The Old Country – Eating Spanish in the City

España. The word alone has a plethora of implications here – history, conquest, blood and glory. As many as 80% of Mexicans today can trace their lineage back to the mother country, and, perhaps, 10% are of pure Spanish descent. Mexico’s culture is influenced on every level by lo español, from art to music to language and food. With the conquest, the great mestizo culture, the blending of the indigenous and European, was born. The Spaniards brought plants and animals to the continent that no one knew: olive oil, rice, wheat, sugar, apples, oranges, cattle, pigs, sheep, goats, and chickens. Cooking techniques such as stewing and frying in oil or animal fats were not known before the conquest. Spanish foods and culinary concepts were in turn influenced by the Moors and Sephardic Jews.
More recently, many Spaniards and their families came as exiles from Franco’s dictatorship, welcome by Mexico’s post-revolutionary open door policy.

Artist Jaime Montes, 50, was born in Mexico to parents from Galicia, in Spain’s northwest, where he spent summers with his family. He grew up eating both Mexican and typical Galician dishes. “My folks were typical. They had to have foods that weren’t available here. My father smoked sausages on the roof and made wine with a couple of other ex-pats. My mom grew berza [a green used in the famous soup caldo gallego] in flowerpots.” Nowadays a trip to the San Juan market or even the 'super' will satisfy most discerning cooks.

My introduction to Spanish food was abysmal. As a student back in 1984 I traveled through the country for four months, eating nothing but fried meat, potatoes, and lousy wine. But another extensive trip 15 years later turned my head around. I now venture to say that the regional cuisines of Spain are on a par with those of France and Italy. And, perhaps, Mexico. What had changed, it or me? A little of both. During the Franco years there was little available beside the most basic foodstuffs and regionalism was frowned upon. With the opening up of the country, a reverse trend was set in motion and now great pride is taken in local foods and dishes. Everywhere you go--and Spain is a huge place—you’ll find fine cooking, dishes prepared with pride based on local ingredients and tradition. Simple and fresh are the keywords. So, it is only natural that here in the New World, Spanish-trained chefs have a keen eye for what’s local, seasonal and fresh, adapting it to their techniques and recipes. It’s no wonder Spanish cooking is currently trendy around the world. Some of Mexico City’s best restaurants these days are Iberian.

The Casino Español is one of my favorite places to go in the city, as good as a trip to Madrid. It is housed in an ornate neo-classical edifice dating from 1903, grand ballroom and all. The dining room is where the Spanish exile community congregates on weekends – you’ll see large families with grandma in tow. It has the grandiosity of Paris without the pretension. An array of Iberian standards are offered. The “greatest hits” type menu usually makes me suspicious that they’re trying to cover too much territory, but here the classics are all done well. I like such starters as pimientos piquillos relleno de bacalao (small sweet peppers filled with salt cod), or the classic tortilla española (a potato and egg cake that has nothing to do with Mexican tortillas). Zarzuela de mariscos (a seafood sauté) or the classic paella valenciana are well prepared. Authentic cocido Madrileño (a hearty stew of meats, vegetables and garbanzo beans served in two courses, soup and meat) is occasionally available on special daily menus—Spanish ‘comfort food’ at its best.

Biko’s young chefs, Mikel Alonso and Bruno Oteiza, studied at Arzak, the temple of gastronomy in Northern Spain. Biko means “couple or “duo” in Euskara, the language of Basque Spain. This elegant place features two menus, one traditional and the other “evolutionary”, i.e. more creative. All the dishes I sampled were fresh and subtly flavored; recent standouts were: alcachofas con almejas, a Basque classic reinterpreted: a tender artichoke heart is wrapped in lightly spiced batter and nestled in a clam shell- the reduced clam broth made me want to lick the plate. Also exemplary were the traditional pimientos piquillos rellenos de bacalao, whose balance of sweet and salty was nearly perfect. The creative caldo de guisantes trufado y callo de hacha is a light pea soup perfumed with truffle oil poured over several succulent scallops cloaked in thinly cut mushrooms - three subtle but egotistical ingredients that formed a perfect trio - it worked. Escolar verde apio, a grilled white fish bathed in a simple, light aromatic sauce of reduced poultry stock with a hint of celery, was well executed. The menu is seasonal and constantly changing, so you’ll find new and tempting creations on each visit. The service is attentive and gracious, the wine list extensive and reasonable, and includes many unusual Spanish options. The tasting menu is highly recommended.

