens. In total, ten hives of  European bees will produce over 1,000 pounds of honey which will be featured in the hotel’s restaurants, including world-renowned Afternoon Tea service.

According to the Canadian Encyclopedia – “Although the archaeological record is still incomplete, it is clear that native people have occupied Vancouver Island for several thousand years. A tribal village society evolved with an economy based on fishing, collecting and hunting. The abundant marine and forest resources along the coasts supported a culture rich in oral tradition and artistic expression. Two main linguistic families, Salishan and Wakashan, developed and continue to exist“.

The Victoria, BC Conference Center celebrates First Nations artists.
The Gate of Harmonious Interest

In the 1980s, Victoria’s Chinese community entered a period of renewal after a gradual decline over the previous 50 years.  The Gate of Harmonious Interest was constructed at the corner of Government and Fisgard Streets as a monument to recognize and preserve the Chinese heritage in Victoria for everyone. The Gate is a gift from Suzhou, China, one of Victoria’s sister cities.

Glorious red dragon in Chinatown.

If you walk down Fisgard St. towards Wharf St., make sure to keep your eyes open for Fan Tan Alley, the narrowest street in Canada. The old opium dens, gambling houses and brothels of Fan Tan Alley have now become novelty stores and souvenir shops.

Victoria is known for its strong support of cyclists and pedestrians and there is an extensive system of paths, multi-use regional trails, and cycle lanes on city streets. We spend much of our time walking around the city, along the waterfront path, and in Beacon Hill Park.

Beacon Hill Park in Victoria, BC.
Vibrant hydrangea in Beacon Hill Park.

Beacon Hill Park is located in Victoria along the shore of Juan de Fuca Strait. The 200 acre park was officially established in 1882, after being set aside in 1858 by James Douglas, governor of Vancouver Island. The name derives from a small hill overlooking the Strait, which once held navigational beacons. The hill is culturally significant, having been a burial site for the First Nations Coast Salish people, who are the original inhabitants of the Greater Victoria region. Now it provides scenic vistas of the Strait and the Olympic Mountains of Washington.

The park is beautifully landscaped and manicured with bridges, lakes and ponds, and an alpine and rock garden. It is home to many species of ducks, birds and wildlife. I read that a pair of Bald Eagles nests in one of the huge trees, and a large family of Great Blue Herons also nest in a thicket of Douglas-fir trees at the west end of the park. Enjoyed by tourists and locals, the park has woodland and shoreline trails, two playgrounds, playing fields, a petting zoo, tennis courts, many ponds, and landscaped gardens.

A short walk from Victoria’s Inner Harbor is Fisherman’s Wharf… a floating boardwalk with food, shops and colorful float home community.

Not to miss is a walk around the Victoria Inner Harbor after nightfall. The Parliament Buildings light up the sky and cast a magical spell over the harbor.

Night falls on Victoria's Inner Harbor.

Attractions in and around Victoria:

  • Alcheringa Gallery – Contemporary Indigenous Fine Art of the Northwest coast, Papua New Guinea and Australia. Museum quality aboriginal art.
  • Art Gallery of Greater Victoria – The museum features contemporary exhibition space and a historic 19th-century mansion called Gyppeswick, and features a permanent collection of more than 15,000 objets d’art, drawn from Asia, Europe, North America, Canada and Japan. There is a permanent exhibit on Emily Carr and her contemporaries.
  • Butchart Gardens – Internationally acclaimed gardens created after Robert Butchart exhausted the limestone quarry near his Tod Inlet home, about 14 miles from Victoria. Still in the family, the gardens display more than a million plants throughout the year.
  • Maritime Museum of BC – Enjoy a rich and vast link to the province’s nautical roots. Among a superb array of artifacts, are fascinating displays on Pirates, Heritage Vessels, Shipwrecks and special exhibits.
  • Royal BC Museum – A great regional museum with an incredible showpiece of First Nations art and culture, including a full-size re-creation of a longhouse, and a dramatic gallery with totem poles, masks, and artifacts. The museum has an IMAX theater showing a variety of large-screen movies.
The Alcheringa Gallery on Fort Street in Victoria, BC.

Santa Fe, New Mexico ~ Restaurants, Farmers Market

Tesuque Village Market, Santa Fe
Tesuque Village Market in the Santa Fe area

Deciding where to dine in Santa Fe is serious fun. Our generous hosts, Dorsey & Richard, have sampled all the best local fare and together we have a terrific time experiencing some of the local favorites…

  • Tesuque Village Market, 138 Tesuque Village Road, is a charming market and restaurant about 15 minutes north of Santa Fe. Located under a canopy of cottonwoods at the center of a quaint village, you can dine outside in warm weather or inside where the decor is funky Santa Fe. We visited twice for breakfast, both times enjoying various egg dishes – Huevos Rancheros with blue corn tortillas, Breakfast burritos with chorizo… and as I walked around I saw delicious looking blue corn pancakes and the ultimate french toast made with croissants. Nice sized portions for a reasonable price. Lunch and dinner are also popular, and there’s often a crowd. A kids’ menu is available. (photo above)
  • Tune-Up Cafe, 1115 Hickox St. Owners, Jesus and Charlotte Rivera, offer a comfortable, affordable, fun, and flavorful dining experience. The menu is an eclectic assortment of El Salvadoran (veggie or steak pupusa and banana leaf wrapped tamales), New Mexican (chile relleno, enchiladas, tacos) and American favorites (buffalo burger, flat-iron organic steak). The desserts are house-made by Charlotte – fresh-baked scones for breakfast, decadent peanut butter cookie sandwiches, custard filled cupcakes… Okay, I’m hungry!
Tune-Up Cafe, Santa Fe, NM
Delightfully inviting & delicious Tune-Up Cafe
  • Mucho Gusto Mexican Restaurant, 839 Paseo De Peralta, is another great little neighborhood restaurant where the locals go. One of the favorites is “The Bomb”, their famous chicken breast stuffed with jack cheese, poblano chiles, almonds, sun-dried tomatoes, and then topped with a mushroom chipotle chile cream sauce. Grilled salmon, grilled shrimp specials, moist chicken fajitas… the food is consistently good and not expensive. The sangria and agave wine margaritas get rave reviews.
  • The Shed, 113 East Palace Avenue, is known for their red enchilada plate with red chile… arriving on a piping-hot plate, swimming in a red chile sauce complete with beans and posole. One fan describes it very well, “At The Shed, the cheddar is melted to a creamy, liquid-like texture. Miraculously, the cheese stays that way throughout the entire meal; even as I polished off the last of the beans at the end, the cheese stayed soft and stringy within the sauce. The restaurant uses blue corn tortillas, which retained their texture and sopped up the savory mixture of chile and onions. Little kernels of posole were tender and flavorful. Even the beans, which are usually the most neglected item on a plate, were perfectly cooked—neither grainy nor mushy. Best of all, the red chili sauce was pleasantly spicy with just a touch of the natural sweetness that comes from using the best quality dried red chilies.” The Shed red chile sauce is famous around the world and available to buy online at their website.
  • Paper Dosa, Santa Fe, NM
    Enjoying a dosa and lamb curry at Paper Dosa.

