Hungry in Mexico, Part 2
From the moment we returned to Mexico City, the meter was running. With only two more days, the list of things that we just had to do was growing. Taking the long way around through Condesa and along Reforma, we went back to the historic center of the city to pick up where we’d left off. Stopping off at the Parque Alameda Central, we meant to walk through quickly but found ourselves going down a rabbit hole instead lined by carousels and fountains, policemen on white horses in charro uniforms, vendors of all kinds and effigies of San Judas Tadeo in all forms. The patron saint of lost causes, his devotees who converge on the Iglesia de San Hipólito on 28th day of every month.
Coming up for air, we finally reached the Palacio de Bellas Arts, cooling off in the marbled art deco lobby before heading over to the stunning Palacio de Correos (though both were designed by Italian architect Adamo Boari, he was only able to complete the latter). I’ve always been drawn to utilitarian buildings that provide an essential service in the prettiest way possible. An eclectic blend of architectural styles from Italian Renaissance to turn of the century Art Nouveau, I couldn’t begin to discern all of the competing design elements but I loved that between the zigzagging staircases, ornate columns, and graceful arches, the entire structure seemed to be in constant motion.
Leaving the post office and cutting through an alley lined with book sellers, I finally reached the Dulcería de Celaya. I first read about it in Fany Gerson’s My Sweet Mexico, my guidebook on this trip for stores to visit, ingredients to seek out, and cooking saints to light candles to (San Pascual Bailón). Family owned since 1847, the neat glass cases are filled with sugar rolled candies, alegrias, jamoncillo, bocados reales, aleluyas, polvorones, obleas, glorias, camotes, and apple shaped arlequines (my favorite). Surrounded by gilded mirrors and flowered moldings, the women who worked there answered every question and as always I had a lot.Now running behind, I raced over to the Mercado San Juan before it was too late. Navigating through crowded streets, I expected an open air arcade lined with stalls. What we found instead was an enclosed, warren-like space, bursting and bustling, like stepping inside a pinata. Seeing the powdered moles, peppers, and spices spilling out of huge sacks, I was overwhelmed, not by hunger (though everything looked delicious) but the desire to take everything back with me. I couldn’t possibly, so I took pictures instead.
Walking back from the market , we stopped by the Churrería El Moro. Written up in Saveur and the New York Time, it isn’t much of a secret but is partially hidden by a non-descript storefront. Making what many consider the world’s best churros, they have little need to advertise, so they just wait for the world to come to them so they then can prove it one order at a time, again and again instead. In a set-up part churreria/part sorcerer’s apprentice, the dough is dropped into the oil and swirled into ever expanding concentric circles. Perfectly crip they were still tender and creamy without any trace of undercooked flour or overfried dough. I may have been tired or over simulated at that point but when I took my first bite, I teared up a little and I think my sister almost fainted. They were that good.After the frantic pace we’d set, I was looking forward to spending the next day in Coayacán to the Frida Kahlo house. Planning my visit, I’d noticed a kind of gender divide. Most men felt it could be skipped if time was short while most of women I asked pushed us to go. The women were right. Taking notes instead of pictures, we wandered through the rooms and gardens, enjoying the stopped clock peace of la Casa Azul, and envying the cats who’ve made it their home.Leaving the house, we walked over to the central plaza, stopping in the Iglesia San Juan Bautista before walking over to the park for a late lunch and mezcal in cafes surrounding the square. I’d been won over by the mezcals I’d tasted with my family over the weekend. A true spirit, each sip brings a moment of intense heat – more sun than fire – then disappears, a perfect way to celebrate our last few hours. Settling into el Corazon de Maguey, we took advantage of their tamales y flores menu- organic flowers and baby spinach topped with an olive oil and citrus vinaigrette, tamal verde de costilla stuffed into a heavy roll and drenched in salsa roja, and a tamal de chocolate de metate drizzled with pomegranate seeds and served with arroz con leche atole. It’s always a good sign when the pleasure the waiter takes in describing the menu is inversely related to their chronological age, the surrounding tables are as interested in your meal as their own, and everyone feels free to chime in to your conversation so that your party of 2 becomes 7-10 depending on who’s coming or going. Looking over my pictures now, it’s gotten harder to hold on to the initial impact of being there – the wild swings between elation and alienation you feel navigating a new place. Getting around was a constant challenge and my body couldn’t get to all the places I’d set my heart on going. Not only did I not scratch the surface, I don’t think I reached the ground the entire time I was there. Andre Breton famously described it as “the most surrealist country in the world”. I didn’t expect to find that now but it may still be true. More than beautiful, it was interesting and you only had to open your eyes so the city could frame itself in ways you would have never expected. I made up my mind to fall in love with Mexico before I arrived. Now that I’m back from my first trip, I’m no less over the moon – not surprising when if the moon looks like this….