|Street food: blue corn tortillas with rajas, tomatillos, cheese.|
A heads up: you don’t say Mexico City, you say ‘DF’ pronounced ‘Day effe’, meaning Federal District.
It’s one of the most populated cities in the world. The streets are full of smog, dirt, poverty and noise. The trains are like a parliament of hawkers and beggars, singing their way up the crowded carriages. But I love it. To the point that I’d live there.
Mexican food has been underrated until recently, but it is one of the world’s great cuisines. There is so much variety in genuine Mexican food, it’s so much more than the Tex-Mex version, heavy on the beans and cheese, that we tend to get over here.
1. Street food: possibly Mexico has the best street food in the world, on a par with Thailand and India. There isn’t a corner of Mexico where people aren’t eating. Mexicans really love to eat. You might even say, ahem, that they are greedy. Every doorway, every street corner, every cranny, every park, every metro station, every bus stop, every canal, every road, has a stall or a booth or a counter or a cart or a guy with a drinks maker on his back, selling the most delicious food. From a narrow bar hacking up tripe for tacos to grandmas crouching over a hot burner toasting blue corn tortilla with rajas, to intricately carved bright fruit on a stick, or pepitos hanging like bunting on a line, Mexico City is crammed with food experiences. Even the humble packet of cheezy wotsits becomes a gourmet feast, with salsa, chilli and lime. I’m not going to recommend particular places but suggest you go on a voyage of discovery, it’s rarer to have bad food than good.
|The Courtyard at Azul Historico. Fantastic food.|
|Padrinos at 30 Isabel la Catolica. Note the bicycle on the wall.|
2. Posh food: in the Centro Historico (historic centre), I discovered a tree filled shady colonial courtyard which housed several restaurants, boutiques, galleries and food shops. Two main restaurants Padrinos and Azul Historico, the latter run by Chef Ricardo Munoz Zurita (who spent 12 years writing the weighty Mexican food anthology ‘Gastronomia Mexicana’ of which I bought a copy. This book is a must for anyone seriously into Mexican food). I ate at Azul Historico, which celebrates the Munoz Zuritas interest in regional Mexican cuisine by hosting monthly guest chef spots, this time for a female chef Pilar Cabrera who runs La Olla in Oaxaca. You could order dishes such as guacamole with grasshoppers, but I tasted the enchiladas de jamaica orgánica which were very original, blue corn wraps stuffed with pickled hibiscus flowers. I also ordered a drink from a section called ‘bleedings’. What’s that? I asked the waiter. It’s white wine or port, say, with a flavoured syrup. I had a white wine and mint. Not to my taste.
Above the courtyard you can also visit ‘Culinaria Mexicana’, a great resource for Mexican foods and kitchenware.
3. Xochimilco: Mexico’s Little Venice is known for its extended series of canals, all that remains of the ancient Lake Xochimilco. People travel in colorful trajineras (boats) covered with flowers. I spent three relaxing hours on my own in a boat, for it was the off-season. The canal is almost comical, with drifting barges of different kinds of musicians, from mariachi to classical, nudging up alongside your boat, urging you to hire them. You pay per song. Idling on the reedy banks are vendors for crafts. Restaurant boats and food barges cruise past, give them a wave and they park next to you, preparing your food. It’s as crowded and lively as the street but on the cool breezy water.
4. Coyoacan the market: near the house of Frida Kahlo. Eat there before or after visiting Frida’s house. This compact market has rows of stalls with rainbow-hued salsas and ceviches, sold in heaped pyramids.
5. The market at San Juan: known as the chef’s market, go to eat at market counters, have a wander and buy from the food stalls. The lunch stall of Dona Juana is very good. There are ornate religious shrines within the market.