D.O. is short for denominación de origen, the official Spanish designation for distinctive regional foods. It is one of Mexico City's best restaurants, and my favorite. The menu overseen by chef Pablo San Román is based on regional Spanish classics, many from the Pais Vasco (the Basque country of northeast Spain). Starters, which can also be ordered as tapas (hors d’oeuvres) include the classic Andalucian rabo de toro, (ox-tail stew), croquetas (deep fried balls of bechamel spiked with ham), and a good selection of Serrano hams. Main courses include: kokotxas con gulas (cod cheeks with eels, a Basque classic), chipirones en su tinta (small squids in their own ink from Galicia), conejo confitado en cava (from Catalonia) and chuleton (a big juicy steak from Castilla), and an excellent solomillo (like filet mignon).
The sun-filled front dining room is open to the street; inside is darker and intimate, more reminiscent of a typical Spanish taberna.

Tezka is also arguably one of the best restaurants in Mexico City. The menu, originally designed by the celebrated Basque chef Juan Mari Arzak, offers food that is innovative and inspired, combining local seasonal ingredients in inventive, but unpretentious ways. This is the essence of Basque cuisine, which like that of northern Italy, is deceptively simple and highly refined.
The current spring menu offers such creative concoctions as sopa de mamey, malanga frita y pez espada ahumado (soup of mamey, fried malanga root and smoked swordfish),
besugo, puré de col y almejas en salsa verde (bream with cabbage puree in parsely/garlic sauce), and corzo aromatizado con cascara de piña, canela, naranja y uvas (venison scented with pineapple skin, cinnamon, orange and grapes).
The fine kitchen is run by young chef Pedro Martín Rodriguez who hails from the Canary Islands and studied with the master. The recently remodeled Zona Rosa location is clean and cheerful with a campy post-modern touch—a big improvement over the former dowdy hotel look of the place. Service, unfortunately, is not up to the standards of the food; it can be unprofessional and haphazard. There is a good, reasonably priced selection of Spanish and Mexican wines. The tasting menu, at about US $55, is a real deal.

Casino Español
Isabel La Católica 31, Centro
Tel: 5512-9090
Open daily 1pm-6pm
Prices are reasonable: $100-250 pesos per person

Amberes 78, Zona Rosa
Tel: 5228-9918
Open Monday-Friday 1pm-5pm and 8pm-11pm, Saturday 1pm-5 pm (closed Saturday evenings and Sundays)
There’s a branch at Periferico Sur 4363 (inside the Hotel Royal Pedregal) in Colonia Pedregal.
Tel: 5449-4000
Open Sunday-Tuesday 1:30pm-5pm, Wednesday-Friday 1:30pm-11pm
$600-800 pesos per person

Hegel 406, (corner of Masaryk) Polanco
Tel. 5255 0612, 0912
Open Monday – Saturday 2PM-2AM, Sunday 1:30-5PM
$400-600 pesos per person

Presidente Masaryk 407, Polanco
Tel. 5282-2064
Open Monday to Saturday 1:30-11pm
$600-800 pesos per person

Also worth trying are:
Centro Castellano
16 Republica de Uruguay, Centro
Tel. 5518 2937
(There’s a branch in the Hotel Camino Real in Colonia Anzures.)
$200-400 pesos per person

Circulo Vasco Español
16 de Septiembre # 51, centro
This old stand-by is recommended for the lechón (roast suckling pig) and asados (roast meats).
$200-400 pesos per person

Terraza del Centro Cultural de España
Guatemala 18, Centro

Calle Regina 49, Centro
both $100-250 pesos per person

These two bars, run by the same owner, offer typical Spanish tapas. The new Akelarre, on ‘happening’ calle Regina, is a transplanted Madrid tapas bar, complete with Almodovar-like ambience.