    Paper Dosa, 551 W. Cordova Road, has quickly become a local favorite, serving a south Indian menu heavy on dosas, uttapams, and spicy curries. The interior is inviting, the service is good, and the food is consistently first-rate. Packed on the Sunday night, we opted to sit at the bar. A great first experience as we were able to see the dishes coming out of the kitchen! We began with the Cashew Calamari – calamari sauteed in a cashew nut based curry served with greens – absolutely delicious… then shared a dosa filled with collard greens cooked down in spices with sweet peppers – just as delicious… and a lamb curry made with green cardamom, star anise, cinnamon, bay leaves and peppercorns. If I lived in Santa Fe I would be here every week!

  • Vinaigrette, 709 Don Cubero Alley, a salad bistro that raises the “salad bar” with delicious entrée salads. Their perfectly dressed gourmet salads boast innovative flavor combinations from the savory All Kale Caesar to the sweet Nutty Pear-fessor and balanced Salacho taco salad. It’s healthy comfort food that Chef Wade grows the bulk of on her own ten-acre farm on the historic Cano Acequia in Nambe.
  • Jambo, 2010 Cerrillos Rd, is African/Caribbean cooking at its finest. Chef Ahmed Obo served as chef at the Zia Diner for ten years, and now is treating Santa Fe to the food of his native land, Kenya. His mission is to give “quality ethnic cuisine for a good value,” and that is precisely what he does. His African and Caribbean dishes are authentic and richly flavored. We enjoyed the curried black bean & sweet potato soup, a delicious goat stew, a marinated chicken kabob flavored with cumin, coriander, thyme, garlic, lemongrass, paprika and allspice. Then shared a warm chocolate mocha brownie with vanilla ice cream sprinkled with fragrant cinnamon. Oh my, what sweet memories.
  • The Pantry, 1820 Cerillos Rd., has a diner atmosphere with a busy counter and tables, and is always full of locals and tourists alike. Their breakfast and lunch choices are some of the best you can find in Santa Fe. We enjoyed their red and green chile sauces and chorizo, ordering omelettes with spinach, green chile and chorizo. I just read about a new addition to the Pantry – cold brewed coffee. Evidently, the cold brewing process removes all the acidity and produces a smooth full-bodied flavorful coffee unlike anything we have experienced. Brewed in cold water for two days and mixed with different flavors like cinnamon, vanilla, and toffee. A definite must on our next visit to Santa Fe!
  • Pink Adobe, 406 Old Santa Fe Trail, was established in 1944 by Rosalea Murphy. Known affectionately by locals as “The Pink,” the restaurant has grown into a local and national landmark since its humble beginnings. Located in the center of the historic Barrio de Analco, across the street from the San Miguel Mission, which is considered the oldest church in the United States. Great martinis, and the Steak Dunigan receives excellent reviews (check out the photo on their website).
  • Harry’s Roadhouse, 96 Old Las Vegas Hwy, a review I read online sums it up nicely… “A funky, colorful, rambling restaurant, Harry’s Roadhouse is many things to many people. It’s part roadhouse, of course, part diner, part bar, and, in summer, part garden café. It’s also a popular gathering spot, an easily accessible halfway point for folks in town and those more far-flung. It serves breakfast, lunch, and dinner, offering a huge range of foods and styles, a lot of which it does well. Maybe “nothing ever changes there,” as a friend of mine recently said — but, hey, if it ain’t broke, don’t fix it. Recommended: buckwheat pancakes, wild mushroom pizza, gala apple salad, blackened catfish, and chocolate cream pie.”
Chile peppers, Santa Fe Farmers Market
Chile peppers for sale at the Santa Fe Farmers Market.

Ready to do some of your own cooking? Head to the Santa Fe Farmer’s Market. It is open year round on Saturday mornings at its permanent home in the Railyard, 1607 Paseo de Peralta (at S. Guadalupe St). Here you can find many varieties of fresh, locally grown fruits and vegetables, some available year-round. In addition to seasonal produce, you can always find quality meats, dairy, and eggs; flowers and houseplants; traditional dried foods; superb baked goods; jams, jellies, and honey; natural body care and herbal products; and original crafts and homespun garments. During the planting season, you will also find compost, worms, and an extensive choice of bedding plants.

Peppers roasting at the Santa Fe Farmer's Market
Peppers roasting in September at the Santa Fe Farmer’s Market.

The Market is not exclusively organic, but many of the growers are Certified Organic, or Certified Naturally Grown, and they post their Certificates or Crop Lists. You can ask the farmers how they raise their crops. They have baskets of beautiful produce grown without chemicals.

San Miguel de Allende: Restaurants, bakeries, groceries

Whether you are eating at home or dining out at a local restaurant, San Miguel de Allende food is tasty and affordable…

Restaurants

The Fat Mermaid in San Miguel de Allende
La Sirena Gorda (The Fat Mermaid)

La Sirena Gorda (The Fat Mermaid) ~ Calle Bar­ranca at the cor­ner with Calle Huer­tas. Happening little neighborhood cantina, dating back to the 1920s. Nothing pretentious. No white tablecloths. Just good, fast service and delicious fresh seafood and ginger margaritas. On several visits we enjoyed the tacos, tostados and ceviche – good fresh seafood. Another night we devoured the BBQ ribs and the melt in your mouth ham hock as carry out. Oh yes, the artichoke appetizer is yummy too. Cool place to have just up the street from our rental.

Hecho en Mexico ~ Ancho de San Antonio #8. A recommendation for great jazz was our introduction to this restaurant and we were not disappointed. The “house” quartet is outstanding. Some of the musicians played with Doc Severinsen. There is no extra charge for the music if you have dinner. Ten of us sat around a big table and received great service. We started with homemade guacamole & chips, and as a group enjoyed the Spinach & Beet salad, Cheeseburgers, Fish Tacos, Shrimp Broquettes on rosemary stalks and Arranchera (traditional marinated Mexican flank steak). One of the side dishes, jicama salad, is like a slaw and fantastic. They have a nice choice of tequilla and good margaritas. Dinner and a drink cost about $12 USD. Wonderful historic setting with an interior cactus garden.

Cafe Rama in San Miguel de Allende
We end the evening at Cafe Rama.

Cafe Rama ~ Calle Nueva 7. Vogue magazine describes it well – “a funky outdoor establishment that has a 1970s Berkeley vibe with Pop Art decor.” Known for its tapas, this Saturday evening we enjoy a fixed price tapas meal of their choice. Trusting in the chef’s abilities we relaxed with a bottle of wine as we receive a taste delight every 10 minutes or so. Starting with a antipasto dish of Spanish Serrano ham, goat cheese, pickled watermelon, olives and salty/sweet almonds, we go on to enjoy a savory polenta with a tasty tomato topping, a crispy risotto pancake topped with a shrimp, mussels with garlic & ginger, and several others. Ending with a sensuous dessert finale of cappuccino crème brûlée and baked meringue with lemon custard and fresh strawberry sauce. A delightful experience for me, as the chef easily and creatively accommodated my gluten-free diet needs.

Mandinga ~ Correa #24. We meet a vegetarian friend at this pizza and empanadas restaurant housed in another very cool old building with an inviting outdoor courtyard set up like a dining room. They also have an indoor café/bar with a fireplace but it was a beautiful evening and we chose the outside dining by candlelight. We arrive during Happy Hour when they offer two cocktails or glasses of wine for the price of one… our waiter suggested a very nice red wine to go with our empanadas, pizza and salads. Jay declares these the best empanadas he has ever had and our friend devours his entire pizza with gusto. Big bowls of fresh spinach, cheese, olives made up our delicious salads. One note – as a gluten-free eater this may not be the best choice if you are hungry for more than a salad.

