By Guest Blogger: Vixen Mixer
Food and holidays certainly go hand in and hand, following Itchy Feet Family’s review of Juan More Taco’s Walking Foodie Tour in San Jose I happened to be in Cabo San Lucas so decided to try Juan More Taco’s Cooking Class.
Each day the cooking class’s food agenda changes and whilst I was pretty flexible on what I cooked my inquiry to join the class the following day was promptly responded to by Issi with encouragement to do hold out for Thursday Paella Day. With the weather looking average for the next few days I locked in his suggestion and waited hungrily for Thursday to arrive!
The cooking tour is a small group activity with no more than 10 people. The tour starts by visiting a few local shops, including a tortilla factory where the majority of the town’s tortillas are produced. The group were able to sample the tortillas whilst they were still warm, crisped up and touched with salt. We knew the day was looking good after the first salty bite! We also visited a local grocer and fish supplier and Issi quickly moved through the stores making sure we had enough time to see a little part of daily life, but respecting that cooking was our main game and reason for joining him.
The actual class is conducted in Issi’s home with a converted area as a work kitchen (separate from the main area of the home). Around a long table the other seven tourists I’d just met became friends as we squeezed limes, seeded chillies, chopped seafood and vegetables and listened to Issi share his tips on preparation and Mexican cooking.
This tour is just as much for kids as it is adults. On our tour we had a father and daughter enjoying the day and Issi confirmed that many children come along, mostly over the age of 10 years old.
The class is as ‘hands on’ as you wish. We were all keen participants and I was particularly pleased when the first item we made and shared was a Margherita – certainly I can make that! My view on tequila quickly changed as Issi introduced the higher grade of tequila and shared his prepared recipe. Of course you can enjoy the virgin version as well, for the children and non-drinker just as much fuss is made to make special drinks sans alcohol in keeping with the family friendly activity.
Moving into appetisers we chopped and diced and the plain tortilla chips were transformed into taste sensations as we enjoyed a range of salsas. There were lots of variations on what you find in traditional eateries which highlighted the delight of home-made food. We had to forcibly stop snacking so that we could enjoy the paella in the next phase of our class!
Over the stove we stirred, fried and watched our paella come to life, with lots of wonderful spice tips. Whilst some of us stirred, others pressed dough into small tortillas and flipped them on a hot grill.
When the main meal was served a quiet calm came over the room whilst we all savoured every bite and nodded a lot, motioned to each other to ‘try a bit of this’ and generally just enjoyed food in the way we genuinely should. After lunch we were chatting so much dessert was nearly forgotten, but Issi quickly rectified this and his generous assistant whipped up a delicious finish to our incredible meal.
In such a wonderful atmosphere the group shared stories of home, travel, love and more. At the end of our several hours together we left not only full of amazing food but also with some new friends from around the globe and memories that are deeper than just a good feed.
The warmth of Issi’s home makes this experience something more than just a tour and as the food changes daily you could easily do more than one day – if you’re not committed to weighing in on your return home!
Until the next adventure…..The Vixen Mixer
We love a sunny resort holiday and Mexico has always delivered. We have travelled to Puerto Vallarta and stayed at the Hard Rock Hotel and also visited the Costa Maya as part of a cruise out of Florida. Just a few hours flight from the US, Mexico offers plenty of options for a resort holiday to relax and enjoy some local culture - or simply hang out in a full service hotel relaxing and soaking up the sunshine.
This trip we visited the Cabo area with a stay at the Royal Solaris in San Jose Cabo.
The Royal Solaris is actually a time share, so although we simply booked through a normal hotel booking website, we were still exposed to the timeshare sell. Upon arrival at the hotel we received an individual “Concierge” to explain the hotel features to us. However after declining quite sternly for the third time to attend the VIP breakfast, (to find out about the amazing opportunities for time share at the hotel) our Concierge had very little further information to give us! Not a great start to the stay - but thankfully it did not really dampen the experience and we were not bothered about timeshare any further.
The Royal Solaris is an all inclusive resort. This means that all our meals, drinks (including alcohol) and entertainment were included. If you have ever cruised, a resort like this is a very similar experience. Once you arrive there really is no reason to have to spend any money - except for tips if you are wanting to do so.