This article has been published in The News, Mexico City; photo by Rodrigo Oropeza


Peru Comes to Mexico: Astrid y Gastón

We live in the era of the ‘star chef ’. He’s famous, is on TV, owns a number of restaurants all over the world, has produced innumerable cookbooks. The last thing you’ll find him doing is slaving over a hot stove tossing your order of pasta. It’s all in the name. That said, I like Gastón Acurio. The 40ish master from Lima has done more to promote the understanding and diffusion of Peruvian cooking, which is one of Latinamerica’s great cuisines, around the world than anyone before him. Along with his wife, Astrid Gutsche, the flagship high end Peruvian fusion venue Astrid & Gastón which they opened in Lima fifteen years ago has taken off and now has branches all over Latin America, Madrid and now in Mexico.
Peru’s cooking, like that of Mexico, is based on an intricate fusion of native ingredients and techniques and those of Europe, notably Spain. Unlike in Mexico’s cooking, there is a rather profound Asian influence, due to the large migration of Chinese and Japanese to the country. With a long coastline and rugged mountain areas, there is a vast lexicon of national dishes that cover both surf and turf. The standard ‘Cebichería’ found all over Peru, is the people’s lunch joint serving superb marinated fish and seafood, concoctions similar to, but not the same as, their Mexican cousins. Acurio opened one here in our capital a couple of years ago: La Mar. While upscale and expensive, it is authentic, and the food of high quality. Like his bistro, which I have also tried in Lima, Mexico’s La Mar presents Limeño specialties using the best of local ingredients; it is always crowded.
Our version of the recently inaugurated Astrid y Gaston is set in a clean modern space with touches of dark wood and comfortably upholstered seating. It is directed by young Mexican master chef Yerika Muñoz and she does an extraordinary job. I had a better meal here than at the original. Muñoz studied with Acurio in Peru for four brief but intense months and seems to have absorbed the essense of what the master wants to do. While Peruvian classics are presented ostensibly in their authentic guises, the chef often adds a suggestion of the Mexican kitchen. Like all good chefs, she adapts to local ingredients and traditions and does it sucessfully.
Her menu is divided into two parts: La Tradicion, featuring classic Peruvian dishes and La Temporada, offering seasonal and more creative specialties. I’m a traditionalist so I stuck with the former. Anticuchos are skewered beef hearts and are the quintissential Peruvian snack. I finally dared to try them while in Lima and found them to be tough and stringy, albeit flavorful. Here, they were tender, succulent and perfectly grilled, like a good filet mignon. Of course, we had to sample the famous Peruvian ceviches (often spelled with a “b” south of the equator.) There are five, and my favorite was the Ceviche Lima D.F., of tuna, shrimp and mango all marinated in the traditonal leche de tigre – white wine, lemon, mild chile and garlic. It was sublime, just the right amount of sharp and perfumy broth to accent the fresh fish – the light touches of sweet mango and smoky chipotle adding a “toque mexicana”.
Moving on, I suggested we go for a causa. Peru is a land of potatos and causa is a mashed version augmented by sweet chile and topped with various and sundry good things. It can be dull. But not here. La Actual one of three on the menu was a surpising little tower of fragrant yellow chillied mash (nothing spicy, mind you, the Peruvians don’t do that), layered with fresh tuna, crab and avocado cream – once again a nod to the Aztec homeland.
Of the eleven “platos fuertes” on offer, several standout. The sopa seca marinera is served in a cazuela or ceramic dish. Thick pleasingly chewy soba-like noodles are nicely complemented by tender morsals of seafood and sweet caramalized onions and a very light accent of chipotle. A cochinilla de tres semanas – young suckling pig, is crunchy outside and falling apart tender within. It is beautifully caressed by its reduced “confit” sauce aromatized with cacao. The side mounds of tacu tacu, a black bean and rice mold similar to the Cuban Moros y Cristianos look pretty and are filling – if a little on the dry side.
Camarones en salsa chupe – shrimps in a cream sauce and mint pesto– presented grilled juicy shrimps perfectly augmented by the aromatic mint and tomato-y creamy ‘chupe’ – a sauce so named because it makes you want to suck the excess off your fingers. It is served over a bed of wheat “risotto" and is extraordinarily subtle.
The chaufa of seafood is common in Peru – it is based on a Chinese fried rice and is comfort food-Inca style.
Desserts are not to be overlooked – the sorbet sampler includes one made with chicha morada a purple corn used to make a refreshing and common drink – it tastes fruity and seemingly grapey although this may be psychological. Also top notch are profiteroles filled with delightfully warm chocolate.
The wine list is extensive, although we were not happy with a couple of lower-end selections of Mexican wines. Likewise, the service is friendly but, at this point, inexperienced.
Astrid y Gastón is one of the top restaurants in the city – there is room for improvement but not much…

