If you have an adventurous palate, you will be rewarded in
I can’t say I had any authentic Mexican cuisine prior to this trip because the food that we associate with
What Mexican food lacks in presentation, it makes up for in bold flavors from unique spices. The basic ingredients are corn, tomatillo, chili, beans, Mexican oregano, chocolate and vanilla. And what is a cuisine without the staple carb? Naturally, for Mexicans, this would be the tortilla which are flat pancakes made of flour (more common for the northerners) or maize (which is more common in Mexico city and the south). Tortillas are usually served alongside most meals as bread would be but they are also rolled, fried, grilled, and baked and transformed into full meals.
Oh and the Mexicans love their salsa! They normally serve a variety of salsas on every table, regardless of what's ordered. The most common are salsa cruda (chopped raw vegetables), salsa verde (green tomatillos, cilantro and chilies), salsa de jitomate (cooked tomato sauce), salsa de chipotle (smoked jalapeno chilies in tomato sauce) and guacamole. They are great for enhancing the flavor of the dishes or giving it a "kick".
Top: Chilaquiles and Huevos Rancheros
Bottom: Mole Poblano and Flan
For my first ever Mexican breakfast or Mexican meal for that matter, I asked Katia as we sat in a booth in Vips what she recommends. And without blinking, she answered: Chilaquiles! So that's what I had. Chilaquiles is a favorite breakfast dish of tortilla chips layered with crumbled cheese, salsa, chicken, and topped with a fried egg. Now, breakfast is my favorite meal of the day and I can really consume freakish amounts of food in the morning but this plate was huge! I did, however, enjoy it immensely and almost wiped my plate clean. My chilaquiles had salsa verde which made me an instant fan of tomatillos, a tart vegetable (or is it a fruit?) that is native to Mexico, also called husk tomato because of its papery outer skin or jamberry. They are green in color but should not be confused with green unripe tomatoes.Another popular breakfast is huevos rancheros which are basically fried eggs on fried tortillas, smothered in a tomato sauce that is usually heated up with some chili. At this point, I am already loving the combination of egg, tortilla and salsa so I enjoy this breakfast just as much. Sometimes, like in the picture above, it may be accompanied by a serving of frijoles or beans which I adore! The Mexicans like to crumble cheese over soups and many of their dishes (as you can see in most of the photos above). Mexican cheese is soft, white cheese very similar to feta but not nearly as salty. What you are most likely to have crumbled on your dishes is cojita or panela.
Since I first read about mole sauce, I made it my mission to try it. A sauce made of chocolate and poured over turkey or chicken?! I was all over it. So when our guide took us to Pyramide Charlie's across from the pyramids of Teotihuacan for "the food that made the Aztecs great", I ordered the Mole Poblano which is Mexico's national dish. Mole sauce is a rich, dark sauce made with chilies, spices, nuts and bitter chocolate. The most famous mole sauce comes from the state of Puebla and thus called mole poblano. It is usally served over chicken or, more traditionally, turkey. So how was it? I really liked the sauce but I would have liked it better if it wasn't too thick. I would definitely order it again, but this time maybe try it in the enchilada form. By the way, did you know we have the Aztecs to thank for chocolate? It was regarded as the drink of the gods, and then brought to Europe from Mexico by the Spaniards.
In Mexico, the most common restaurants are called taquerias where tacos are the main fare. Not to be confused with cantinas which are casual bars that serve tequila with some antojitos (appetizers). El Lago de Los Cisnes (left) located on Prado Norte is one of the bigger taquerias in the city.
Yummy chicharon de queso
chicken, beef and pork tacos: the real deal
We had chicken, pork and beef tacos and prepared them with the condiments and different salsas that were laid out on the table. It was a glorious Mexican feast! I loved experimenting with different combinations: salsa verde with salsa chipotle, guacamole with salsa roja, salsa cruda alone, etc. They all complemented and enhanced the already flavorful meat fillings.
I couldn't resist ordering the Chile en Nogada (chile in walnut sauce) which looked very festive and inviting. It is another national dish usually served during Mexico's independence day, that proudly boasts the flag's colors of green (the stuffed roasted pepper), red (pomegranates) and white (creamy walnut sauce). All these ingredients came together in a very interesting and unique flavor and texture, which some found too sweet for their taste but enjoyed by those who, like me, enjoy sweet/savory dishes.
Another dish unique to Mexico is pozole, a favorite of Katia's. I could have sworn I took a picture but can't seem to find so I guess I didn't. Anyway, pozole is a wonderful soup which originated in the Jalisco region of Mexico. It's main ingredient is hominy, or whole maize kernels, and is cooked with pork, chili (of course!), other spices and served with a garnish tray of fresh ingredients which one can add to the soup according to his taste.
Finally, where would a post about Mexican food be without some mention of mezcal? We were given a free lesson about the agave or maguey plant (from which mezcal and tequila are made) during our trip to Teotihuacan. It was very interesting to learn about the multiple uses of this plant such as how the natives derived paper from it's leaves as well as natural needle and thread.
Aside from the mezcal (can you see the worm?) we also got to sample different types of tequila which were all surprisingly much smoother than the spirit I am familiar with and have a very strong aversion to and which conjures terrible memories of embarassing actions and painful mistakes, not to mention hangovers. The tequila is a type of mezcal but distilled specifically from the blue agave.
this sap from the agave is distilled to make mezcal and tequila
Up Next: Casa de los Azulejos (with more food photos)