4 Delicious Places to Visit in Mexico City
I recently traveled to Mexico City to visit family for a week, with two goals:
- Spend quality time with family I don’t see nearly often enough
- Eat my weight in tacos
Both goals were accomplished – and quickly.
Growing up in a small town in southern Texas on the border of Matamoros, Mexico influenced my palate and desires more than I would have thought. Enveloped in hispanic culture for 17 years, I stubbornly refused to eat Mexican food because I didn’t like beans, pulled meats, or salsa because it had tomatoes in it. I only ate plain cheese quesadillas with a squirt of lime juice.
Fast forward to now and I am a much more adventurous eater, though I stretch it everyday. My favourite meals are spicy, contain lime, with savoury meats and beans. Much of what I now gravitate to reveals where I grew up. Since leaving hispanic culture and coming back to Canada, I have sorely missed Mexican food and jump at the chance to visit Mexico whenever I can.
Experiencing new food is the best part of traveling. Period.
Visiting Mexico again and eating Mexican food for a week was a kind of coming-to-terms with two sides of myself – the older side who didn’t like Mexican food and the more adventurous food lover that I’ve become. While in cosmopolitan Mexico City, I was fortunate enough to visit a nearby market, small taquerias, a French bistro, a gorgeous restaurant in a renovated hacienda, and a rooftop restaurant with views of the mountains.
Mexican food is so much more than simply beans, rice, and tortillas. It is native food mixed with Spanish, German, and other European influences. Much can be learned from visiting markets and eating what the locals eat. We are all people who connect through meals, sharing food, sharing life experiences, sharing joy in that perfect first bite of a crunchy piece of bread, a savoury stew, or a sweet, icy dessert.
Mercado El Chorrito
Walking to the market after lunch, the streets are packed with small parked cars on either side. There’s barely any foot traffic. The market is close by and is cool and clean with wide aisles and vendors on all sides. We walk down ceramic tiled steps from the street until I am struck by the smell of raw and cooked meats, fresh tortillas, and cut mangoes and papayas. It is quiet. Today, we are browsing, getting a feel for the shops and what they sell.
The vendors aren’t calling their wares; they are busy cleaning up after the morning rush of shoppers. There’s an industrial tortilla press to my left and I pause to take a picture, inhaling the scent of fresh flour tortillas and marveling at the speed of the machine and the woman packing them.
The market looks like any indoor market you would find in another country, were it not for the ceramic tiled floors and chalkboards written in Spanish.
The weather in Mexico City is gorgeous, compared to the snow and slush here in southern Canada. The five of us are sitting on the patio of a French restaurant named Bistro Bec, a favourite of my grandparents’, drinking wine and eating our appetizers. I have chosen a thick, rich, “French” onion soup. The soup is so thick, it could have been an onion gravy. The cheesy bread on top is soaking up the flavour from the onions and stock. As my main course, I choose mussels in the creamiest white wine sauce I have ever tasted. The taste of the mussels was a bit hidden in the white wine sauce but the flavour still came through.
We are surrounded by the noise from the street, approached every few minutes by someone new selling wares or asking for money. It is typical in Mexico to spend a few hours for lunch, drinking and talking.
Balcon de Zocalo
We walk to lunch at Balcon de Zocalo in the historic city center of Mexico City, order a bottle of wine, chosen by my Grandpa, and opt for a five-course tasting menu – a first time for all of us. Balcon de Zocalo is a modern Mexican restaurant serving seasonal contemporary cuisine using traditional Mexican ingredients from all regions of Mexico.
Before the main course comes a chocolate butter with fresh baked bread and salt granules. We try pulque bread, slightly sweet and fermented, bolillo bread (pillowy soft in the middle with a crunchy crust) and traditional ingredients in reimagined ways like the ant larvae taco and grasshopper mayonnaise on a tuna tartar taco with a shrimp cracker.
The taste isn’t unpleasant – but the thought of eating ant eggs and feeling them pop in my mouth is difficult to reckon with while eating. The tuna tartar taco is easier on my stomach and more pleasing to my tongue. The shrimp cracker, made from fully reduced shrimp until it became a crispy white fluff, is potently shrimpy and the most surprising part of the taco.
I’ve seen dishes like these served on Chef’s Table, small plates with perfectly executed ingredients, a story behind each dish, and the most modern gastronomic techniques. If you haven’t tried a tasting menu at such a restaurant, I highly recommend it! It is truly a thrill to experience the height of gastronomic culture and a particular chef’s interpretation of their cuisine.
Pyramids of Teotihuacan Tequila, Mezcal, & Pulque Tasting
The major excursion during the trip was visiting the pyramids of Teotihuacan, a little over an hour’s drive outside of Mexico City. As part of our tour package, we took part in a tequila, mezcal, and pulque tasting after scaling the pyramids. Tequila and mezcal both come from the Agave plant and are produced in the same way, both cooked then distilled but mezcal is much smokier. The agave plant, when making mezcal, is cooked in underground pits and develops a smoky flavor that stays through the distillation process.
Pulque is made from the sap of the agave plant and is fermented and slightly sweet tasting. Learning about the differences between these liquors was fascinating and so much fun! To get a feel for a new place, you must also take part in the drink culture. Mexico is a land that likes its tequila and mezcal.
I opened my taste buds to new flavours and ingredient combinations. I opened my mind to a different way of eating. I opened my heart to people who live a vastly different life – and yet – one that is not so different. I definitely recommend a visit to Mexico City and will hopefully be returning in the coming years. Next time, I’ll check out Lucha Libre, the famed wrestling match!
Where did you last travel to, and what was your favourite thing you ate? Tell me in the comments below or on Instagram @finnyfromscratch!