Astrid y Gastón
Tennyson #117, Polanco
Tel. 5282-2455
Open daily for lunch, 1:30-6PM, Dinner ,Monday – Thursday 6-10PM, Friday, Saturday 6-11PM.
All major credit cards acceptedAverage $600-800 per person with wine


Meet the Author: Gilman's book presentation, March 19th

On Thursday, March 19, at 7:30 p.m. Nicholas Gilman will present the new Spanish-language edition ofhis book, Come Bien en México D.F.: La Guia de Puestos, Fondas y Restaurantes. Nick's award-winning book is the only insider's guide to the best food in Mexico City.The reception will be in La Bodega, Popocateptl 25 (at the corner of Av. Amsterdam) in Colonia Condesa. Copies of the English version will also be for sale.
Check out the following review by culinary writer Frances Beasely:
Worldwide, Mexican food has undergone a revival and is one of the most popular types of cuisine today. Whether casually cooked at home, as a quick bite in a take away or enjoyed in a more social form at a restaurant, it has become a regular highlight on many people’s eating agenda.
Similarly, a visit to Mexico has enticed many, whether as part of a tour or for an individual trip. Honeymooners rate it a great place too but one thing is for sure, food in Mexico is a truly special experience. Until recently finding a place that suited your palate in Mexico may have proved to be a challenge unless you had inside info from friends in the city. Enter Nicholas Gilman a resident of this great city and one who is a revered foodie as well. He has put together the must have good guide for any visitor to the city. Light enough to pack in your case plus essential reading before you go and during your stay. ‘Good Food in Mexico City’ encompasses a guide to everything from the plethora of food stalls to the ultimate in fine dining experiences.
The essential glossary provides an important guide for the terms used for the huge variety of Mexican food whilst a price guide ensures you don’t get any nasty surprises with the bill. Even better are the pointers as to which places are likely to take credit cards. In a city where one may be wary of carrying cash it’s important not to take for granted that fondas (inn or tavern) or any other type of restaurant will automatically take these. For those finding their way around on the metro, the stops are indicated in terms of their proximity to the places which makes life a whole lot easier especially for the first time visitor.
Food descriptions are helpful in ensuring you have the right expectation of the type of food you may be about to devour whilst practical hints on what to wear or be seen in (Prada shoes!) at certain bars and restaurants brings a smile but certainly ensures one doesn’t feel out of place by wearing the wrong thing to the wrong place – a common mistake for visitors in many cities! Grabbing a snack from a food stall is a popular pastime and whilst many embark on this with trepidation the old rule of cleanliness and common sense (has it been peeled or cooked?) still holds fast.
Whether you are looking for a bar with a vibe or peaceful roof top terrace, the section on cantinas and bars holds a mine of information as does the concise and helpful descriptions of the restaurants and in certain cases some of the fine buildings in which they are housed. A section with maps and useful websites is also a winner and tremendous help to those wanting to learn and do more in a city that grabs the visitor by the tastebuds and has you yearning for more.
There is little doubt that Nicholas, who has studied gastronomy at the National Autonomous University of Mexico and is also a member of the International Association of Culinary Professionals, clearly knows his stuff. The book is an excellent guide, a superb handbook and a must for any foodie who visits this fascinating city.