Cafe La Parroquia in San Miguel de Allende
Breakfast at Cafe La Parroquia.

Cafe de la Parroquia / La Brasserie ~ Jesus 11, Centro Historico.

Cafe de la Parroquia is a great spot for breakfast. They have a lovely patio with a central fountain artfully decorated with yellow roses the morning we were here. Delicious fresh mini baguette come with a wonderful avocado salsa, butter and  jam. Good Americana coffee, normal & decaf, and many varieties of egg dishes are served. We love our scrambled eggs with ham, onion & Serrano pepper; a omellette with potato, ham, onion, parsley & zucchini, and scrambled eggs with chorizo. Green drinks and fresh carrot juice are another healthy option. The service is very good, with the owner often in attendance.

La Brasserie restaurant in San Miguel de Allende
Live music at La Brasserie.

Once the wrought-iron gates of La Parroquia close on the late lunch crowd, La Brasserie starts gearing up to delight diners in the same space. It becomes a French bistro with a Mexican accent—one of the most pleasant restaurants San Miguel style. La Brasserie’s owner/chef, Valeria, is the daughter of Francoise, the French-born owner of La Parroquia. She grew up waiting tables there and helping out in the kitchen, so she knows the business top to bottom. Steak, frites and salad are excellent, as is the Chicken Enchilada Mole. This mole sauce is the real thing with 50+ spices and peppers in it. Reasonably priced in a pleasant setting.

The Restaurant ~ Sollano #16. Six of us totally enjoy the Mo’ Better Burger Thursday Night Special at The Restaurant and I have total confidence that any night would be terrific. This is an upscale restaurant with a casually elegant setting in a beautiful old stone building. Service is impeccable and friendly. As a starter we try the Caesar salad and Spinach salad – both are first-rate with very fresh greens. Four of us have variations of 1/2 lb. beef burgers (ground in-house). – all come medium as ordered, deliciously juicy and pink inside and served with house cured pickles, and crispy potatoes with garlic, rosemary and parsley. I have the Mafiosa burger with balsamic roasted onions, oven dried tomatoes, parmesan crisp & arugula. Outrageous! Jay has La Griega – a ground lamb burger with roasted tomatoes, feta cheese, pickled onions and spinach on an onion bun. Delish. A great wine list – we enjoy two bottles of red wine from the Baja region of Mexico.

Luna Rooftop Tapas Bar & 1826 Bar ~ Rosewood Hotel, Nemesio Diez 11. Luna Rooftop Tapas Bar serves up savory Mexican and Spanish tapas in a casual atmosphere which we enjoyed on a 2 for 1 special night. It is a tempting place to linger after a day of sightseeing in the city to take in the breathtaking views of La Parroquia, the city and magnificent sunsets. Situated across from the main restaurant, the 1826 Bar offers delicious snacks and a full bar with a full range of tequila (tastings on Wednesdays) to enjoy in a quiet, and elegant setting. Highly recommend the rooftop bar even if it’s just for one drink to enjoy the views of San Miguel.

Ole Ole Restaurant in San Miguel de Allende, Mexico
Ole Ole Restaurant

Ole Ole Restaurant ~ Loreto #66. Bullfighting posters and memorabilia fill the walls and the tasty fajitas are very reasonably priced. Our group started with one order of the sautéed mushrooms with onions and peppers which came with warm tortillas and served four. We dined on the chicken, beef and aranchera fajitas – all the meats were tasty – although I would recommend the aranchera if you like beef, it is especially moist and tender. Portions are large and prices are very reasonable. You can easily eat a full meal for under ten dollars. Negro Modelo beer was the drink of choice.

Carcassonne ~ Correo 34. Carcasssonne Restaurante & Bar is in a beautiful historic stone building with elegant curved arch doorways and a glass enclosed wine cellar. Elegant is the word. We enjoy the delicious lamb ribs and our friends enjoy their steaks. All cooked medium as we ordered. Service is professional and deliberate; we inform our waiter that we have a movie to go to and he makes sure we are finished on time.

Posadita Restaurant entrance in San Miguel de Allende
La Posadita Restaurant

La Posadita – Cuna de Allende #13. As the evening approaches we decide to walk over to Cuna de Allende and experience our first tamarind margarita as the sun sets. We walk up the narrow stairway to La Posadita, settle down at one of the rooftop tables and order our margaritas. They are wonderful and intense, not like anything we’ve ever tasted. In the evening  sky the city lights begin to glow and twinkle and the panoramic view from La Posadita is breathtaking. The following week we return for dinner with our friends and enjoy the asparagus wrapped in bacon served on grilled onions & tomatoes, but find the ribeye and arranchera dinners average. My suggestion – go for the view and have a drink.

Outdoor bar at Tacos don Felix in San Miguel de Allende
Outdoor bar of Tacos don Felix.

Tacos Don Felix “En La Casa” ~ 15TH Fray Juan de San Miguel St. Take a cab out of the historic district into this Mexican neighborhood to find a true Mexican family restaurant. As the evening passes the tables fill up with Mexican families and ex-pats. We start with a salad for four – greens, jicama, tomatoes, onions, carrots come piled on the platter… then a taco sampler for each of us. Seven tacos – beef, pork, huitlacoche, spanish style sausage, shrimp, chicken, beef rib with onions. Delicious. A neighboring table has steaks which look and smell tempting. The service is gracious and after dinner they are happy to call a cab for you.

Los Milagro in San Miguel de Allende
Los Milagros on Calle Relox #17

Los Milagros ~ Relox 17. A very friendly young waiter drew us into this centuries-old colonial house vibrant with Mexican decor and featuring the “miracle-making” figurines called Milagros, as we look over the menu in the entryway. He recommends the “Volcano Bowls”, so we ordered two of the arranchera beef bowls. The beef is cooked in green sauce and served with grilled cactus, green onions, chiles & white cheese. On the side comes guacamole, refried beans and corn tortillas. They are very tasty and the “bowl” retains it heat well, so the food stays nicely warm. Servings are very generous – next time we may share one volcano bowl.

El Pegaso ~ Corregidora &, México. The prices are moderate, the service is friendly and efficient and the place is spotless. The decor is Mexican funky—with lots of color and good examples of folk art on the walls (all of it for sale). Check out the cheerful little painted tin nichos made by the well-known Cielito Lindo workshop in Colonia Guadalupe. Colorful and funny, they feature Day of the Dead calaca figures in common, silly and occasionally risqué tableaux. Known for breakfast and lunch, we enjoyed a fantastic spinach salad garnished with fresh papaya slices, tamales, enchiladas and homemade soup. It is conveniently located one block east of the Jardin.

El Ten Ten Pie ~ Cuna de Allende 21, corner of Cuadrante. The name “El Ten Ten Pie” is a play on words. It comes from the Spanish slang term tentempie, which translates loosely as “a little something to keep you on your feet.” This is a favorite San Miguel hangout with a popular outdoor café. Have that “little something”— a taco, a quesadilla or the best flan in town—or you can fill up on the comida corrida, for about eight bucks. It includes soup or salad, a main dish with rice and beans, and dessert. Good for lunch and people watching – we had a good salad and tacos.

Cafe Buen Dia – on Callejon Pueblito. Several Sundays we relaxed in the sun on the rooftop for a nice brunch with friends. Known for their espresso coffees – cappuccino, café au lait, americana – we sipped coffees and a yummy hot cocoa while waiting for our Special breakfasts to come. Starting with a bowl of fresh fruit or juice, then your choice of eggs, toast, coffee, potatoes or beans. We especially like Brad’s scramble with mushrooms, spinach, cheese and nice crispy bacon… our friend recommends the Huevos Rancheros.

