As you might have noticed, the Husband and I thrive on peace and quiet and strive to stay the farthest away from the noises and the cacophony offered by city life in general, while we can. This means even when we pick our holiday destinations, more often than not, we try to pick places that fit our description of ‘picturesque’ with a side of amazing food and drink. Having said that, Mexico made an entry on my list of ‘beautiful specks on the globe to experience before I die’ long before I remember and had stuck on ever since; ever since the six-year-old me breathed Mexico vicariously through a few characters (a scarecrow and his three bird friends) I have known and loved so dearly, who had paid this beautiful country a visit in one of the books from the series that came as a gift from mum and dad during my childhood. So, naturally when an opportunity came-a-knocking to visit Mexico City, one of the largest cities in the world, that provides beautiful, fertile ground for history, culture and food, you bet we pounced on it.
Thus began the journey to to the Mexican soil. It does not take much to guess that the journey was rather long and cumbersome, given the fact that we had to fly half way across the planet from Vienna to Mexico City. I’m not venturing into any of the insignificant, yet atrociously tiresome events that took shape during the time spent traversing from Vienna to Madrid to Mexico City. Just does not fit in to the larger, colourful picture of memories painted by the vibrant and effervescent city that is Ciudad de Mexico.
So. Touchdown CDMX.
The moment we landed in Mexico City, I felt the city exuded vibes that reminded me of good old Mumbai. Maybe it was the hustle and bustle at the airport, or maybe even the warmth of the people around, or possibly the crazy after work hours’ traffic on a Friday night. Or was it just the ever familiar stench that welcomed us just as we stepped out of the airport; the same kind that screams out ‘developing nation’ to you; the same smell that overpowers everything else around the Bandra Worli sea link, which leaves you confused without knowing what exactly to attribute it to.
The first impression that CDMX painted for us on the Friday evening as we landed was one that was reminiscent of many large cities in the emerging world; sky scrapers all around, people clothed in office wear scurrying about probably hoping to get a couple of after-work drinks to welcome the arrival of the weekend, brightly lit street food outlets enticing you with whiffs of hot tacos, teens in their flashy outfits and dolled up faces sporting bright pouts, homeless people waiting by the road sides hoping to make a few coins by cleaning windscreens of the cars that stop at the traffic light despite the impatient honks and angry yells meted out to them, children clad in torn, grey rags begging for food from passersby, the flower vendors seated amidst lovely hues of yellows, pinks and reds. Somehow, everything felt strangely familiar at first.
But the rest of the week that I spent in the city taught me that I couldn’t possibly have been more wrong. There’s something so mysteriously beautiful about getting to visit a foreign land; exploring the alleyways, the local markets, lesser known food joints where the locals relish their daily grub. It is invariably behind the rosy facades of glamorous city life that the real soul and essence of the place lives; always beyond that posh restaurant where you are socially obliged to wear your best dress, the red lips and those pointed heels while you sip on that Dirty Martini with indiscrete fervour that the real, unabashed culinary skills of the place hide; and always beyond the Marriots and the Sheratons that you find the eyes that twinkle with sheer joy whilst you enjoy that cup of coffee ever so lovingly served despite the greatest of language barriers. So, this is going to be a virtual tour around everything food that caught my fancy in a city that grows on you with every passing moment; a city that has a little bit of everything to offer.
- Mercado de Jamaica or the Jamaica Market (pronounced as Ha-maica ‘cause well, Jalapenos)- One of the biggest, traditional local markets in the city known for its fresh produce such as veggies, meat and above all, for its flowers. Jamaica (meaning Hibiscus in Spanish) Market houses about 1000 flower vendors without counting hundreds of other vendors selling meat, spices and vegetables. This sprawling indoor market was rather fascinating for me considering most market concepts in India are outdoor with the vendors squatting next to their produce in the Sun.
The market also has a full section dedicated to Piñatas (the papier-mâché containers typical to Mexico, which are filled with candy and burst during celebrations. Read about it, the history is beyond fascinating) which come in hundreds of shapes, sizes and colours.