Ay, Chihuahua! – LA TOMA DE TEQUILA

One great thing about our capital is the proliferation of restaurants specializing in regional cooking from all over the country. Almost every state is represented. While some, like Yucatan and Oaxaca are popular and easy to find, others are hidden away. So when a friend told me about the only place specializing in the regional cuisine of Chihuahua, I had to try it.
The largest state in Mexico is bordered on its northern edge by Texas and New Mexico and on the south east and west by Sonora, Sinaloa, Coahuila and Durango. It has more going for it than those pocket-size pooches and the uzi-toting drug lords reported on in the press lately. A cattle ranching state, it is home to a sizeable population of Dutch dialect speaking Mennonites. The recent film Luz Silenciosa takes place in their isolated community. Chow-wise, the arid land doesn’t produce a whole lot of fresh vegetables, so, naturally, meat’s the thing: beef and lots of it.
Wheat tortillas are as common as corn here, and tacos are often made with wheat and referred to as burritos. They have little to do with those mega-burritos from across the border, as they are simple affairs, just a tortilla holding some filling like their corn cousins. Cheese is another important product here. The Mennonites produce fresh and aged cheeses sold all over the country – their queso Chihuahua comes in several forms including the well known mild white, good for melting.
La Toma de Tequila is a homey place specializing in the cooking of Chihuahua. Owner Raul Vargas is a native chihuahuense. His wife, however, is from Jalisco, which explains the incongruous use of “Tequila” in the restaurant’s name (they really drink more beer up there).
Vargas, a gregarious gentleman who looks like a Texas cattle rancher, explained that he and his family are on a mission-- to rescue the cuisine of their home state and present it to the world. Because it is so near the American border, local traditions are disappearing faster in Chihuahua than in other parts of Mexico. Many recipes come from the Vargas’ family archives. Ingredients such as special chilies, cheese, tortillas and even mescal are imported for their authentic flavors.
Located on the second floor of an old house, the cheerful tablecloths, yellow walls, old wood floors and Norteño-themed prints are warm and comforting. The small menu features meaty dishes such as two asados, meats (beef or pork), prepared in a red “colorado” or green “pasado” sauce, each featuring chilies of the same names flavored with herbs, and cumin. They’re served either as a main dish or as burritos, the filling wrapped in a long wheat tortilla. Caldillo Norteño is a revitalizing beef broth stocked with shreds of both machaca (air-dried beef) and fresh meat, and cubes of potatoes. The sopa de tortilla is fragrant with cumin and served with chicharrón (fried pork skin), avocado slices, and roast chili strips. The owner insisted I try his frijoles norteñas, warning me that they take time to prepare. They’re worth the wait; saucy dark beans are garnished with chunks of pungent warm Chihuahua cheese, and dried toasted chilies. This could be eaten alone as a hearty soup course. Pechuga de pollo Norteña is a generous slab of grilled chicken breast, slathered with a delightfully complex roasted chili sauce and topped with grilled Chihuahua cheese. If this all sounds too carnivorous, there are several salads on the menu as well, and cheese burritos can be prepared – you still get to sample the excellent salsas (watch out for the green one – it’s not as harmless as it appears).
The lemonade is worth mentioning as it’s particularly rich and not too sweet. The desserts, not on the menu, are exceptional – try the flan baked in a mezcal sauce, or a thin slab of ate de membrillo (quince jelly). Be sure to ask for a sample of their house mezcal – one special bottle contains an entire rattlesnake, for those on a dare.
Prices are reasonable here, but be aware that credit cards are not accepted.

La Toma de Tequila
Toluca 28-C (at Baja California) Colonia Roma
Metro Centro Médico (use the “Toluca” exit)
Tel. 5584 5250
Open 1PM – 8PM Daily
Prices range from $150-250 pesos per person including a drink.

This article was previously printed in part in The News Mexico City



I grew up in New York’s Little Italy. As a small boy my mother would give me a dollar and send me down the block for spaghetti and meatballs to an Italian restaurant run by an old couple from Sicily. “Mangia tutti” the nonna would admonish as the delectable plate of goodness stood steaming in front of me. We shopped for cheese and pastries on Bleeker Street, fresh pasta on Houston Street…and then there was the legendary slice of New York pizza, which combined the best of Naples and Brooklyn.Those food memories are hard to recreate. Since then I’ve honed my knowledge of cucina italiana on various trips to the homeland, and worked my way through some of the best Italian cookbooks, such as Marcella Hazan’s Classic Italian and the Silver Spoon.
Although there’s been an Italian community in Mexico since the 19th century, it has never been large. The 2000 census reported about 4000 Italian nationals residing here, although there are many more descendents from the old country. Besides the ubiquitous presence of pizza, the most famous culinary contribution of Italy to Mexico is the torta, the beloved sandwich based on pannino (an Italian roll) and supposedly made popular by turn-of-the-century Italian immigrants.

Today, with growing interest in international cuisine and an increasingly sophisticated public, there’s a wide range of places to eat, from humble pizzerias to pricy northern Italian ristorantes. And the availability of good ingredients is inspiring to any home cook.

