The Bizarre But Tasty Flavor Combos of Mexico City Food

My dia de muertos altar

I created this little altar (ofrenda) from some of the stuff I’ve been buying these past few weeks.

In the center is pan de muertos — a delicious, lemon-infused pastry doused with sugar. The top of each pan has a design that looks a bit like a skeletal spider. They are for sale all over the place right now. If you’re a bit shy of trying new “ethnic” foods, it’s a good one to try — it’s a simple pastry. Just make sure to get fresh ones.

If you didn’t like pan de muertos, but were craving pastries (who doesn’t crave pastries??), you’d be out of luck in a lot of bakeries and grocery stores right now. It’s basically one of the few things for sale.

Which brings me to my point: When you go grocery shopping in Mexico City, or when you eat out at a restaurant, you’re often treated to a whole new way of eating, and you have to be ready for anything.

Last night, for example, we ate at a restaurant that served their little tiny pastor tacos in corn tortillas, with shredded radishes, onions and hot thin slices of pineapple. That’s right — hot thin slices of pineapple. How was it? Incredible! Once you’ve had it, you wonder why wasn’t it always served with grilled pineapple.

And, right now, I’m drinking “flavored” diet water — there are more flavors of diet water than you could possibly imagine. This bottle, at first glance, looks like lemon-lime flavored water. But once I took a sip, I thought “is that cucumber?” and I checked the label more closely and spotted the tiny cucumber slice.

How does it taste? Also incredible. Brendan and I also have become big fans of jamaica (hibiscus) flavored water and tea. Who knew that hibiscus — which grows all over the place in tropical areas — was so delicious?

Near Freezing Temps Prompt Bitching in Mexico City

Compared to every place I’ve ever been, the climate in Mexico City is as about as perfect as you could want for an urban location. Most days the high is in the upper 70s and the lows are in the mid 50s. That means, yes, no need for air conditioning, and as long as you have a big comforter, no need for heat, either.

How does it stay so mild year-round? We’re at about 7,500 feet. Elevation keeps things cool, even when (relatively) nearby places like Veracruz and Acapulco are sweltering. (This also means that huge pine trees and even larger palm trees grow right next to each other, in abundance. It’s odd.)

But, for the last few days, it’s been pretty darn cold for a city that’s well within the Tropic of Cancer, prompting an exorbitant amount of whining from residents. On Mexico City’s equivalent of the Today Show this morning, a reporter stormed into a cafe known for its hot chocolate and churros (delicious fried dough sticks) and demanded that diners discuss the cold weather. Last night, our Spanish tutor arrived wearing a winter coat, gloves and earmuffs, chirping a slew of winter weather vocabulary words for us to learn. And the cashier at the grocery store had her thick turtleneck pulled up over her nose and ears, and shivered the entire time we were checking out. She was indoors. In sum, every single person I’ve talked to in the past week has bitched about the weather.

Witnessing only the actions, words and appearances of chilangos (locals), you’d assume it was perhaps below zero outside. But, in reality, yesterday’s high/lows were:

Max Temperature
62 °F
Min Temperature
37°F

OK, so I’ll admit, it’s cold, especially at night. But, it’s still really nothing compared to the average wind chill in New York or Minnesota, in say, February.

So, if for some apocalyptic reason, it ever really did get down to, I don’t now, 4 degrees F, I would be very curious to see what the chilangos would do — because they’ve already blanketed themselves in the type of winter gear you see in New York in the new few months.

Charlie Is Moving to Mexico

Carlito

After a long wait, my dog is finally arriving in Mexico tomorrow, courtesy of my fabulous husband, who traveled all the way to Minnesota to fetch Charlie (Carlito as he will be now known.) I’m keeping my fingers very crossed that the importation goes fine at the airport manana.

Here’s shown frolicking with a friend of my sister-in-law’s. He’s always done “cute” very well, no?

Holy Wow Photos — aka Mexico Is Colorful

Holw Wow - Cosmovitral in Toluca Mexico

It’s been two weeks since we moved to Mexico, and already I feel like I have never taken such colorful photos before. Everything is bright, sunny, illuminated. Even with sunglasses on, I’m always squinting, mouth agape, as I stare at some new incredibly vivid scene. I hope this feeling of “I’m on vacation, right?” never ends.

Case in point: The fantastic, out-of-this-world botanical gardens, Cosmovitral in Toluca, Mexico. When you’re inside, you forget all about the plants, and fixate entirely on the stained glass… Continue reading

Photos of the Sugar Skull Market in Toluca, Mexico

Calavera Skulls Dia de los Muertos

Next week is one of Mexico’s biggest holidaysdia de Muertos or Day of the Dead. For a long-time American like me, it can be hard to separate it from Halloween, but the two holidays are quite different. Dia honors and celebrates the passing of loved ones, by having an annual funeral of sorts for everyone you’ve ever loved, topped off with a festive tone.

