‘You are going to Mexico City..on your own’ they said. ‘Stay safe’! I pondered this on the way from the airport to my hotel after a few days in squeaky clean Orlando – Disney heaven to lots of fans – cheap food outlets breeding everywhere, the freeways choked with vehicles (rentals I was told by my son). It was clean and orderly. Approached at traffic lights by homeless or beggars, well worn vehicles, broken footpaths (possibly as a result of irregular earthquates), neglected buildings and somewhat crazy drivers.
Mexico City has a popularion of eight million which is Sydney and Melbourne combined and is huge but it has a total of twentytwo million in the sururban area. My hotel is centrally located and it is the starting point of my Intrepid Food Tour of Mexico. We spend a few days here and then head south.
I arrived a day early to acquaint myself with the area and take a hop on /hop off bus and wander around..albeit it in the daytime. I came across a delightful market selling the most extraordinary antiques in a street next to the hotel. Little did I know that Mexico City has the second highest numbers of museums after London. Galleries are profilic and of course the legendary art couple Frida Kahlo and Diego Rivera’s house is a popular attraction for locals and international visitors alike. Diego Rivera was a very profilic artist and his murals on display at the National Palace were awe inspiring.
Our group meets up and we head out for what was to be a ‘taco crawl’ but it was really a night at a taqueria where we sampled different types of tacos. The tacos are soft, warm, freshly made and small. Very different to ours in Australia which of course come packaged from the supermarket. I chose three different fillings, a spicy pork, a beef and out of curiosity one made of cactus which was served with a melted cheese not unlike a mozzarella. There were several salsas to add. The choices were up to you depending on your preference of flavour. Our guide said it is all about the salsa and the taquerias reputation for the flavours. Beers were on offer and juices including gauva which I enjoyed.
Another day in Mexico City with various options and we were headed for Pueblo a two hour trip by public bus. Pueblo has a reputation for wonderful food and its cuisine is a mixture of pre-hispanic and Spanish influenced fare including mole pobano, cemites (a type of crusty sandwich) and chiles en nogada which was a dish which incorporated meats and fruits with a white sauce and decorated with parsley and pomegranate seeds. It reminded me of a dish one might have at Christmas! Another attraction was ‘Sweet Street’ to sample camotes (these were yam flavoured sweets with fruits) I found them very sweet and perhaps could have been enjoyed on a cheese platter…similiar to a quince paste. My favourite was a shortbread biscuit with a pumpkin seed glaze.
Strangely what I enjoyed most in Pueblo and it is almost embarrassing to admit this was the Luche Libre show. For those unfamiliar with this ‘entertainment’ it is a spot combining wrestling and theatre. It was fun and the crowds really became involved with their favourite athletics. You may have seen it on a sports programe on television or not! More likely if you have a family of sports minded sons or husbands. Unfortunately we did not have sufficient time to visit the 43,000 book library
A five hour bus trip from Pueblo to Oaxaca was increased by a road block and sent us off on minor, bumpy roads throuh small villages which added to the interest of the journey.
Oaxaca is one of my favourite cities in Mexico and our hotel was once again centrally located and we were aroud the corner from a wonderful walking street with quirly galleries – both ceramic and art and book stores and coffee shops. Did I mention a bakery too with such an array of pastries and rolls. I purchased some pottery plates which I adore but carrying them around wrapped in newspapers an bubble wrap was not the wisest decision. But they arrived home safely as hand luggage for the four return flights albeit after being held up in immigration from Mexico to the US perhaps thinking I actually had a stash of something illegal hidden there. Speaking of souvenirs I found some colourful little hand painted animals which I found irrestibleable and fortunately a lot easier to carry than ceramics.
Tourism is a major generator of finance in Oaxaca with the city centre included in a World Heritage Site designated by UNESCO in recognition of its treasures of historic buildings and monuments.
We also had the priviledge of our one and only cooking classes in Oaxaca. But first things first. Breakfast! This consisted of hot chocolate and timbales – some wrapped in a corn husk and some in banana leaves. Then onto the market where we sampled cactus fruit, grasshoppers and a delicious Oaxacan cheese. Back to prepare lunch which consisted of moles – a traditional sauce with complex ingredients and usually with a protein and some fresh warm tortillas. The mole sauces had as many as twenty ingredients….tomatoes, chillies, cinnamon, garlic, onions, peanuts, raisins and even chocolate. We made out own tortillas, avocado icecream….the best, a soup with zucchini flowers and vegetables and four salsas ….one with insects. It was delicious
Perhaps my favourite meal in Mexico was at a rooftop restaurant close to out hotel. I wasn’t terribly hungry but the restaurant was recommended to us by our guide and a few of my fellow travellers were keen. I decided just to order a salad of tomato and goats cheese and followed it with a black bean soup. Simple flavours with delicious. Salsas were made at the table and we used tortillas to dip in the flavoursome dip. With no thoughts of ending the meal with a dessert I made the mistake of looking at the menu. Guava tart with rosepetal icecream was the best dessert I have had in Mexico. My friends were equally impreseed with their food, the professional service and maybe a margarita or beer.
Ironically it was that afternoon that I passed the restuarant that afternoon and was surprised ..no shocked to see a police car with uniformed men carrying AK47 which was only after earlier that day in a tourist street coming across the military with two young soldiers in the back of a van carrying machine guns. I was shocked though one of my friends said it was a regular site when she spent three months travelling through South America.
I will continue my travels through Mexico soon…..