Cafe Santa Ana in La Biblioteca – Insurgentes 25. To keep up with the numerous cultural events (often in English) taking place in this city, La Biblioteca is a good resource. Here you can find information and tickets to lectures, house tours, concerts, and theatrical productions, many of which are held within the historic library building itself. The library’s jungly outdoor Café Santa Ana, with tables clustered around a central fountain, is a pleasant place for a cappuccino, banana bread or other snack or light meal.

Bakeries

Cumpanio in San Miguel de Allende
Cumpanio bakery & restaurant

Cumpanio ~ Correo 29. High quality bakery & restaurant known for their homemade breads, pastries, and contemporary dining space serving elegant meals. Just a couple blocks from our rental house this was our closest bakery and what a treat. Great pastries, breads and homemade truffles in the bakery. Four of us had a delicious lunch one day in the contemporary restaurant – a perfectly seared tuna sandwich and fantastic burgers with french fries. Our friends returned for breakfast and raved about it.

El Petit Four ~ Mesones 99. Delicious French-style cakes and pastries;  wonderful espresso (they use Lavazza coffee) and sandwiches made with house-baked baguettes. Highly recommended like Cumpanio.

Bakery at the San Miguel de Allende farmers market
Buen Vida Bakery at Saturday Organic Farmers Market

La Buena Vida ~ Hernandez Macias 72. This little place is situated in the back of Plaza Golondrinas, across from Bellas Artes. They offer whole grain and sourdough breads, as well as, an assortment of pastries, brownie and doughnuts. Open 8 AM – 4 PM. Closed Sunday. Their booth at the Saturday Organic Farmers Market always has a line.

Pura Vida Juice Bar/Cafè – Pila Seca #9. Finally some gluten-free baked goods! Alicia Wilson Rivero is the owner of both the Pura Vida Store and the Cooking School at the LifePath Center.  She shares in a global mission to create and offer healthy, delicious food using locally harvested, fresh and organic products.  She develops menus and provides meals for LifePath retreat guests interested in following a special menu plan. Raw food, vegans, wheat-free diets are among the diets she can cater to.

Pura Vida Cafe in San Miguel de Allende
Alicia at the Pura Vida Juice Bar/Cafe

The day we stopped by she had gluten-free banana muffins, gluten-free carrot muffins, raw date snacks, and a decadent flourless chocolate cake. She also offers freshly made drinks, nourishing self-care products, and a wifi-ready rooftop terrace where patrons can relax and enjoy a healthful meal.

Grocery stores

Via Organica ~ Margarito Ledesma 2. Café, bakery, vegetable shop, grocery store. We visit Via Organica weekly for organic fresh vegetables (grown by local farmers), freshly made almond or peanut butter, gluten-free crackers & cereal and baked goods (gluten-free and regular). Their café serves delicious Mexican and international dishes which you can also get as take away. One visit we picked up some cilantro pesto which we have enjoyed on everything from veggies to pork. Via Organica is one part of Organic Way AC – a Mexican non-profit organization whose mission is to promote good nutrition through organic farming, fair trade, a healthy lifestyle and protecting the planet. They also have a booth at the Saturday Organic Farmers Market.

Via Organica in San Miguel de Allende
Via Organica is a favorite.
Bonanza grocery store in San Miguel de Allende
Bonanza grocery store on Mesones 43-A

Bonanza ~ Mesones #43-A. This terrific little grocery store in Centro San Miguel has a deli section, imported foods, all kinds of nuts, an impressive gluten-free section, local breads, fresh tortillas, cheeses, fresh yoghurt, Chinese noodles, balsamic vinegar, liquor, shampoos and more. Large bins of rice, grains, beans, flower and spices sold by the gram. Between Bonanza and Via Organica we find all we need.

¡Buen provecho! (Bon Appetit!)
While in San Miguel, I wrote a blog post each week, click on each week below to view photos and read about our adventures:

San Miguel de Allende: La semana cuarta y última

Historical Museum in San Miguel de Allende
Museo Histórico de San Miguel de Allende.

The Museo Histórico de San Miguel de Allende is one of many “regional museums” of Mexico. It was the home of Ignacio Allende, who was a principle protagonist in the early part of the Mexican War of Independence. The structure, built in 1759 with Baroque and Neoclassical elements, is located next to the San Miguel parish church, La Parroquia. The museum focuses on the history of the local area from the prehistoric period to the present, especially the area’s role in Mexico’s national history.

The first floor has exhibits about the founding of the town, its role in protecting the Camino Real de Tierra Adentro which was the Royal Inland Road, also known as the Silver Route. Although it was a route motivated and consolidated by the mining industry, it also fostered the creation of social, cultural and religious links in particular between Spanish and Amerindian cultures. I really enjoy the upper floor which has exhibits related to the family of Ignacio Allende and rooms preserved as they were when he lived here.

cat in doorway of house in san miguel de allende
The doorcat keeps watch... notice the cobblestone street.

If I have not mentioned this before, San Miguel de Allende is a city to be explored on foot, so I recommend you bring comfortable shoes because the streets are cobblestone and the sidewalks uneven stone with frequent steps.

Cobblestones are stones that were often used in paving early streets and the word derives from the very old English word “cob”, which had a range of meanings, one of which was “rounded lump” with overtones of large size. “Cobble”, which appeared in the 15th century and meant a small stone rounded by the flow of water; essentially, a large pebble. It was these smooth “cobbles”, gathered from stream beds, that paved the first “cobblestone” streets.

Laundry blowing in the wind, San Miguel de Allende.
We catch a glimpse of laundry blowing in the wind.

This is our last week in San Miguel and we have a list of things to do and see before we leave. One of mine is to visit the LifePath Center and the Pura Vida Store/Cafe on Pila Seca #9. My friend, Polly, brought me a gift of their decadent flourless chocolate cake, and I want to visit myself and check out the other gluten-free goodies!

Alicia Wilson Rivero is the owner of both the Pura Vida Store and the Cooking School at the LifePath Center.  She shares in a global mission to create and offer healthy, delicious food using locally harvested, fresh and organic products.  She develops menus and provides meals for LifePath retreat guests interested in following a special menu plan.   Raw food, vegans, wheat-free diets are among the diets she can cater to. The day we visit I find two deliciously healthy and moist gluten-free muffins – one carrot and the other banana.

LifePath is a center for personal growth and wellness of body, mind, and spirit. It has served the international community for over a decade, and offers programs for learning, healing, and retreat in their centuries-old villa.

Pura Vida Cafe in San Miguel de Allende
Pura Vida Store/Cafe with the owner, Alicia Wilson Rivero, in the doorway.

Also on Pila Seca Street, just across from LifePath, I come across a wonderful little shop which sells a unique array of one-of-a-kind merchandise. The store opened in July 2007 with the philosophy of supporting artists and exposing people to an eclectic mix of local, national and international products. Their collection includes distinctive jewelry, interesting furniture, clothing, creative greeting cards and a variety of home decor and furnishings.

Mixta in San Miguel de Allende
Mixta sells unique pieces from local and international artists.

