Published on April 1st, 20176
MEXICO: Sips and Eats
My one-and-only reason for hopping on another silver cigar-tube and heading to Mexico so soon after my marathon in the Balkans was ONLY to see those bazillion Monarch butterflies before they flew off to Canada for another year. But that doesn’t mean I didn’t make the utmost good use of my brief time in Mexico City.
Questiion is – with but a day and a half to explore one of the World’s most extraordinary cities, where does one even BEGIN?
The museums? The art? The markets? the ancient Aztec ruins? Nosiree, none of the above. While no doubt all those things would prove fascinating, with such limited time – my first thought was F-O-O-D. Indeed, while there are many reasons why I travel, sampling local cuisines is among my foremost passions.
I’d done my research, and had already signed on to an evening of mezcal tasting, along with a full afternoon of sampling the locale cuisine on a food tour upon my return from the butterflies. As for the latter, I’d dithered between a choice of two tours offered by Sabores (rated #2 on TripAdvisor, and among the more economical), each with an entirely different array of unique foodie stops.
The Sabores’ Historic Center Food tour leaned towards traditional Mexican eats including open-air markets and crunching on exotics from the insect world (think grasshoppers, crickets – both of which I’ve sampled a’plenty in Asia). And of course living here in Cuenca, I’m no stranger to local mercados – after all, I shop in them most ever day. So in the end I’d opted for Sabores’ more contemporary food tour amid the trendy Roma District.
But there was one stop on the Historic Center tour that really intrigued me – the “Dulcería de Celaya”, founded in 1874 and apparently filled with all manner of exotic sweets. So I’d Googled for the address, and on my first morning in CDMX I skipped out of my hostel to visit the tiny shop on my own. Turns out, the shop was but a couple of blocks from my hostel (which itself, was most conveniently located nearly ON TOP of the Metropolitan Cathedral), and…
…coincidentally, whilst gaping at the sweets in the shop’s window, I bumped into 2 lovely lasses from NYC – accompanied by the guide for the Sabores Historic Center food tour! While the Dulcería goodies were a bit “gringo priced”, I did buy a few sweets to take home to my chums and neighbors in Cuenca. I verily SWOONED when I tasted the “Limon con Coco” morsels – a yummy macaroon-type mixture stuffed into candied lime shells. Apparently one of artist Frida Kahlo’s favorite sweets – I found the recipe online, and fully intend to try making some myself.
And upon my early afternoon return by bus from the mountains, I had a few spare hours before my evening of mezcal tasting, so I again set out on a my own to sample some of the CDMX street food (and grab a couple quick geocaches while I was at it, of course!)
Later, I met up with a small group for my Mariachi and Mezcal Tasting tour. And I have to say – though I’m generally not a nightlife kinda gal (much less a boozer) when I travel, for just $25 the “tour” proved to be the perfect way for a solo lass to spend an evening in a strange foreign city.
We met our guide (also named Diane) outside the Palacio de Bellas Artes (magically aglow in the night) and headed on foot to Plaza Garibaldi, famous for its nightly array of eclectic mariachi bands. The eats were tasty, and the mezcal? Likewise smooth and silky down-the-hatch.
Quite different from tequila (which – by law – is made from the single “blue agave” plant), mezcal can be concocted from a variety of agave plants which results in a wider range of mezcal flavors. I tasted three different mezcals, and my favorite? “pechuga” – yup, that’s “breast” in Spanish! And nope, you can’t make this stuff up! Apparently there’s a whole (prized) class of “mezcal de pechuga” – made when “a finished mezcal is re-distilled with local fruits, grains, and nuts, and a raw chicken or turkey breast is hung over the still, cooking in the emanating vapors supposedly adding to the spirit’s final flavor.”
Also, unlike tequila, which tends to be chugged in a single “shot”, mezcal’s more smokey flavor is said to be best “kissed”, i.e. savored slowly in sips, as you would fine whiskey or cognac. And then there’s the side accouterments – instead of tequila’s ubiquitous salt and lime, with mezcal it’s a nice sweet orange wedge with… um, would you believe – ground WORMS?
And if sucking on ground worms isn’t quite enough excitement for you – how ’bout a “shock” of electricity? Yup, a lad was wandering around the cantina with his portable shocker machine, and for a mere 2 bucks we all held hands and let that sucker buzzzzz through all of us at once!
Geez, more than a THOUSAND words here already – an I’ve not even yet shared the main event: my amazing Roma Food Tour!
Suffice it was absolutely FABULOUS! My last (and only full) day in Mexico City, and I honestly couldn’t have picked a better way to spend the afternoon. Another tiny group (a young couple from Washington D.C. and myself) and Paula our guide (a culinary student that plans to be a food journalist one day) was chock full of foodie, as well as cultural, and historic trivia as we ambled through the lovely Roma neighborhood
The food? Amazing and bountiful! Each stop so well timed, and each tasting so beautifully presented and tasty. We visited seven different restaurants and sampled more than a dozen eclectic sips and eats.
The pics tell the story:
Saving the best for last – my favorite stop was at the end – a full-blown coffee tasting (with each our own tray of assorted tasting paraphernalia) that included sippings before and after a taste of honey/coconut and raisins/nuts – in both an “open” and a “closed” glass.
(btw, note the reduced price of coffee – by simply adding a cheerful “Buen día” and a “por favor”. That’s the way it is down here in Latin America – a little politeness goes a long way.
For this die-hard DIY independent traveler – such organized, small group day tours can nonetheless be not only great fun, but excellent value. Indeed, there’s no way I could have sampled as many Mexico City restaurants in a single afternoon on my own. And between gaping in awe at those bazillion butterflies in the mountains, and my amazing sips and eats in CDMX this quick skip into Mexico proved to be the perfect little getaway!
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