The hotel had a number of eatery options a pizzeria, snack bar serving hot dogs, burgers and nachos, a sushi station (which was amazing), a buffet restaurant for breakfast, lunch and dinner, as well as a couple of specialty a la carte restaurants one of which served Churrasco Argentinian (char grilled meats served to the table on swords and carved at your table). Add to that 24 hour room service (with a delivery fee) and a stocked fridge of soda, water and beers in your room - there was no reason to go hungry or thirsty.
Add to this all the bars around the hotel that were also included. Cocktails from the pool bar, tequila shots by the beach, wine with your dinner in the restaurant, late night night-caps in the lobby bar - all included. And the free pour serves of spirits put hair on your chest!
Then there was all the entertainment included. There was a kids club where kids could be signed in from 9am - 5pm (our kids chose not to use this but it was still an option and looked like it had a great range of activities), poolside entertainment that ranged from darts competitions, black jack, movie trivia, aqua aerobics, ping pong tournaments and more - there was never a dull moment poolside.
And in the evenings there was a large theatre with entertainment that for us included a Michael Jackson tribute show and a traditional Mexican dancing show. And if that wasn’t enough the entertainment crew also kept patrons busy in the evening at the lobby bar with activities such as karaoke and various game show type entertainment.
On our first night we joined in on the Karaoke at the lobby bar and discovered one of the entertainment staff, a dancer named Holly, was in fact from Adelaide, Australia (our home town). She had only arrived at the hotel in the last week, there was also one other dancer on staff who had been at the resort for 12 months, also from Adelaide.
The girls were comforted by having someone from home at the hotel, they told us in 12 months they had only come across four other Australian visitors at the resort. And they always seemed to be from South Australia! If you visit, be sure to say hello to the girls - maybe take them some Vegemite.
The resort is located on the beach, we stayed just before Hurricane Bud was heading for town so the beach was rough and not swimmable. However we still enjoyed walks on the sand, listening to the sounds of the sea and getting hair braids from the beach vendors.
From the street in front of the hotel a local bus could be caught for the cost of $1USD to take you to downtown San Jose which was filled with restaurants, shops and art galleries. Just beware the local buses stop at about 8pm so if you are going for dinner you may need to get a taxi back. We visited downtown on a Sunday night and got caught out with no buses or taxis around, luckily the restaurant owner gave us a ride in the back tray of his single cab truck - when in Mexico!
Penny - Itchy Feet Family
A great way to explore a city is to take a guided tour with a local and what better way to do that than walking from restaurant to restaurant trying the local food. When we heard about this walking food tour in San Jose it ticked all the boxes for an authentic Mexican experience.
Whilst in Mexico we wanted to explore the local streets and try the food the locals eat, but were also cautious and hesitant as to where we could explore safely. With the help of a local, in our case Francisco, we were guided through a culinary journey sampling tacos, tamales, ice-cream and more at local restaurants and street vendors that we otherwise would not have known existed.
In fact on our first night in San Jose we had visited the same local area the tour took us through but had stopped one street short of all the great restaurants as we had questioned the safety of the area. If only we had done this tour earlier in our itinerary!
Francisco ensured us all the places we visited were places he has taken his family providing an authentic local experience. Each location served us the specialty of the house and provided plenty of variety and options to step out of your culinary comfort zone.
The first three restaurants on the tour all served a variety of tacos in the options of either a corn or flour soft taco or a crispy flat tostada. As we restaurant hopped we tried tacos filled with smoked Marlin (our favourite), Sea Bass and then a marinated pork. A fresh condiment bar at the first restaurant provided plenty of local flavour and the second restaurant offered a fiery sauce to sample - Miss 8 was brave enough to try but instantly regretted the choice. I wish I had videoed her facial expressions they were priceless!
One of the great insights was to discover that real Mexican food rarely includes cheese! And Mexicans do not eat hard shelled Tacos! Clearly our love of Mexican food comes from the American version of Mexican cuisine that has filtered across the world. Can you imagine Nachos without cheese!