Our friend, Elisabeth, suggests we dine at Tacos don Felix (15th Fray Juan de San Miguel) before we leave, so Friday we hail a cab and venture out of the historic district. We arrive at the restaurant on the early side and easily get a table for four. As the evening passes the tables fill up with Mexican families and local ex-pats. Hungry for some veggies we start with a salad for four – greens, jicama, tomatoes, onions, carrots are piled on the platter. Known for their tacos we all get the taco sampler. Seven tacos – beef, pork, huitlacoche, spanish-style sausage, shrimp, chicken, beef rib with onions. Delicious. A neighboring table has steaks which look and smell tempting. The service is gracious and the owners young son is very official in his white jacket. After dinner the hostess happily calls a cab for us.

Tacos don Felix Kitchen in San Miguel de Allende
A budding restaurateur in the kitchen at Tacos don Felix.
Outdoor bar at Tacos don Felix in San Miguel de Allende
Waiting for our cab at the outdoor bar of Tacos don Felix.

As I look in the cupboard to see what needs eating before we leave early next week, I discover a bag of Pamela’s Gluten-free Classic Vanilla Cake Mix. Brought along in my suitcase from the U.S. I decide this mix is not getting a roundtrip ticket. Besides I have a few other acquisitions to pack… So, I decide to bake a Lime Poundcake (following the directions on the bag, but adding lime juice and making it dairy free by using olive oil instead of butter). We are having a little dinner party so Jay gets creative with the fresh blueberries – cooking them briefly in tequila and a bit of agave… the result is outrageously delicious!

Gluten-free lime poundcake with tequila blueberry compote
Gluten-free lime poundcake with tequila blueberry compote and fresh raspberries.

Today we take our last Sunday morning walk around the Jardin Botanica. Located on a hilltop northeast of town, this 217 acre area is a wildlife and bird sanctuary. Today as we do our silent walk around the sanctuary three sheep surprise us as we round a curve on the path.

Sheep along the path at Jardin Botanica in San Miguel de Allende
Three sheep surprise us along the path.
Horse grazing, Jardin Botanica, San Miguel de Allende
As the sheep head up a side path we notice this horse gazing at us.
View of San Miguel de Allende from the Jardin Botanica.
Our last glorious view of San Miguel from up at the Jardin Botanica.

Walking down the hill into town for breakfast we spot Suites Santo Domingo on Callejon Santo Domingo 16. Elisabeth has friends coming who are looking for a place to stay so we venture in and look around the lovely property.

Suites Santo Domingo in San Miguel de Allende
An antique collection off the entry of Suites Santo Domingo.
Suites Santo Domingo courtyard in San Miguel de Allende
We peer into the inviting courtyard of Suites Santo Domingo.

Our walks always end with breakfast and today we go to Cafe de la Parroquia. They have a lovely patio with a central fountain artfully decorated with yellow roses this morning. Delicious fresh mini baguettes come with a wonderful avocado salsa or butter and &  jam. Good Americana coffee, normal & decaf. Many varieties of egg dishes are on the menu. We enjoy scrambled eggs with ham, onion & Serrano pepper; a omellette with potato, ham, onion, parsley & zucchini, scrambled eggs with chorizo, a green drink and fresh carrot juice. The service is very good and the owner stops by to thank us for coming in.

Cafe La Parroquia in San Miguel de Allende
Our breakfast feast at Cafe La Parroquia.

As our month in San Miguel comes to its conclusion I will remember the joy of discovery in coming to a new place ~ the visual beauty of this historic city and the quiet dignity of the Mexican families that live and work here.

Alleyway in San Miguel de Allende
We pass a mother and her children walking down a colorful alleyway.

“To my mind, the greatest reward and luxury of travel is to be able to experience everyday things as if for the first time, to be in a position in which almost nothing is so familiar it is taken for granted.”  Author, Bill Bryson

To read posts from our first three weeks in San Miguel de Allende, click below:

San Miguel de Allende: La Tercera Semana

Cactus cutouts form tree sculpture in San Miguel de Allende.
Cactus hearts and skulls decorate a tree in the Jardin Botanica.

Each Sunday since our arrival in San Miguel de Allende we begin the day with a morning walk around the Jardin Botanica. Located on a hilltop 1.5 km northeast of town, this 217 acre area is a wildlife and bird sanctuary. Today as we do our silent walk around the sanctuary we come upon this fantastic tree decorated with cactus hearts and skulls (perhaps an homage to Dia de Muertos – Day of the Dead).

Ruin on path near Botanica, San Miguel de Allende
Ruin on path near Jardin Botanica, San Miguel de Allende.
Cairn sculpture in San Miguel de Allende
Jay builds a cairn sculpture on side of path in Jardin Botanica.

Heading to town after our walk, an artful old structure exposes its bones.

Old stone wall in San Miguel de Allende
An old stone structure is art to our eyes.
Cross in electric meter, San Miguel de Allende
Even the electric meter is blessed with a cross.

A favorite activity is strolling around the city with camera in hand. Today we seem to be attracted to a certain yellow/gold color vibe.

Pizza in San Miguel de Allende
Pizza scooters lined up for the coming day's work.
Colorful San Miguel de Allende
Glorious colors surprise us on a quiet street in San Miguel de Allende.
Neighborhood juice bar, San Miguel de Allende
Neighborhood juice bars are a common sight.

January 21 is General Ignacio José de Allende’s birthday (January 21, 1769 – June 26, 1811). He was a captain of the Spanish Army in Mexico who came to sympathize with the Mexican independence movement, and attended the secret meetings organized by Josefa Ortiz de Domínguez, where the possibility of an independent New Spain was discussed. He fought along with Miguel Hidalgo y Costilla in the first stage of the struggle, eventually succeeding him in leadership of the rebellion. In 1811 Allende was captured by Spanish colonial authorities while he was in Chihuahua and executed for treason. Each year his birthday is celebrated with a parade and all day festivities at the Jardin Principal.

General Ignacio Jose de Allende's birthday parade in San Miguel de Allende
Parade celebrating General Ignacio Jose de Allende's birthday.

To add an elegant and distinctive touch to a horse’s appearance, many of the riders create a design on their mount’s hindquarters. The most common of these designs, which are known as quarter marks, is the checkerboard pattern. A horse bearing quarter marks indicates that the owner has gone the extra mile in grooming and care.

Allende Parade in San Miguel de Allende
Many of the horses bear a quarter mark, in this case a checkerboard design.

We take a respite from the days festivities to have breakfast and shop at the Saturday Organic Market, where along with great vegetables and foodstuffs, we come across the local domestic violence booth. A blog post focused on the Market will be posted soon…

Domestic Violence booth at the Organic Market in San Miguel de Allende
Domestic Violence booth at the Organic Market in San Miguel de Allende.

From the market we head to the Jardin Principal where, amid all the birthday festivities, a wedding is under way at La Parroquia.

Wedding at La Parroquia in San Miguel de Allende
Bride and father make their way through the crowd to La Parroquia.

Well into the evening the festivities continue with various musical guests, a full military symphony and choir.

Symphony at General Allende's birthday celebration in San Miguel de Allende
The Jardin Principal is aglow with lights and a symphony performance.

Our day comes to a satisfying conclusion at Cafe Rama, Calle Nueva #7. Known for its tapas, this Saturday evening we enjoy a fixed price tapas meal of their choice. Trusting in the chef’s abilities we relax with a bottle of wine as we received a taste delight every 10 minutes or so. Starting with a antipasto dish of serrano ham, goat cheese, pickled watermelon, olives and salty/sweet almonds, we go on to enjoy a savory polenta with a tasty tomato topping, a crispy risotto pancake topped with a shrimp, mussels with garlic & ginger… then a sensuous dessert finale of cappucino creme brulee and baked meringue with lemon custard and fresh strawberry sauce. Muy Bueno.

