A Taste of Mexico with La Villa Bonita Culinary Vacations
It’s no secret that I travel to eat, I find that food is one of the best ways to experience a destination. For my first trip to Mexico I wanted to immerse myself in it’s cuisine, from vibrant salsas to smokey moles and everything in between, I wanted to experience Mexico’s diverse food culture on a deeper level. This is what led me to La Villa Bonita, a hands-on cooking school and boutique hacienda in Central Mexico’s highlands.
Tepotzlan, just over hour drive from Mexico City, is one of Mexico’s “Pueblos Magicos” or magic villages. Known as the Sedona of Mexico, Tepotzlan offers up the chance to explore a side of Mexico that many visitors to the country don’t know about. This small colonial mountain town, is anchored by an historic convent made more beautiful with the patina of time while the Tepozteco mountains rise up from the green valley capped with the ruins of an ancient Aztec pyramid. Vibrant murals line the cobblestone streets where abuelas can be spotted making tortilla and tlacoyo by hand. Well off the usual tourist path, Tepotzlan offers up an authentic Mexican experience.
As soon as I arrived at La Villa Bonita I felt instantly welcomed, warmly greeted by Chef Ana Garcia with a hug and a margarita. It was then I started to take in my surroundings, the bright open air kitchen was highlighted with the tools of Chef Ana’s trade; local handmade ceramics hanging from the wall, bowls of peaches and limes from the onsite orchard and views of the limestone Tepozteco mountains all around. The kitchen truly is a culinary sanctuary and where I’d be spending the majority of the next few days getting a taste of authentic Mexican cuisine.
While the kitchen and the opportunity to learn about Central Mexican cooking are what brought me to La Villa Bonita the rest of the hacienda was just as inviting. Each of La Villa Bonita’s six white adobe rooms open up onto a central courtyard, with hummingbirds zipping around the gardens and the Garcia’s friendly lab Mojo greeting us every time we came out. I could have spent my entire trip at the pool, with stunning views of the Tepozteco mountains, and had an amazing trip. But alas, there was cooking and eating to do.
Our day started with a leisurely breakfast of sopes, a savory pancake made from masa, topped with black beans and diced cactus finished with a drizzle of crema. This was followed by a homemade sweetbread, fragrant with oranges picked the day before from Chef Ana’s own garden. A quick walk through the cobblestone streets of Tepotzlan brought us to the open air market to get the ingredients we would need for dinner later. Being a Saturday morning the market was bustling;vendors offered everything from vibrant produce and local meats to fresh juices and indigenous dishes. Young girls learned how to make fresh tortilla from their abuelas while a salsa band provided the soundtrack for our market morning.
Back at La Villa Bonita, it was time to get to work. No matter your level of culinary knowledge, Chef Ana will have you whipping up Mexican specialties in no time. The open air kitchen was a buzz of peeling, chopping, roasting and laughing while preparing Chiles en Nogada, a traditional dish of Central Mexico. Roasted poblano peppers are stuffed with a spiced meat and fruit filling that is then topped with a creamy walnut sauce and a sprinkling of pomegranate seeds. The green of the poblanos, the white of the walnut sauce and the red from the pomegranate are representative of the Mexican flag and the dish is typically served to celebrated Mexican Independence Day (which is September 16, not May 5 by the way). We had our hands on every step of the dish, from grinding the fragrant spices by hand in a traditional molcajete to charring poblanos over an open flame to peeling the skins from each individual walnut (a painstaking but necessary step to ensure the walnut sauce isn’t bitter), there are no short cuts taken though the strawberry mezcal margaritas certainly made the time go by. Come dinnertime our afternoon’s work was well rewarded, a beautiful dish with flavor combinations I’ve never had, the warm spices and fruit balance out the smokiness of the poblano while the brightness of the pomegranate pops against the richness of the walnut sauce. This is Mexican food like I’ve never had before.
La Villa Bonita offers packages ranging from two days to one week and everything in between, trips can also be tailored to your wishes as well. Chef Ana’s love and connection to the local community is evident with visits to local markets, artisan, farmers and purveyors a hallmark of the La Villa Bonita experience. While Tepotzlan is a gorgeous setting to learn about Central Mexican cuisine Chef Ana and her team also offer special weeks throughout Mexico highlighting different regional foods and cultural events. Head to Sayulita for a taste of the Pacific Coast (days here include deep sea fishing and whale watching) or get caught up in the celebrations of Puebla’s La Feria del Huipil.
While I certainly enjoyed the beautiful setting and delicious food, my favorite part of La Villa Bonita was the people. I left Tepoztlan with a full belly, a new appreciation of Mexican food and lifelong friends. I’ll definitely be back.
I was graciously hosted by La Villa Bonita but all opinions remain my own.