Within the walls of Jamaica Market is another universe altogether- the bustling of hardworking businessmen, the smell of fresh produce, the colours, the noise, the smiles. Never ending rows of peppers in every shade of green, orange and red beautifully arranged, spice vendors and flower vendors selling possibly every single flower you would have heard of in all the years you’ve spent living. But the real deal for me was (hands down!) the local food that is sold in the market.
There are a couple of sweet local women who sit right at the entrance of the market selling hot Champurrado (a drink that is made of corn, chocolate and cinnamon) in large earthen pots with bright blue lids that caught my eye and quesadillas made of Blue Corn (also known as Hopi Maize) which is typical to Mexican Cuisine.
The two options available for quesedillas were both vegetarian surprisingly- pumpkin blossoms or Huitlacoche which is also known as hongo de maiz which is a sort of Mexican corn fungus; a delicacy in this part of the world and yet, considered to be ‘plague’ in others. Fascinating, isn’t it? We had a taste of both and were pleasantly surprised. Nothing like tasting absolutely alien flavours, of course, under the guidance of cheery locals. Don’t be disgusted as yet because the quesadillas are yummy and the warm Champurrado surprisingly light and refreshing especially with the slight nip in the January air.
Another quick halt was at the little stall/shack in the market that is famous for (and rightfully so) for their bright green chorizo. One look at the stall and you know the food has to be top notch thanks to the fast moving crowd that is tirelessly catered to by the owner (a round man with a moustache and a happy face) and his two accomplices. The bright green chorizo gets its vibrant hue because of the ground pumpkin seeds that are added to the meat. I could do the whole journey to CDMX in a heartbeat just for a piece of that lip smacking chorizo wrapped in a soft tortilla and topped with freshly chopped cilantro, onions and that heavenly salsa verde.
- La Guapachosa- We had spent almost the entire first half of the day exploring the market; touching and feeling the freshness of the produce, gaping at the sheer artistry behind the thousands of flower arrangements, making (or rather trying to make) conversation with the vendors. So, come late afternoon we were quite weary and all we wanted to do was to chill with a couple of beers in a local spot and voila! La Guapachosa. Placed bang at the intersection of two perpendicular roads, this little pub/restaurant feels like a page out of a Mexican picture book. Everything about this unassuming joint is everything you’d hope/expect Mexico to be. Absolutely unpretentious and airy interiors with brightly painted walls and furniture, dim lighting, Spanish music that just does what it does to your hips, super friendly staff with big smiles plastered on their faces, great food and oh.. amazing craft beer. Their cocktails that kept floating about to the tables around also looked pretty damn nice I have to say. Certainly worth a visit if you are to find yourselves in Mexico City.
- El Pendulo- This café/bar is straight out of my dreams, let me establish that bit before everything else. Finding El Pendulo was serendipity at her finest. A cute café/bar in a breathtakingly beautiful book store. Breathtaking because of the number and selection of books coupled with how tastefully the whole place is done up. Imagine sitting in a bookstore alone, in a soft, comfy couch sipping on a pretty cocktail while you flip through the pages of a book so captivating that you can barely feel your limbs, because you’re just drifting farther and farther away into the world the writer weaves with every word. That is El Pendulo for you. The absolute best place for lone dates, unwinding, great beer, cocktails and super tasty Chilaquiles (crispy tortillas and shredded meat in a yummy cheese and chili sauce).
