blame it on rick bayless ...
A long, photo-heavy travel post ahead ...
It's 1996 (or so) and D and I meet Rick Bayless at a Food & Wine Festival in Florida. D's smitten with his food and we buy a cookbook. Over the years we buy more of his cookbooks and have more chances to eat his food. He seems passionate about Mexico (and it's food). It's infectious. And ... his recipes make yummy stuff. Jump ahead to more recent times ... we're back in the US and D's discovered Rick's show Mexico - One Plate at a Time on PBS, the wonders of a DVR, and an entire season dedicated to Mexico City. He tapes them all. Multiple times. And we watch 'em all. Multiple times. This pattern repeats for a year or so. And D starts talking about going to Mexico City more and more ...
Watching the city come into view, I'm struck by the haze. I'd read about the pollution. How they attempt to combat it. But was surprised that it was so thick it obscured the mountains ringing the city. That grey, overcast look to the photos isn't cloudy skies.
I'd read all sorts of things about travel in Mexico. Listened to a lot of advice. Some of it good, common sense advice, but most seemed a bit on the paranoid side (even more so in retrospect). I mean, there's a difference between being a smart, aware traveler and a paranoid American. And there were times when I thought my brain would explode if one more person said, in a derisive tone, "Why would you go there?"
Clearing customs was easy and the driver the hotel had arranged was waiting for us on the other side. We hit a bank machine before leaving the airport for Pesos and were off. Driving in cities doesn't phase me, but even I'll admit that it looked pretty insane from the backseat. There were people in the streets, music blaring from vendors lining the sidewalks, and people weaving around cars on foot. So much going on.
The hotel we used was in the historic center, on the Zocalo (the town square), and was lovely. Meshed in between a 7-11 and a jewelry store, you could easily miss the entrance if you didn't know where to look. A huge stained-glass ceiling. Old iron elevators (more for looks - there were modern ones too), red velvet chairs, and giant bird cages. (The birds seemed to sing constantly, until they covered the cages at night.) The rooms were small, but nice. The bed was hard as a rock though. *laugh*
It was early evening by the time we were settled into the hotel and out the door again. There was a large "gathering" on the square as Jose, the concierge, put it. (Read, political protest.) More music. Chanting we couldn't understand. Cheers. And a lot of police in riot gear. This may sound a little off-putting, but it wasn't. It seemed to ... fit.
We peeked in the Cathedral, mass was going on, so we didn't stay very long. We sat on steps a few doors down from this one and took it all in. Here's a few of my favorite photos from around the Zocalo that night ...
Food was next. We didn't have a plan for the first night (other than churros for dessert in celebration of D's birthday at some point). We picked a street and started walking. It didn't take a full block before something smelling yummy drew us in. Not speaking much Spanish, we didn't really know what it was. But ... what the heck. We walked in, ordered two of something, got two of something, and sat down to eat it ...
The tortillas were soft'ish. Filled with yummy stuff. Kinda' a paste-like texture, but not really a paste. Clear as mud? *grin* The one in front had chicken in it, very spicy. I was in heaven. The other was ... something else. Still yummy, more white in color, but less spicy. D and I shared 'em both, but I not-so-secretly wanted to make off with the one in front and have it all to myself. *wink*
We sat along the wall on stools pulled up to a small counter. Along the counters were tubs of spicy green sauce or carrots and jalapenos (which I didn't see until we were walking out or would have tried - I've never met a jalapeno I didn't like). The green stuff was so good. I hummed happily and did the happy food dance. The place was hopping.
We find my favorite food of the entire trip on the first night, not too far from the hotel. The place had no name that I ever saw posted. Just a guy and a spit of meat outside, a small selection of other stuff inside, and 6 seats along a counter.
Tacos al Pastor to die for. One for me, one for D. (But I wanted them both all to myself after the first bite. *laugh*) I've had these at home at the local Mexican joint. But they don't even come close. Man, oh man, I will miss these.
The early flight (the alarm went off at 4:30am) started catching up with us after tacos, round two. We walked back to the hotel and went up to the rooftop bar for a drink and a sit. Gorgeous views of the Zocalo.
Fortified by all the sitting we'd done at the hotel bar, we went back to the room to find El Moro (a churreria) on a map and figure out how to get there. Course plotted, we started walking. And ran across Ideal along the way. A bakery in a huge, pretty brick building. Tables set out with cookies, cakes, and breads. We watched what folks were doing, and did the same. We grabbed a tray, tongs, and picked up what we wanted to try. Took it to a gaggle of ladies in cute uniforms in the back (near a fountain) who wrote out a ticket. And took the ticket to a counter to pay while they wrapped up the goodies.
It's also worth mentioning that the bakery was hopping and it was 10:30pm. Not only were the bakeries hopping, the streets were still filled with people. Dinner time in Mexico City seemed to be around the 8-9pm hour. It's a night owl town. Which I loved. And by the end of our trip, it made total sense. It didn't take long to discover the heat and sun were pretty brutal from 3-5, at least to us. Most days we took a little break then and went back out once the sun started to set a little.
After the bakery diversion (said visit provided breakfast and snacks for the rest of the trip), we found El Moro with no trouble. Which simply rocked. Open 24/7, if you've ever been to New Orleans, think of it like a Mexican Cafe du Monde. Fresh churros and hot chocolates. That's all they sell. A gem we found out about because Rick Bayless happened to "tweet" about it. We ate yummy churros, watched the women in cute pink uniforms watch soaps when they weren't delivering the goods. (What seemed like 50's-style uniforms seemed to be the norm in a lot of places.)
D reports it was a great birthday. And our long weekend in Mexico City was off to a great start. Blame Rick Bayless.
More to come ...