Since 1978 I have been looking for Authentic Mexican Food in Mexico. The real, the undiscovered - by foreigners, anyway. The search for the miraculous, as my friend Stan likes to put it.
I never did find a guide book (or person for that matter) to help me, so I wrote one and became the guide myself. I have eaten my way through the capital as well as far beyond the D.F.'s borders, from Mérida to Monterrey. I've wined and dined in Polanco, eaten worms in Oaxaca, munched on armadillo in Chiapas, hitched and hiked and grifted, too. Still, certain simple (or not so simple) dishes, seemingly common, remain my favorites. Unrivaled examples of all of them are available within the confines of the Federal District. With a good metro map in hand I invite the reader to travel this mouthwatering inventory of Mexican classics.
I always ignored these seemingly calorie-laden bombs until I read an article asking famous Mexicans to name their favorite foods. That of alternative dramaturgue Jesusa Rodriquez was flautas. I had to find out more about them. They have since become my favorite antojito (corn-based snack). Elongated rolled tortillas (hence the name which means “flute”) are filled with potatos, chicken, cheese or barbacoa (roast lamb), deep- fried golden brown, then topped with cream and salsa verde, and sprinkled with grated queso fresco and shredded lettuce. For reasons unbeknownst to anybody, Flautas are usually served with caldo de gallina, a chicken soup better than any Jewish grandmother can make. My favorites come from a nameless stand in the Condesa on the west side of Calle Chilpancingo (fourth from the corner of Baja California by the metro Chilpancingo stop). Open Monday through Saturday, they do such a booming business that they have expanded into the facing storefront. A chilled mango Boing! is the perfect accompaniment.
Tostadas are the quintessential Mexican antojito. A crispy fried tortilla piled high with a meat (or fish) filling, then garnished with lettuce or cabbage, cream and salsa; there are infinate variations. Seafood tostadas can be especially spectacular.
In the middle of the Coyoacan market you’ll find a gastronomic art installation at Tostadas de Coyoacán – dozens of huge plates of mouth-watering tostada toppings. Shrimps, chicken, crab, mole, the list goes on. I start with their succulent lemony ceviche, topped with bright green salsa, then move on to pulpo, then maybe cochinita pibil...... I’ve eaten as many as four at a sitting, but I don’t recommend this. To drink, order agua de melón from the stand next door. (Be sure to choose only Tostadas de Coyoacán – their competitors are not as good.)
I love a warm hearty soup on a “cold” winter D.F. day (how dare I complain about the weather here…). Once I observed two shy campesinas, attired in home-made cotton dresses with rebozos draped over their shoulders, waiting patiently at the counter of the carnicería. When their turn came they asked for “una cabeza, por favor” (“a head, please”). The butcher looked at them quizzically (as did I) and asked what sort of head they needed. Their answer produced a huge, grinning pig’s head, which made even them laugh. “What will you do with it”, I queried? “Pozole, of course!” they replied.
Pozole, is the archetypal Mexican comfort food--a soup fit for a king. Basically, it’s a hearty meat broth, laced with chili and augmented with hominy (known as cacahuazintle in Mexico). The hominy is prepared by a process called nixtamalización, that is, soaked in lime, as for corn tortillas, which softens the kernels. Two blocks from Santa Maria de la Ribera’s groovy old Kiosko Moro is the extraordinary La Casa de Toño (Sabino 144), a pozolería set in a 19th-century mansion. Rich, red hominy laden pozole with all the trimmings is the specialty, although sopes. tostadas and other antojitos are also offered. At $34 pesos for a pozole grande you’ve got a real bargain, too. The appropriate maridaje is horchata..
“But eet ees confit!” my French friend exclaimed when I showed her a large copper cauldren where pork carnitas were bubbling away in their own fat. The good parts of the pig are roasted this way and chopped up to serve - hence the name "little meats". They should be eaten cloaked in a tortilla, with an array of red and green salsas, cilantro, onions and a squirt of limón, of course. I always order ‘maciza’ which gets you an assortment of pieces, mostly the less fatty, but a little crispy skin. A specialty of Michoacan, there are thousands of carnitas joints all over town, but finding a great one is a task. I was drawn by the crispy brown crust and roasty aroma of these porky treats at La Reina de la Roma, my current favorite. They’re located at Campeche 106 (in front of the Mercado Medellín) in Colonia Roma. Proper quaff would be a crisp refresco de manzana (in a vintage bottle), or beer.
'Mas mexicano que mole', goes the saying, and no food better represents the spirit of Mexico than this famous dark, rich and spicy sauce.”
Isn’t that the one made with chocolate?” people often ask when the subject turns to mole, but chocolate is the least of it. While some of the best known moles do indeed include chocolate amongst their many ingredients (the dark ones of Puebla and Oaxaca for example), many do not.
What is mole, really? The word derives from the nahuatl “molli” which means a sauce of ground chilies and nuts or seeds and spices. Perhaps coincidentally moler means to grind in Spanish. The Enciclopedia Gastronómica de México lists 37 varieties of moles from 21 states. It is generally agreed that mole is made of chilies, dried or fresh, spices, herbs, vegetables or fruit, and thickened with seeds, nuts or corn masa. Truly a celebratory dish, in most Mexican families it is reserved for special occasions. The tiny, atmospheric Fonda Mi Lupita, in business since 1957 on Calle Buentono 22, near Delicias in the centro offers only sweet, chocolate-y mole poblano; it is among the best in the city. Order chicken, either pechuga or pierna, or enchiladas, or simply mole with rice and tortillas, all served with the traditional garnish of raw onion rings, sesame seeds and crumbled queso fresco. They also have mole to take out.
A note to my readers: Forbes Magazine has recently named Mexico City one of the world's top five cities in which to eat well: click here for a link to the article
Text and Photos © 2009 Nicholas Gilman - all rights reserved.