Today I visited one of the country’s largest markets for Muertos goods and handicrafts in Toluca, Mexico, about 50 kilometers from Mexico City. It’s called the Feria del Alfeñique y Dulce Tradicional de día de Muertos.

And, yep, I took lotsa photos: Continue reading

Another Skill Mastered: Ordering Take-Out in Mexico City

Mi esposo esta en Washington D.C. esta semana para viaje de negocios. Estoy sola para cinco dias, pero estoy ocupada con mi trabajo. Tambien, estoy teniendo cenar con mis amigas, Susana y Nancy, manana noche, y estoy vistando Toluca con “Newcomer’s Club of Mexico City” en jueves para comprar calaveras para Dia de los Muertos!

Not only is Brendan out of town (sniff sniff) I’ve also been sick with a bad cold for the past two days (more sniff sniff), subsisting on ramen noodles, cereal, water and sleep. Late this afternoon, my appetite returned — no surged. But I was in a bit of a quandary: I could either go to the grocery store to buy more ramen, or I could try ordering food to go — in espanol. Thanks to our tutor, I knew how to do that.

I was craving the food from my new favorite diner: Klein’s in Polanco. It’s a little touch of the gran manzana aqui en cuidad de Mexico. There’s even a star of David on the wall, although it is not kosher. Brendan and I ate there this weekend, after a long day of looking at apartments and Spanish tutoring. We both ordered hamburgers and fries. (My first burger in about 5 years, I’d guess – I gave up vegetarianism recently).

So, tonight, I decided to join the living and walk over to Klein’s and proudly and correctly ordered mi comida to go. Woohoo! It went flawlessly, which is rare for me.

“Puedo llevarse mi comida?” is (roughly) how you ask the waiter to get your food to go. “Servicio a domicilio?” is what you ask if you call and want to know if they can deliver.

Here’s my delicious, triglyceride loaded bounty:
Big Fat Burger

The Coffee at Starbucks in Mexico City Tastes…

…disappointingly similar to the coffee at Starbucks in New York City.

The baristas also speak better English than the baristas in New York City, and the decor is freakishly similar as well, right down to the little salt shakers filled with nutmeg or cocoa, and the calming yuppie music playing quietly in the background.

I had to force the barista to speak to me in espanol.  And if you’re wondering, I demanded that he tell me that iced coffee in espanol is “cafe con helado.”

(Also, we learned a great tip this weekend — ice at restaurants is safe to drink if it’s not cubed (homemade). Big, round, commercial looking ice is safe to have in your beverages.)

Uniquely Mexico Moment: Eating Gourmet Food with No Electricity

I’ve already learned that life in Mexico is juxtaposed between being a place of convenience and being a place deserving of “developing nation” status. Cast in point: We have high-speed internet service, but the tap water is not safe to drink.

Last night, we ran across another uniquely Mexican high-low moment as we dined at the super luxurious Aguila y Sol in the upscale (think Upper East Side of Manhattan) neighborhood of Polanco. The restaurant, located next to Hermes, Gucci, Tiffany, and Louis Vuitton, specializes in “new” Mexican cooking, using elements of millennia-old recipes (tamales, for ex) in a new (gourmet) setting. We read about Aguila in this NPR article, which MOST IMPORTANTLY, has the wrong address, an error that forced us to arrive a half-hour past our reservation, although we managed to get a table. The address is 227 — not 127 — Emilio Castelar.

As we tried the ceviche de pina colada, and sipped our margaritas made with fruits I’ve never heard of, it started to storm outside, complete with lightning and thunder. Jeremy and Nancy, our dinner companions, told us how, in many parts of the city the electricity goes out from even relatively mild storms. How it’s basically a fact of life.

Not long after, the lights began to flicker, although they never stayed off for too long while we were eating. We took the elevator down to the lobby (and I tried not to envision us stuck in total blackness, suspended between floors), and once we got to lobby, the power went out completely.

While alarming, it also was a little bit fun (I think they call it schadenfreude) to watch Mexico City’s extremely rich (and beautiful, I might add – wow) get ushered from their Range Rovers to the front door, only to walk into complete and mysterious darkness, standing by us — lowly journalists — as they waited for the elevators to start working again.

And, happily, we were able to call a taxi and get home quickly in the rain, and watch the Red Sox win.