- Casa de Tono- This little joint is one the locals swear by and I knew exactly why, after a meal there. Walked into this very basic restaurant on a sunny afternoon while exploring that side of town on my own. There is absolutely nothing fancy about the interiors. Just a bunch of smiling faces ever ready to serve you with some authentic and downright local Mexican cuisine. They spoke zero English but still managed to have a conversation with me despite my Spanish that begins at Hola and ends abruptly at gracias; muchas gracias if I’m feeling fancy. That is how sweet the people are. Now for the food. My meal there comprised a plate of enchilada de pollo, a cold Corona and a lovely flan. Let me take a deep breath while I prepare myself to recollect that plate of divine enchiladas in that green salsa. Holy Moly that was hands down the best plate of enchiladas I have tasted to date. Top it with some of their incredible Habanero salsa, this is probably what heaven tastes like. However, beware! Their portions are enormous (forced me to stealthily unbutton my jeans AND waste half my beer. Oh the sacrilege!) Nevertheless, when in CDMX, Casa de Tono is a must MUST visit for authentic Mexican flavours.
- Mercado del Carmen- A wonderful concept which got me wishing that it was more popular all the world over. Mercado del Carmen is something like a food court but nothing close to the drab mall/multiplex food court pictures that pop up in your head almost instantly. A large hall of sorts, beautifully lit with warm, pretty lights, with food and alcohol outlets all around. There are big, wooden tables and benches arranged in the center. You have a great deal of options for food – steaks, Spanish food, Greek food, burgers, Mexican etc. And even a cocktail bar and a craft beer counter. It’s a place where people can chill for hours on end, maybe grab a snack or a cold beer while you chat away and still be spoilt for choices as far as main course is concerned. We had a super yummy Paella with a Mexican twang to it; your regular Paella, just with generous amounts of pork and chorizo in there. What’s there not to like, right?
- El Cardenal- For the days you’re feeling fancy. A gorgeous old house that has been converted into a classy restaurant, El Cardenal certainly lived up to the reviews on Trip Advisor. We had some traditional moles (the curry counterparts in Mexico. And made with a great variety of ingredients, some even as eyebrow raising as chocolate!) served with rice, which were outstanding but the real deal was the Flan that came in the end. Flan is somewhat like the Caramel Custard we are used to in India. A steamed dessert made of condensed milk, eggs and caramel. No words, best Flan yet. Period. Go to El Cardenal for the beautiful décor, the brilliant food and the God of Flan things. (sorry!)
- La Llorena Cantina- If I ever do own a café/bar, I am pretty sure it’s gonna look like La Llorena Cantina. The tastefully done cyan interiors, the indoor plants creeping across the ceiling, the comfortable wooden furniture, the fairy lights and the cute looking bar makes you want to spend hours at a stretch there and no prizes for guessing that’s exactly what I did there. Chanced upon this beauty of a place one late afternoon after a museum visit, as I was looking for a quiet nook to spend some time reading a book and hopefully sit by a window and sip on a cold beer (yes, I love beer and apart from white wine, that’s all I drink. Hope your doubts have been cleared haha.) And La Llorena Cantina was just perfect and delightful. Given the timing, I was the only one around apart from the cheery young boy and the owner of the joint, an attractive young lady sporting a very chic hairdo. Both of them were very warm and friendly and the boy even made it a point to check on me every now and then to make sure I wasn’t lonely I reckon. They have some amazing craft beer which I thoroughly enjoyed. I wasn’t exactly planning to eat there but the sweethearts they were, served a plate of yummy tostadas topped with guacamole, beans and deliciously spiced shredded chicken. And that too on the house! They also insisted that I try out some of their authentic Mexican Mezcal and gave me a shot, again on the house. They are supposedly known for their amazing Mezcal cocktails. Too bad I didn’t give them cocktails a try. I must stop but I absolutely loved La Llorena Cantina.
These were the places that caught my the most on our week long Mexican sojourn. But be informed, food is not all we did. Although it’s always the food on our trips that tickles the writer bone in me. There’s something indeed fulfilling for me when I put my culinary adventures to paper and I reckon you should know that by now. But having said that, here is a little sneak peek into some of the best moments spent in a place, the memories of which will forever be etched in my memory.
The Teotihuacan Pyramis
The National Museum of Anthropologie
Sightseeing around the city
Mercado de Ciudadadela (Market dedicated solely to ware sold by local artisans)
So, that’s about it about CDMX. Please as always write to me with all your thought. Until next time, ciao! 🙂