Note: Cafe Rama was able to accommodate my gluten-free needs without any problem.

Cafe Rama in San Miguel de Allende
We end the evening at the deliciously creative Cafe Rama.

San Miguel de Allende: Le Segundo Semana

Indian parade in San Miguel de Allende
Indian dancers and drummers parade in San Miguel de Allende, Mexico

The day is just dawning this Sunday morning when we hear the sound of drummers very close by… Jay quickly dresses, grabs his camera and heads out the door. Men and boys dressed as Indian dancers and drummers are parading down a nearby street, creating a rich drum beat in rolling 4/4 time, as they dance and chant together. A ragtag procession of campesinas follow, carrying an altar on their shoulders. At the head of the parade an old man carries a wire contraption, from which he launches fireworks, signaling the imminent arrival of the parade to neighbors down the road.

The morning progresses with our walk down and around the Jardin Botanica, then breakfast at Cafe Buen Dia on Callejon Pueblito. During breakfast, a new acquaintance, Ruth, recommends the tamarind margarita’s on the rooftop terrace of La Posadita. We make a mental note. Ruth is a realtor in San Miguel and has a lovely property in the historic center of the town with two rentals. Comfortably elegant and private, you can view them on VRBO: Villa and Casita.

La Posadita restaurant in San Miguel de Allende
La Posadita restaurant has amazing views, good food and tamarind margaritas.

As the evening approaches we decide to walk over to Cuna de Allende and experience our first tamarind margarita as the sun sets. We walk up the narrow stairway to La Posadita, settle down at one of the rooftop tables and order our margarita. It’s wonderful and intense, not like anything I’ve ever tasted. Neither of us knows what a tamarind is. (I research later and learn it is the sweet & sour fruit of a tropical tree. It looks a bit like a carob pod and is an underlying flavor in Worcestershire sauce.) In the evening sky the city lights begin to glow and twinkle and the panoramic view from La Posadita is breathtaking. Next week when our friends arrive we will definitely return for dinner… and another margarita.

San Miguel de Allende at night.
View of San Miguel de Allende at sunset.

Walking home through the Jardin we once again step into La Parroquia to absorb its quiet magnificence.

Interior of La Parroquia in San Miguel de Allende
Evening view of La Parroquia interior
St. Paul's Presbyterian Church in San Miguel de Allende
We arrive early for a piano concert at St. Paul's Presbyterian Church.
Donkey carrying potting soil in San Miguel de Allende
Donkey carrying potting soil for sale in our neighborhood.

Peñon de los Banos, is a women-owned sustainable organic farm cooperative, a short ride from San Miguel de Allende. Jay and I are part of a field trip, organized by The Center for Global Justice, visiting the Campo (farm), to learn more about their work.

Residents of this small dairy farm have been part of a traditional ejido system for generations. Ejidos are communal lands, for growing food, shared and co-managed by the people of the community. The system was developed during ancient Aztec rule of Mexico. The North American Free Trade Agreement (NAFTA) has forced the Mexican government to do away with the ejido system, and open the land up to foreign agri-business. To read the full story, see: Peñon de los Banos, a women-owned farm cooperative.

Greenhouse at Penon del Los Banos
One of 8 greenhouses at the Penon del Los Banos Cooperative.
Comida at Penon de Los Banos
Sharing a midday meal, "comida", prepared by the women of the cooperative farm.

Cafe Teatro Athanor, just around the corner from where we live (this month) is a gem of a theater that holds about 20 people or so. Most nights they show a thoughtful foreign film and this week we saw El Mural – a UK film about the renowned Mexican artist, David Siqueiros, and his time spent in Argentina painting a mural. A political, historical and romantic drama that we recommend. But on Friday nights they have a musical event – The Magic Mystery of Flamenco – featuring two female dancers/singers, a male dancer and a wonderful classical guitarist.

Flameno in San Miguel de Allende
Flamenco performance at Cafe Teatro Athanor.

Sunday morning ritual is a walk, and the Saturday morning ritual is the outdoor Organic Market. Entering the market one of the first things you see are tables of fresh organic vegetables – lettuces, spinach, kale, tomatoes, avocados, herbs… then you notice the tables and chairs under the shade trees and the smell of tortillas grilling and coffee brewing. Pottery pots filled with chicken in green mole, lamb stew, guacamole, chorizo and egg… next week we will skip breakfast at home and eat here. And that’s not all – there are homemade breads, cheeses, baked goods, natural skin care products, fresh eggs and a small selection of hand crafted items.

Cover of San Miguel de Allende bookMany ex-pats frequent the market and today we meet John Scherber, an American ex-pat and author of San Miguel de Allende: A Place in the Heart. His book explores the possibilities of starting an exciting new life in Mexico by sharing the experiences of 32 people who confess why they left the United States and show how their new life is more fulfilling than they ever dreamed. Imagine sitting down for a heart-to-heart conversation with people who made it happen.

Organic Farmers Market, San Miguel de Allende
Saturday Organic Farmers Market in San Miguel de Allende

Ever since American Stirling Dickinson arrived here in San Miguel de Allende in 1937, the Mexican town has been a magnet for artists and U.S. expatriates:

Garden statue in San Miguel de Allende
Garden statue in San Miguel de Allende

“In 1937, after several months spent traveling through Mexico, a gangly, 27-year-old Chicago native named Stirling Dickinson, who had been somewhat at loose ends since graduating from Princeton, got off a train in San Miguel de Allende, an arid, down-on-its-luck mountain town 166 miles northwest of Mexico City.

Taken from the ramshackle train station by a horse-drawn cart, he was dropped off at the town’s leafy main square, El Jardín. It was dawn, and the trees were erupting with the songs of a thousand birds. At the eastern side of the square stood the Parroquia de San Miguel Arcángel, an outsize, pink-sandstone church with neo-Gothic spires, quite unlike Mexico’s traditional domed ecclesiastical buildings. The first rays of the sun glowed over mountain ridges to the east. “There was just enough light for me to see the parish church sticking out of the mist,” Dickinson would later recall. “I thought, My God, what a sight! What a place! I said to myself at that moment, I’m going to stay here.”

Click on the title to read the entire Smithsonian article by Jonathan Kandell : Under the Spell of San Miguel de Allende.

p.s. To read our other posts from San Miguel de Allende, click below:

San Miguel de Allende: Zumba in the Park

Zumba class in San Miguel de Allende
Groovin' zumba class in Parque Juarez, San Miguel de Allende, Mexico

It’s Saturday morning in San Miguel de Allende and time for Zumba! Dress in comfortable clothes, put on your sneakers and head to Parque Benito Juarez for the 8:30am class, where the music will draw you in, like the Pied Piper. Zumba is a Latin dance inspired fitness program created in the 1990s by Columbian dancer and choreographer Alberto “Beto” Perez. Zumba’s choreography incorporates hip-hop, soca, samba, salsa, merengue, mambo, martial arts, and some Bollywood and belly dance moves. It’s aerobic and lots of fun.

The story is that in 1986, Perez forgot his tape of aerobics music for a class he was teaching. He took the tapes available in his car—consisting of traditional Latin salsa and merengue music—and improvised a class using this non-traditional aerobics music.

