Mexico City is the new foodie haven. This is what they say now about my destination:
Mexico City is having a moment. All of a sudden, it seems, the largest city in the Americas has absolutely captivated international tastemakers, and gallons of ink have been spilled in glossy magazines extolling its historic architecture, booming gastronomy, and cutting-edge cultural scene. The capital is Mexico’s undisputed center of gravity, with the country’s best and brightest being drawn to the sprawling megalopolis like the river to the sea. As a result, Mexico City’s name is now uttered in the same breath along with Paris, London, Tokyo, and New York.
On top of that, it is certainly less expensive than Paris, Tokyo, and NYC. I was able to find 5 star hotels in good areas for around $200 or less! And though I am not fond of Lonely Planet, they say unequivocally, that Mexico City has the best street food in the world! Whoda thought? Now, I have been to some places that have really good street food, like Bangkok, Hanoi, Luang Prabang (Laos), and Rangoon. I will have to let you know the final answer after I get back.
The ready to eat food is called antojitos, or little cravings. The Spaniards found this ready to eat food and were totally amazed. Little has changed over the centuries, as street food plays a big part in daily life here. Literally, thousands of stalls and taquerias sell tamales, and quesadillas, elote’ (roasted corn on the cob), chapulines (roasted grasshoppers), and so much more.
Tamale means “wrapped in a leaf” and first made by the Aztecs and Mayans in the heat of battle. Pockets of masa are stuffed with sweet and savory fillings, wrapped in banana leaves or corn husks, and steamed. It is generally washed down with a corn based drink, atole’, served lukewarm, in a variety of flavors. The chocolate based one is called champurrado, Mr. Desperado!
Any good Mexicano must stop at a tortilleria, thin unleavened flat bread, usually round, made from finely ground corn. Every neighborhood has one, and spits them out on a conveyor belt. It reminds me of Chevy’s, who has a similar process for public viewing and eating.
Jugo (fresh juice) stands are almost everywhere. Jugo is sold from small push carts to permanent structures like the above photo. On a hot day, nothing is more refreshing, at least without alcohol in it. Some are made from a single fruit, some are more elaborate. The healthy looking jugo verde (green juice) is made from apply, celery, parsley, and the ubiquitous Mexican cactus (nopal).
My favorite quesadillas are sold everywhere as well, and always contain cheese. That said, Mexico City is one of the few places where I can order one without cheese. A better version, called tlacoyas, are flattened masa pockets, filled with cheese, fava or refried beans, with toppings like nopal, sour cream, and cilantro. Sounds pretty good to me!
Tacos de canasta sounds pretty straight forward. These are soft corn tortillas filled with refried beans, potatoes, eggs and pork. Speaking of the absence of chilies, they love to put chili powder on fruit here, just like Hawaii. They do manage to temper the chili powder with some lime juice, making it somewhat more palatable.
Burritos are the traditional food of northern Mexico, and the United States. Most burritos serve four people, and contain things like mushrooms, peppers, and cheese. But the salsas deliver various degrees of heat, so be warned.
Carnitas, means little meats, one of my favorites back home, is pork braised and simmered until tender. These places use the entire pig, so it is wise to know the body parts in Spanish, lest you end up with the “end” up. Diced onion, cilantro and salsa complete the deal.
From my previous trips to Mexico, I enjoyed tacos el pastor. These tacos, “in the style of the shepherd”, have thick slices of pork off of a spit, and placed on a corn tortilla. This originated with the Syrian and Lebanese immigrants to Mexico. Topping are onions, cilantro, and pineapple.
Are you hungry yet?
My food tour on Saturday lasted from 11am to 4pm. I am obviously too full to have dinner tonight. These are the places, and a little about what we had.
1. Oaxaca en Mexico- authentic Oaxacan food, rice and enchilada with chocolate mole sauce. Just ok.
2. Mercado de San Juan- three stops, cheese and baguettes at Delicatesen La Jersey Gourmet, El Gran Cazador where we had prehistoric and exotic food (wild boar, lion,venison, and armadillo. Rosse Gourmet was the last stop here, with exotic fruit, salad, and edible flowers. And the best mango I have ever had.
3. El Caguamo- a street food place with my favorite of the day, a ceviche tostada. Outstanding!
4. La Mascota- a typical cantina, order a beer and choose among 9 different free appetizers. I chose the snails, good, but a little too sweet for me. Fun, noisy, and the beer, a Victoria, was cold.
5. La Bipo and Pasaguero- a neo cantina, serving new Mexican appetizers, with six different salsas. Very unusual but quite tasty.
6. Dulceria de Celaya-traditional Mexican sweets, been around since 1874. The sweet was a nougat with fig, not bad, but way too sweet for me.
I did the tour with 8 others, a couple of foodies from SF, a couple from Chicago, a pair of blades from London, a pair of hotties from Medellin, Colombia, and me. Fun, but lots of walking, and too much food. I am skipping dinner tonight, and going to sleep. I got very little sleep last night, due to some drunks next door, so they upgraded me to a suite on another floor. Come on down, I have space for you!