If there is one thing that stands out as my top reason for adoring Mexico, it’s the country’s collective affinity and dedication to their traditional cuisine, classic flavors and quality ingredients. No matter age, gender, social status or level of education, food is a central part of their being. Their reason to live. And with so many savory, sweet and succulent dishes, it’s easy to understand why food plays an integral role for Mexicans.
Thanks to my maternal grandmother, real food was a principal ingredient in my childhood, but it wasn’t until I lived in Mexico that my love for food deepened in a profound and significant way. The seasonality of foods became more robust. And the seasons were punctuated with foods that were only available for a few weeks each year.Whether it was the algas (seaweed) and langostinos that are only available at the end of the rainy season or the percebes that are quickly and quietly savored during the end of the year holidays as if they are a gift, Mexico taught me to celebrate world-class ingredients and eat them at their peak of freshness.
After returning from a 10-day excursion throughout central Mexico that started in Mexico City, now known as Ciudad de Mexico, we took a southern turn into Cocoyoc, a lateral move over to Puebla for a day, another day in the artisan village of Tepoztlan and then circled back to our New York City in Mexico–Mexico City. These adventures afforded us with an overwhelming array of textures, colors, sights and flavors to savor. Here are some of the top dishes and zestiest experiences:
Tequilitas (Herradura Reposado, gracias) con sangrita (a chaser of tomato, orange juice and chile to sip after you swallow the tequila) to make our transition into DF, or Ciudad de Mexico. We were then escorted to Entremar where we were graciously served by three or four meseros (waiters)–who rarely missed a beat. They brought us a typical fish estilo-Zihuatanejo (where we once lived and loved), called pescado a la talla, and pulpo (octopus), along with several required tequilitas and sangritas.Though we tried to make a reservation at Contramar, it was a Friday and there were no reservations available, so they suggested their sister restaurant, Entremar–which they claim has the same menu. And there we landed for our inaugural lunch in the traffic-infested capital city of 20 million people in a country we called home for more than five years. It was good to be en casa otra vez (home again).It was a clear day on the verdant and mountainous drive to Puebla. As we neared the very industrial, colonial and sparking clean city, we gasped as we passed the extraordinarily spectacular Popocatepetl volcano.
We were equally entranced with the Spanish art and architecture, the churches, the beauty of the edible candy, the Talavera pottery and cobblestone streets of Puebla. To soak in the scene that is the zocalo, where everyone gathers in Puebla and passes through, where balloons are sold, where the giant fountain soothes the senses and blocks out the city’s noise, where benches are filled with ages young to old, where people are walking hand-in-hand and kissing, where people are on their way to work or back from school, we gave into our usually rigid epicurean drive and settled in at the Hotel Royalty where we dined on traditional Pueblan dishes including escamoles (ant eggs), chalupas and the famous pollo con mole–all while two musicians played the (somewhat annoying) marimba. This was as close to the heart of the Pueblan people we could get and it was a calming rush that is and always will be the Mexico we treasure.
On another day, after a relaxing yet invigorating sports massage, I strolled the immense and impressive grounds of the historical Hotel Hacienda Cocoyoc, which dates back 200 years before the Aztecs became the dominant ruling group. This was subsequently the home of Hernan Cortes and his wife, Isabel, who happened to be the daughter of Moctezuma II (also known as Montezuma), the Aztec ruler in 1521. It is expansive and palatial and I can only imagine how impressive it was hundreds of years ago.
After the market, we celebrated with a cafe au lait at Cacao, a quaint coffee and chocolate shop located on the back side of the market.
After relaxing a bit and allowing the cafe au lait to work its magic, we walked across the street to join our friend and a meet few new friends for a supreme interpretation of vegetarian ramen at TepozRamen.
And because coffee and dessert are a must when in Mexico, we returned to Cacao for a cold chocolate Oaxacan drink along with a sampling of their exquisite and delectable truffles and assorted chocolates.
Back in DF, it was a long overdue (15 years and one week to be exact) reunion with una de mis mejores amigochas y hermana de mi alma (best friends and soul sisters). There were tears, laughter, love and so much joy.
Since it was Friday again, we ventured for mariscos and decided on Fisher’s. We arrived to a full house of young professionals with loud music and a serious heartbeat. We were led to a table in the center of the expansive room and so began the reunion. Carpaccio de atun was one of the best selling appetizers in our restaurant years ago, so that was an easy decision.
The ceviche was almost as good as Sabino’s, our chef in Zihua.
But the pulpo con ajo (octopus with garlic) and robalito (snook) were our favorites as they were fresh, flavorful and fabulous.
Again, because cafe is mandatory when dining with friends in Mexico, we drove 30-minutes to savor the perfect cup of coffee and dessert in La Loma. And the last stop was an unforgettable visit to a Cuban corner cantina where all of the hot shot attorneys gather to relax, eat, and drink on Friday nights. The night was filled with characters and laughter about our old memories and loving the new.
Culminating our deep dive into our home away from home was breakfast fit for kings and queens with friends at La Hacienda de Jamaica. Since I had a breakfast dish named after me on the menu at our resort, Heather’s Egg White Omelette, I went with the desayuno light option, an egg white omelette filled with spinach and mushrooms. My friends had the classic chilaquiles and David opted for the huevos that were covered in something similar to a mole sauce. We were all thrilled with our breakfast and patiently awaited what came next.
To make our “last supper” in Mexico even more magical, mariachis played a few of our favorite songs and we all sang along and reveled in the moment. My friend knows me so well–in my world, there are few things mariachis can’t cure…
Before we were lovingly chauffeured to the airport, we took a quick jaunt through the nearby and famous Mercado de Jamaica to see the massive market that specializes in flowers. With Dia de los Muertos (Day of the Dead) a week away, this market is the “go to” mercado for alter flowers and it was buzzing with people and a vibrant energy. Whether you want arrangements or flowers to arrange yourself, the selection is immense, colors abundant and unbelievably fair prices.
It was a magnificent trip as we reconnected with old friends, made some new ones and reignited our deep, deep affection for everything Mexican. The food, the people, the culture, the history, the rich traditions and the inherent joy and overwhelming happiness that everyone embodies.
As we reengage in our everyday lives in Santa Fe, New Mexico, it’s time to scale back our culinary consumption for a few days (or a few weeks) and revel in the beauty of a country we left behind–where I always leave a serious chunk of my heart.
I miss the plates of ripe papaya that lure you like a magnet to the breakfast table.
I miss the hot and fresh corn tortillas that you fill with grilled fish or pulpo (octopus) or use to sop up the ubiquitous salsa verde or mole. I miss the mandatory tequilita (or two) with lunch and the obligatory and exquisite cafe after.
And I miss the open air mercados filled with anything and everything you can imagine–from clothes, natural sea sponges and baskets to fruits, vegetables, meats and more.
These heart-warming and delicious memories are enough to keep me sated for a while because eating like you’re on vacation every day comes with a price–even if it is real food prepared simply and seasoned to perfection. For now, it’s time to step away from the table.
The best way to travel and learn about another country and culture is to eat like a local. And, that we did, thanks to our gran amigos.
To honor our 10-day trip and the amazing meals we had, here are a few links to some of the traditional Mexican dishes that have been featured on the blog. From beverages to appetizer, salad and salsas to main and side, the menu is here. All you have to do it make it and treat your friends and family to an authentic Mexican meal at home.