BellariaMasaryk 514, Polanco
Tel. 5282-0413-14
Open Monday-Saturday 1:30PM-12AM, Sunday 1:30-5PM
Average per person with wine $400 pesos

Bellaria, a favorite with many Polanco residents, is a dependable Italian res­taurant, complete with wood burning pizza oven. The airy, modern space is ideal for a pleasant Sunday comida or relaxing dinner. Start with the salame di polpo Bellaria (finely sliced octopus dressed with olive oil and lemon) or tartara di tonno, fresh tuna, lightly dressed and lazily draped over a bed of arugula. Thin, crusty pizzas also make a good starter. The classic Margherita , featuring tomato, mozzarella and basil, would be my first choice. Several unusual pastas are on the menu, such as a meaty pappardelle al’anatra (wide noodles with duck), a subtle rigatoni ai carciofi (with artichoke), a hearty maritime spaghetti al cartoccio (cooked in a sealed packet with seafood), or the classic Bolognese (the slow cooked meat sauce).
Several rissotti are also offered, and they are correctly done- the rice al dente and creamy. Best is the gamberi, asparegi e zafferano (shrimp, asparagus and saffron), a perfect combination. Moving on (if that is possible) you might order the filleto ai funghi porcini (beef filet with porcini mushrooms) or a simple grilled tuna. Desserts are Italian classics – panna cotta, a creamy custard and ubiquitous in Italy, is a rarely seen option. Prices are on the high side, but the quality matches.

Casa D’Italia
Agustín Melgar 6, Condesa
Tel 5286-2021
Open Monday-Saturday 1:30PM-12AM
Average per person with wine $300 pesos

My favorite place to eat Italian food is also the simplest and least pretentious. Casa D’Italia is a typical trattoria, looking much like those found all over Italy, red checkered tablecloths and all. It was conceived 13 years ago by gregarious chef and owner, Luigi Cesarano Vitiello, who hails from Naples. The small space, housing only 12 tables, has changed very little over the years. Luigi continues to preside over his crowd of demanding regulars, many of whom live in nearby Edificio Condesa, an old complex famed for its artsy occupants and telenovela-like scandals. The menu, which for a change does NOT include pizzas, offers standard dishes from different parts of Italy. Several carpaccio (or sliced raw meat) antipasti, a minestrone, the classic stracciatella (beef broth thickened with egg), and crema di funghi (mushroom) make good starters. Pastas include a delectable fettucine alla Val D’Orcia, with shrimps, arugula and cream, and the simple spaghetti alle noci, with a “sauce “of walnuts, chili, parsley and garlic. Secondi (main dishes) comprise the classic Saltimbocca alla Romana, thin veal scallops with ham in a white wine sauce perfumed with sage. Gamberini al Marsala is another good choice – fat shrimp are sweetened with a little of that famous Sicilian wine. But be sure to ask for seasonal specialties as they do not appear on the menu. I always check to see if mussels are in – Luigi’s zuppa di cozze is the best. He also does an excellent rack of lamb, and will produce just about any dish you like if the ingredients are available. There’s a good selection of Italian wines, though few in the budget range. Do reserve a table as Casa D’Italia fills up fast.

ShoppingNowadays one can find almost any imported ingredient in Mexico; the only problem for the Italian home cook is acquiring certain fresh items which are rarely seen here, or only available in season. Good quality squid, clams and mussels, tender veal, true Italian sausage can be scarce. But fresh and aged cheeses, both national and imported are increasingly available, as are high quality hams and salamis.
Your local supermarket will likely offer imported Arborio rice for risotto, polenta and Italian pastas (I look for DiCecco brand, recommended by an Italian friend). Vegetables used in Italian cooking are also becoming common. In my local tianguis (Tuesdays on calle Pachuca in the Condesa) I can sometimes find two kinds of arugula as well as fennel bulbs.

The basil problem: Fresh basil (called albahaca in Spanish) is sold all over Mexico and usually used as an herbal remedy. The variety here, however, has little to do with the Italian kind – the flavor is minty and more reminiscent of Thai basil. I have occasionally seen “real” basil sold in packages at the Superama. Otherwise, your only option is to grow your own from seeds– not hard to do in a flowerpot or window box.
So…..mangia, mangia! And buon appetitio!

The MenuSan Miguel de Allende resident Margharita Failoni, a curator of contemporary art, lived for years in Rome with her husband Claudio. The following recipe is one she picked up there and it’s truly amazing. Although it uses surprisingly few ingredients and no meat stock, it’s surprisingly rich and hearty – a soup you can’t refuse.

