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Mexico City for Gourmet Travelers

by Ana Valdes on 27/08/07 at 7:59 am

A deep travel into Mexican food from the time before Columbus arrived to the American continent.

I visited Mexico City for first time several years ago. The air was polluted and the noise of several millions of people talking and walking was deafening. The trip between the airport and the house of my friends had been a short one, the airport was in the middle of the city and the plane come so near the roofs you could see people sitting and watching television.

My hosts were a couple of Mexican Jews, emigrated from Russia fleeing from the progroms. They invited me to share a meal with their parents, an elderly couple. My friends were successful people, she was an anthropologist and he was an architect. They warned me about the food. The parents ate nothing other than heavy Jewish food, the food they were used to eat in Russia.

It was weird, I was going to eat Jewish traditional food in my first night in Mexico City. Gefillte fish, cabbage soup, falafel and metzke, flat bread and a caviar made with eggplants mashed with oil and salt. I was a bit disappointed and I asked my friends to take me later to a traditional Mexican restaurant.

How authentic Mexican do you want your food?, they asked me. I was a bit confuse, what did they mean?? I wanted tacos, enchiladas, quesadillas, chimichangas, chili con carne…

No, no, you are speaking about Tex Mex food, it’s what the Texans eat. And they tell the whole world it is the authentic Mexican food. It’s border stuff, Mexican food for Dummies. But if you want authentic Mexican food you should go for real pre-Columbian food, the food the Aztecas and the Toltecas ate before the Spaniards come to the continent. What kind of food is it?, I asked.

They drove to a little anonymous restaurant near the Zocalo, Mexico City’s main square, where the beautiful Christian cathedral was raised on the ruins of Templo Mayor, the place where the Aztecs revered Quetzalcoatl, the Snake God.

The customers of the restaurant were only local customers, talking loud, laughing and exchanging jokes with the cook. Several cauldrons were suspended from the ceiling with strong wires and snakes of different colors and shapes were kept in jars and glass boxes.

Alive, or course. My friends ordered some snacks made of maguey worms, called escamoles and a soup with snake meat. The grasshoppers were tasty and spicy, a flavor of chocolate and sweet spices. I saw the cook take a snake by the tail and performing a clean cut with a shiny and thin knife. He was a real artist, the snake snake struggled a bit but the knife was sharp and the body of the serpent was cut in several pieces, down to the cauldron where the water cooked. The taste was not so different from an eel and I tried to forget my aprehension.

My friends were stubborn, we should taste us through the whole menu, chapulines, grasshoppers fried with garlic and chilies, cuitlacoche, a wild mushroom fungus which infected the kernels of sweet corns and turn them gray or black, iguana, a kind of lizard, monkey. But I protested, the snake was enough. We ended the meal with pancakes filled with cajeta, a sweet jam made with goat milk and sugar.

The traditional Mexican food demands brave gourmets, I was a bit sensitive and missed the opportunity to improve my culinary culture.

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