20 Jan Please The Palate Pick of the Week: Food Tours with Eat Mexico
If you follow my travels, you know that I love food tours. I think they are the ideal way to get to know a city, especially one being visited for the first time. So, when I traveled to Mexico City for the first time this past week, I signed up for two food tours with Eat Mexico. Mexico City is known for its food scene but it can be quite overwhelming to know where to eat. In a city of 25 million people, there are hundreds upon hundreds of restaurants, as well as sidewalk grills, market stalls, taquerías, and cantinas. Eat Mexico was started in 2010 with the goal to do more than eat. It was started to use food to talk about Mexican food and culture and that is why Food Tours with Eat Mexico is the Please The Palate pick of the week.
Traditional to Contemporary: Santa Maria’s Hidden Gem
My first food tour was the “Traditional to Contemporary: Santa Maria’s Hidden Gems.” My guide for the Santa Maria La Ribera tour was Nico. Originally form Jalapa in Veracruz, Nico has a degree in culinary arts with specialty in food culture and history and worked as a cook for 13 years before offering food tours. Santa Maria La Ribera is the first suburb of Mexico City. When it was built in the 1800s, it was the first neighborhood outside of Centro but now is a central part of the city. It was home to the rich and the politicians until a train station connecting to the Pacific Coast was built in the late 1890s. Santa Maria became a hub, bringing people, material, and business. And, following the 1910 revolution, people seeking refuge in Mexico City arrived. The rich moved and renovated their homes into apartments. What was once the richest neighborhood because the poorest place in the city, home to immigrants, war refugees, and the poor. As Mexico City has grown, Santa Maria has gone through gentrification and today is home to an upper middle class. The history of this neighborhood has resulted in a variety of food. It is a micro version of the bigger city, offering inexpensive street food to fine dining.
As we walked around the neighborhood, Nico took me to stops to taste local dishes and learn the history behind them.
Stop 1: La Postre
Bakeries are popular in Mexico. But baking is an influence from the Spanish, who came to Mexico in 1521 and stayed for 300 years. Spain brought flour, milk, sugar, and eggs to Mexico. And then in the mid-1800s, after Mexican independence, Mexico had two governments, a democracy and a monarchy. The head of the monarchy was part of the Austrian monarchy and hence Austria, and France, influence resulted in richer, sweeter pastries.
Concha, a soft and sweet bread with a sugar crust that resembles a seashell, is popular in Mexico City. At La Postre, the Concha rellena nata is a concha filled with nata (clotted cream) and I enjoyed it with a Mexican Hot Chocolate.
Stop 2: Tamales Cintli
Tamales Cintli is a family owned business that stared with a corn on the cob cart on the street. As the family grows their own corn, their quality was excellent. They started to make tamales and sell them on their cart. But demand for the tamales resulted in the family outgrowing the cart and opening up a small space.
Nico explained that tamal is more of a method than a dish. Numerous ingredients can be used as filling in the corn masa dough which can be wrapped in corn husks, leaves, or banana leaves, depending on where in the country they are made.
The corn wrapper is typical in Central Mexico and I enjoyed one filled with beef, cactus, and salsa verde.
Banana wrapped tamales are found in coastal and tropical regions and I enjoyed one filled with pork, tomato, chipotle sauce, and oja santa herbs.
Stop 3: Casa Chacon
Every neighborhood in Mexico City has a Mexican market where you can find everything from fish, veggies, and meats to supplies and more. Casa Chacon has been in this market since 1949, which actually predates the market. The family has a farm and raise their own sheep for barbacoa. The sheep meat wrapped in agave leaves is slowly cooked underground with hot charcoal. It cooks until the meat falls off the bone and then the meat is chopped up and put in a taco. They also put a pot filled with water, rice and chickpeas underneath the meat to capture all of the juices and make a barbacoa consomme.
Stop 4: Xuva’
Xuva’ is a restaurant in Santa Maria. Xuva’ means Oja Santa in the native tongue of the chef who is from Oaxaca. Xuva’ features dishes that represent the chef’s culture of Oazaca.
At Xuva’, I enjoyed a Tetela, a masa base filled and then folded into triangle. Tetela are usually filled with beans or cheese. The one I had was filled with beans and herbs from Oaxaca. It was topped with cheese, cream, and squash blossoms, as well as a dark sauce made from chicatana, an ant full of glutamine acid, a precursor of msg. Chicatana tastes like miso, anchovies, or parmesan without the saltiness.
Xochimilco Food Tour and Boat Ride
The other food tour I took was to the neighborhood of Xochimilco, located about an hour southeast of Downtown Mexico City. Xochimilco is known for its farms and canals. On this tour, we visited two markets and I was introduced to a few more dishes with my guide Tonalli.
Tlacoyos, a Prehispanic Mexican dish made of a thick corn tortilla stuffed with mashed black beans, cooked on a griddle, and served with different toppings such as salad, salsa, and cheese.
Aguas frescas, which means “fresh waters”, are light non-alcoholic beverages made from fruits, cereals, flowers, or seeds and blended with sugar and water. We enjoyed Tamarind and Lime aguas frescas which are served in cups or in plastic bags with straws for on-the-go.
Seafood Empanada and Taco
Crunchy and crispy, the empanada was stuffed with shrimp and avocado and the taco was filled with salmon.
An ancestral Mexican beverage, pulque is made from fermented maguey sap and contains alcohol. At the pulquería, we tasted pulque alone which is a bit like kombucha. We also tried two flavors, one was celery and the other was spearmint.
Eat Mexico offers a variety of tours to explore Mexico City’s food scene and I highly recommend them for anyone going to Mexico City.