Click on the start arrow for a taste of Zumba from Parque Juarez…

In 2001, Beto brought his new dance-fitness style to Miami, Florida, and met entrepreneurs Alberto Perlman and Alberto Aghion. All three hailed from Colombia and shared the vision to bring this dynamic dance-fitness class to the masses. The three Albertos formed an alliance and created a business, calling it Zumba Fitness. Their Zumba Fitness Total Body Transformation System DVD Set has a record 900 reviews on Amazon.com (over 600 are 5 star). Doing a live class is the great, but if that is not possible or you want to practice at home, the DVDs get rave reviews.

My hometown Zumba teachers, Alyson & Mary Jo, are the inspiration for this post. If you live on or visit Orcas Island they also have groovin’ Zumba classes twice a week at the Odd Fellows Hall (Monday morning at 10:30am and again on Wednesday morning at 9:30am).

To read our other posts from San Miguel de Allende, click below:

Art Exhibits 2012

Manet in Black, Fine Arts Museum

This print, Les Courses (‘The Races’), shows Manet’s drawing at its most vigorous. The viewpoint is dramatic. We find ourselves in the middle of the racetrack with the horses galloping straight towards us. The railing slopes away at an unnerving angle as the lower right-hand corner dissolves into furious scribbling.

“Manet in Black” is on exhibit at the Museum of Fine Arts Boston beginning in February 2012. Edouard Manet’s friend, the poet Charles Baudelaire, described black as the color of the nineteenth century. Manet was a master in the use of black, asserting his bold and subtle imprint on a range of subjects. This exhibition celebrates Manet’s brilliant achievements as a graphic artist. Known as the painter of modern life and the father of Impressionism, Manet was also an exceptionally gifted printmaker and draftsman, among the most daring and innovative of the nineteenth century.

Drawn primarily from the MFA’s collection and featuring a selection of some 50 prints and drawings by Manet and related artists—including Rembrandt and Degas—the exhibition spans a variety of subjects, techniques, and styles from throughout Manet’s career.

Bringing forth fresh perspectives on Manet’s art by established scholars, Therese Dolan’s new book – Perspectives on Manet – places this compelling and elusive artist’s painted oeuvre within a broader cultural context, and links his artistic preoccupations with literary and musical currents. Dolan’s collection investigates the range of Manet’s art in the context of his time and considers how his vision has shaped later interpretations. Specific essays explore the relationship between Manet and Whistler; Emile Zola’s attitude toward the artist; Manet’s engagement with moral and ethical questions in his paintings; and the heritage of Charles Baudelaire and Clement Greenberg in critical responses to Manet. Therese Dolan is Professor of Art History and Women’s Studies at Tyler School of Art, Temple University, USA.

Inspired by last years list of promising exhibits, here are some suggestions for 2012:

Support the arts! Visit a museum in your area or in a city you will visit this year… it is enriching, educational and inspiring. As Albert Einstein said, “Logic will get you from A to B.  Imagination will take you everywhere.”

San Miguel de Allende: La Primera Semana

View of San Miguel de Allende from the Jardin Botanica
View of San Miguel de Allende from the Jardin Botanica on our Sunday walk.

San Miguel is a feast for the senses… the smell of corn tortillas toasting, our first night view of La Parroquia in the Jardin, church bells ringing the hour… Enjoy a sampling of our first week in this spirited and colorful colonial town.

Callejon Pueblito in San Miguel de Allende
Heading to Cafe Buen Dia on Callejon Pueblito after our Sunday walk.

Where is San Miguel de Allende? The city is located in the far eastern part of the state of Guanajuato in mountainous central Mexico, and is 170 miles from Mexico City. Historically, the town is important as being the birthplace of Ignacio Allende, whose surname was added to the town’s name in 1826, as well as the first municipality declared independent of Spanish rule by the emerging insurgent army during the Mexican War of Independence.

Casa Calderoni B & B in San Miguel de Allende
Lovely Bed & Breakfast across the street from Cafe Buen Dia

Our good friend and yoga mate, Polly, is the proud owner of a casa and casita in San Miguel. The casa is for rent by the month. We are the first renters and I have only praise for this lovely, comfortable two bedroom house. Located on Barranca just several blocks from the Jardin Principal, we are enjoying the central location and walk everywhere. For information on renting the casa, just email Polly (pollyp@centurytel.net).

Guest Casa on Barranca in San Miguel de Allende
Our charming rental home/casa for the month of January is on Barranca.
Guest casa patio in San Miguel de Allende
And has a sunny spacious patio that looks out into a courtyard.

San Miguel is known for its picturesque streets with narrow cobblestone lanes, that rise and fall over the hilly terrain, and occasionally defy colonial attempts to make an orderly grid.

A colorful alleyway off Barranca.
A colorful narrow alleyway winds its way up from Barranca.
Cultural Institute in San Miguel de Allende
Looking up at the Cultural Institute in San Miguel de Allende

The houses have solid walls against the sidewalks, painted in various colors, many with bougainvillea vines falling down the outside and the occasional iron-grated window.

Home in San Miguel de Allende
Large old home in San Miguel de Allende.

The main attraction of the town is its well-preserved historic center, filled with buildings from the 17th and 18th centuries and has been declared a World Heritage Site.

Downtown street scene in San Miguel de Allende
The vibrant downtown in San Miguel de Allende.
Festival decorations in San Miguel de Allende
Holiday decorations adorn most streets in the downtown area during the holidays.

The Biblioteca Pública or Public Library serves as the educational and cultural heart of San Miguel, providing bicultural resources for both the Mexican and foreign population. This library was established by Helen Wale, a Canadian, who wanted to reach out to local children and started the first children’s library in her home. It is the largest privately funded, publicly accessible library in Mexico with the second largest English language book collection. More than a library, one can relax and dine at Café Santa Ana; read Atencion San Miguel, the library’s weekly bilingual newspaper which covers local news, issues and events (published every Friday); and enjoy Teatro Santa Ana’s presentations of lectures, concerts, plays and films.

Mural in the public library, San Miguel de Allende
Mural in the Biblioteca Pública or Public Library.

To the far south of the historic center is Parque Juárez or Juarez Park. This park was established at the beginning of the 20th century on the banks of a river in French style with fountains, decorative pools, wrought iron benches, old bridges and footpaths.

Sculpture in Juarez Park, San Miguel de Allende.
One of several wood sculptures in Juarez Park, San Miguel de Allende.
Public laundry in San Miguel de Allende
On the east side of the park, the stone tubs of the outdoor public laundry are still in use.

This week while walking around the city, Jay and I came upon a lost puppy on a quiet path. After inquiring around the immediate area for an owner, I carried her back to our rental casa. I had read about The S.P.A. (Sociedad Protectora de Animales) in Atencion the day before. I cannot say enough about this organization which exists for the well being of abandoned and homeless dogs and cats in San Miguel and environs. The next day I delivered the puppy to Lynn who had arranged for a foster parent for the puppy until the shelter had room in their new puppy area. After meeting one of the veterinarians who pronounced the puppy very healthy, and speaking with the foster mom, I am very confident this little one will be fine… still it was a tearful goodbye.

Found puppy of San Miguel de Allende
We found and fell in love with a sweet puppy - "Pacolita" (photo courtesy of Elisabeth Mention)

Jay is my gifted and patient photographer. He uses the Nikon Coolpix 8400 8MP Digital Camera with a 3.5x Wide Angle Optical Zoom Lens. There are many old and beautiful churches in San Miguel and the shot below really shows off the wide angle lens ability of the Nikon Coolpix 8400.