The three hour tour included visits to four seated restaurants as well as stops at a Pearl Shop and Tequila Tasting Bar. At the pearl shop Miss 8 picked the lucky door prize and was rewarded with a pearl which was opened in front of us, fresh from the pearl farm.
Our final two destinations of the tour were a Tamales street vendor followed by a local ice-cream store. Whilst the Tamales were not to our taste we were grateful for the opportunity to try them. We had always wondered what Tamales were - and to try them from a street vendor that was being frequented by locals was a great authentic experience.
The Tamales, in my non culinary layman terms, are a thick wrap made from maize stuffed with a choice of filling that come in both savoury and sweet. The wrap is steamed in a maize husk or banana leaf and has quite a distinctive flavour. We tried both a pork and a chicken and neither really kicked goals for our tastebuds.
Overall we were really glad to have chosen this experience. The group of five ladies from the US East Coast that joined us on the tour brought some great interactions to the table and made us feel welcome. The kids appreciated the authentic experience and we all enjoyed trying something new.
Find out more details here at Juan More Taco Tours.
Penny - Itchy Feet Family
When Trump was announced President Elect, Master 10’s first concern was “Does that mean we can’t go to Mexico again? How do we get over the wall.” Having just visited Puerto Vallarta his concern was quite legitimate.
In June 2016 we were heading Stateside and wanted something to break up our US adventures. Randomly, the Hard Rock Hotel all inclusive resort at Puerto Vallarta caught our eye.
Just a three hour flight from Los Angeles, the thought of spending a few days at an all inclusive resort in the sunshine ticked all the boxes to ease into our three week holiday.
And in Mexico ALL inclusive means just that! Once we stepped foot on the resort, there was not a further dollar to be spent. Breakfast, lunch, dinner, snacks, mini bar, coffee shop, pizzeria and the swim up bar - ALL INCLUDED!
The resort boasted many dining options from a traditional buffet to, of course, a Mexican eatery as well as an Italian outdoor restaurant by the beach and an Argentinian restaurant serving meat by the sword.
And there was no going thirsty. There was a mini-bar in the room with three bottles of liquor ready to poor, a swim up bar and a constant flow of servers ready to shake a new cocktail (or mocktail for the kids).
And if you complained that your cocktail was too weak the bar man’s response was to simply provide you with your own bottle of Vodka to top it up! What did they care! At the Italian restaurant when I ordered a glass of wine with dinner - I got the whole bottle.
The kids loved the freedom of being able to swim up to the bar and order a mocktail or head into the Mexican cafe for a bowl of guacamole and corn chips. It gave them a sense of independence and they relished in it.
As well as food, there was also plenty of entertainment at the resort. I can imagine at certain times of the year the resort would be quite a loud party place. We were fortunate that there was not so much of that going on whilst we were there. Whilst we enjoyed our afternoon cocktails and nightly sundowners we don’t exact fit into the frat party category or party people.
The resort had amazing facilities for the kids club unlike any I have seen before. However our kids preferred to wonder in and out of the unsupervised games room where they could play pool, video games and get a soda and popcorn rather than sign in to be supervised. There was too much going on poolside with a water slide, beach soccer tournaments and poolside bingo with the entertainment staff.
The location of the resort did not allow for a stroll out the front gates to the “real” Mexico, so we needed to make a conscious effort to get out and about and not just be lured by the cocktail server and poolside lounges.
We were given resort credit that could be used on tours so we used that as a prompt to get out and about booking day trips for zip lining and quad biking and simply took taxis to get into town and explore.
So next time you are booking a cheap return flight to LA, consider a side trip to Mexico and you won’t be disappointed by a stay at the Hard Rock Hotel Puerto Vallarta.
You can book your stay with Agoda who have great rates.
Penny - ITCHY FEET FAMILY
ITCHY FEET FAMILY has also stayed at the Hard Rock Hotel Bali - read our review
Penny, an avid Trip Advisor Reviewer, is the author of ITCHY FEET FAMILY. A family living in Adelaide, Australia, and taking every opportunity to travel and explore the world.