Marge Failoni’s Amazing Soup from Rome
(serves 4)

2 large cloves of garlic, sliced thin
one large bunch of zucchini flowers (flores de calabaza), yellow part only
a fistful of swiss chard (acelgas), without stems
6 – 8 very ripe tomatoes, peeled and coarsely chopped (or use ½ large can whole Italian tomatoes)
a fistful of Italian basil (albahaca) leaves
4 cups water

Put everything in a pot with a very light sprinkling of salt. Cover and simmer until all the vegetables are cooked. Serve at room temperature with a light drizzle of good olive oil. Serve with bruschetta.

Shopping and cooking
Mercado San Juan
Calle Ernesto Pugibet, centro
This is the best market in the city to find fresh produce and imported Italian cheeses such as Parmesan, pecorino, fontina, mozzarella and ricotta (go to Gastronomica San Juan, stall no.162, and its neighbor La Jersey around the corner). Seafood: mussels and calamares are occasionally available fresh. In the meat section, stands 44-46 sell veal scaloppini and ossobuco ready to cook.

Ayuntamiento 12, centro
Fresa 142, Ciudad Satélite
These stores sell dried pastas in many unusual shapes, as well as semolina (for making fresh pasta) and fresh ravioli. The original store is around the corner from the aforementioned Mercado San Juan.

Partimar Gastronomia Italiana
Rosas Moreno 32 (near Ribera San Cosme) San Rafael
Tel. 5566-3544/5566-3058
Open Monday-Friday 10-7,  Saturday 10-2
This large shop is located in the old working class neighborhood of San Rafael, only a few blocks from the San Cosme metro stop. It’s a good source for all kinds of packaged products, oils and vinegars, as well as cheeses and meats. They have a good selection of reasonably priced Italian wines. Several pasta machines are for sale here too. One-day classes are offered periodically – call for information.

Societá Dante Alighieri
Marsella 39, Zona Rosa
Tel. 5511-5257 / 5511-2953
This language school also offers Italian cooking classes.

Instituto Italiano di Cultura
Francisco Sosa 77, Coyoacán
tel. 5554-0044
This institution, located in a beautiful old mansion, has a small food store and offers cooking classes, as well a a host of cultural events – get on their email list.

Centro Gourmet Vittorio
Prol. Bosques de Reforma 1371, Lomas
Tel. 5251-3186
This is a store specializing in all kinds of fresh pasta as well as imported cheeses and gourmet
products. See their website: www.vittorio.com.mx.

Besides Casa D’Italia and Bellaria, the following are worth trying:

Alfredo di Roma
Campos Eliseos 218 polanco; Tel. 5327-7700
Elegant and authentic

Av. del Parque. 2 (entrance on Av. Revolución), San Angel; Tel. 5663-1913 also at Masaryk 192, Polanco
Once recommended by my Italian teacher Elvis (his real name) as his favorite place in Mexico City.

L'osteria Becco
Goldsmith 103, Polanco; Tel. 5282 1059
It’s another Polanco venue favored by an Italian friend.

Non Solo Pannino
Calle Orizaba, Plaza Luís Cabrera, between
Zacatecas and Guanajuato, Roma
Tel: 3096-5128
They offer pannini and good salads with a view of pretty Parque Luis Cabrera.

Osteria Ocho (see post)

Rosetta (see post)

Trattoria della Casanuova,
Av. de la Paz 40, San Angel tel 5616-2288
This simple and friendly place hasexcellent pastas, a very good bakery downstairs and Rosemary Clooney on the sound system.

Av. Mexico 157, Condesa Tel. 5564-7441
It offers above-average cooking and a lovely view of Parque México – and it’s open late Sunday evenings.

For pizza:They haven’t figured out how to do “by the slice” well here, but the following turn out good pies:

Masaryk 48, Polanco; Tel. 5531-6828
I find their main dishes dissapointing but the brick oven pizza is excellent.

L’Atelier d’en Quim Jardí
San Luís Potosí 121, RomaI reviewed this groovy “Latin Quarter” type joint last year in these pages….the pizzas are still great.

Alfonso Reyes 193, CondesaIt’s Argentine – the pizzas are hearty and salads copious.

50 Friends
Cadereyta 19 corner Tamaulipas, Condesa
Many friends, if not 50, like the pies here.

See Fiesole and Bellario above.

This article has previously been published, in part in The News Mexico City; photos by Rodrigo Oropeza