Church in San Miguel de Allende
Beautiful St. Paul's Church hosts regular concerts in San Miguel de Allende.

The world is a great book, of which they who never stir from home read only one page. – Saint Augustine

p.s. To read our other posts from San Miguel de Allende, click below:

Fiestas de Santa Fe: The Burning of Zozobra

Zozobra in Santa Fe, New Mexico
Zozobra in Santa Fe, New Mexico

Each year on the weekend after Labor Day, The Kiwanis Club of Santa Fe stages the burning of Will Shuster’s Zozobra, kicking off the annual Fiestas de Santa Fe. Zozobra centers around the ritual burning in effigy of Old Man Gloom, or Zozobra, to dispel the hardships and travails of the past year.

The Fiestas celebration began in 1712 to celebrate an expedition by Don Diego de Vargas, who reconquered the territory of New Mexico. Zozobra became part of the Fiestas in 1926, and the Kiwanis club began sponsoring the burning in 1963 as its major fundraiser.

Local artist William Howard Shuster, Jr. – “Will” (1893-1969) conceived and created Zozobra in 1924 as the focus of a private fiesta at his home for artists and writers in the community. His inspiration for Zozobra came from the Holy Week celebrations of the Yaqui Indians of Mexico; an effigy of Judas, filled with firecrackers, was led around the village on a donkey and later burned. Shuster and E. Dana Johnson, a newspaper editor and friend of Shuster’s came up with the name Zozobra, which was defined as “anguish, anxiety, gloom” or in Spanish for “the gloomy one.”

Zozobra is a hideous but harmless fifty-foot bogeyman marionette. He is a toothless, empty-headed facade. He has no guts and doesn’t have a leg to stand on. He is full of sound and fury, signifying nothing. He never wins. He moans and groans, rolls his eyes and twists his head. His mouth gapes and chomps. His arms flail about in frustration. Every year we do him in. We string him up and burn him down in ablaze of fireworks. At last, he is gone, taking with him all our troubles for another whole year. Santa Fe celebrates another victory. Viva la Fiesta! – A.W. Denninger

The burning of Zozobra in Santa Fe, New Mexico
The burning of Zozobra in Santa Fe, New Mexico

We know this crisp September evening in Santa Fe is going to be special as we look across at Old Man Gloom, Zozobra, in the large park where thousands of people are gathered and chanting “burn him, burn him”. The lights, music, fireworks, and sense of frenzied expectation make the experience unforgettable. When the moment finally arrives and Zozobra burns into smoldering ash, it is incredible. The idea is that people’s gloomy thoughts disappear – certainly in this dramatic moment that is true.

The oldest capital in the United States, Santa Fe is home to both ancient and modern cultures, Spanish churches, vibrant festivals, and adobe houses. Santa Fe Icons: 50 Symbols of the City Different is an entertaining collection of photos, anecdotes, and little known facts about fifty of the classic symbols that represent Santa Fe. From the Plaza to posole to Zozobra learn about the things that give Santa Fe its character.

Brussels, Belgium

Brussels's Grand Place during the Christmas season.
Brussels's glorious Grand Place during the Christmas season.

Each year Winter Wonders, Brussel’s Christmas Market, fills the city – from the world-famous Grand-Place of Brussels, around the Bourse, on the Place Sainte-Catherine and on the Marché aux Poissons. Hundreds of wooden huts offering hand-crafted toys, warming mugs of mulled wine, and moules mariniere by the bucket full fill the city centre. There is an outdoor ice rink (and a small rink for toddlers), a huge Ferris wheel and Christmas carols piped through loudspeakers. The Grand Place is home to a huge Christmas tree, and the Town Hall provides the canvas for the stunning Christmas lights show. The festivities begin in late November and continue until January 1.

Jay and I spent the summer of 1976 in Europe and a few weeks in Brussels where his parents were living at the time. The Grand Place is the most exquisite and elaborate square I have ever experienced, especially in the evening when the buildings are lit. All over the world it is known for its decorative and aesthetic wealth. Considered one of the most beautiful places of the world, The Grand-Place of Brussels was registered on the World Heritage List of the UNESCO in 1998.

Victor Horta Museum staircase
Staircase in the Victor Horta Museum

Some of Brussels’ districts were developed during the heyday of Art Nouveau, and many buildings are in this style. Art Nouveau is an international philosophy and style of art, architecture and applied art—especially the decorative arts—that were most popular during 1890–1910. The name “Art Nouveau” is French for “new art”. A reaction to academic art of the 19th century, it was inspired by natural forms and structures, not only in flowers and plants, but also in curved lines. Architects tried to harmonize with the natural environment. Victor Horta was a Belgium architect and designer and one of the most important names in Art Nouveau architecture. I remember visiting Victor Horta’s home/museum in Brussels with its incredible staircase.

Our favorite grater came from a very fun old second-hand shop, Les Petits Riens (little nothings), which we visited a few times with Jay’s mom. I just Googled and found a shop by the same name at 101, Rue Américaine! Sure would be fun to return and see if it really is the same one.

And the food… Belgian cuisine is characterised by the combination of French cuisine with the more hearty Flemish fare. Specialities include Brussels waffles (gaufres) and mussels (usually as “moules frites”, served with fries). The city is a stronghold of chocolate and pralines manufacturers with renowned companies like Neuhaus, Leonidas and Godiva. There are friteries throughout the city, and in tourist areas, fresh, hot, waffles are also sold on the street.

Belgian Chocolates, Grand Place, Brussels
Belgian Chocolate Shop in the Grand Place, Brussels

Jay’s parents remained in Brussels for a couple of years and when they visited us in Washington, DC a gift box of Neuhaus chocolates was always in the suitcase for me. Today’s reminiscing is inspired by a terrific article in the New York Times by Amy Thomas – Brussels: The Chocolate Trail… and includes a great list of the city’s chocolatiers.

“You have chocolate for tourists, and chocolate for Belgians,” Ms. Warner said of the national hierarchy in which chocolate produced by manufacturers like Côte d’Or and Guylian are devoured in vast quantities, but mostly by the city’s six million annual visitors. Bruxellois, Ms. Warner said, prefer the artisanal makers. “The big-name big houses are great. But seeing and tasting real handmade chocolate, while buying it from the person who made the chocolate, is something special.”

To prove her point, as we were leaving Wittamer, the century-old chocolatier in the center of the city that seduces both locals and tourists with its heritage recipes, Robbin suggested we go to Alex & Alex, a nearby Champagne and chocolate bar. Though its chocolates, made by Frederic Blondeel, aren’t made on-site, they’re acknowledged in some circles as some of the best in the city.

The bar is tucked away on one of the antiques store- and art gallery-filled streets that shoot off the Grand Sablon, Brussels’ central square. Its dark, cozy interior, along with the glass of Drappier rosé and array of square bonbons before me, was a lovely respite from the trolling chocolate tourists outside. I found the herbaceous notes of Blondeel’s basil ganache too reminiscent of pesto, but the “Alex’Perience” chocolates were another story. The first velvety impression of high-quality chocolate was followed by a flood of sweet, fruity cassis.

Amy Thomas’ new book, Paris, My Sweet: A Year in the City of Light (and Dark Chocolate) , will be released on February 1, 2012.

If you find yourself in Brussels by all means take the train to Bruges. “Much of the enchanting city center is truly reminiscent of a fairy tale, with stone footbridges spanning picturesque canals and cobblestone streets curving past turreted manor houses”… read 36 Hours: Bruges, Belgium for the full story.