My welcoming hours in Mexico were a complete success. After those nocturnal events, the first true day of the Mexico City adventure was on stage. Luckily it fell on a national holiday. Talia, my new local friend, had the time to show off parts of her city. However, the ensuing 12 hours of memories aren’t so focused on the historic center of El Zócalo or the Museum of Frida Kahlo or any other sight that one reads about before arriving. The highlights yelling at me involve Mexico’s food and beverage.
During our stroll through the park-filled, historical and very colonial neighborhood of Cocoayán, we stopped at one of her favorite restaurants, Los Danzantes, for lunch. Expecting to be surrounded by something very Mexican, I oddly felt as though I were in a trendy Los Angeles bistro with its avant-garde décor and clientele (apparently a table away from us sat a famous Mexican singer of yester-year). But this LA vibe quickly subsided when the waiter delivered the first plate, three fried chapulin (grasshopper) tacos.
Sure, I had earlier asked Talia to show me the local flavors of the city, but come on? Holding to my word and original desire, I forced myself to start eating. These little fried guys were crunchy. But even with some delicious goat cheese and extra hot sauce in the tacos, I couldn’t stop from focusing on the fact that I was chomping into multiple metathoraxes with every bite. I ate only one of the tacos, which left Talia gleefully gobbling up every last jumper without a second’s delay. She was very grateful for my generosity (I wish being generous were that easy all the time). However, to her and other chapulin consumers’ defense, it was my inability to focus on this intriguing new flavor rather than the insects’ body structures being crushed. Next time I will eat at least two tacos.
Full of chapulines, another equally important lesson unveiled itself, tequila etiquette. It was roughly midday, and the scene had been apparently set for these agave times. When I heard Talia order the shots, I started to cringe with visions of recent tequila times. Thankfully, shooting this liquor is not the correct procedure. Local custom denotes that the potion should be sipped, along with a beer or another beverage, in order to savor its intricacies. Not so surprisingly, I fell into this custom quite easily. The taste of tequila accompanied with a cerveza achieved an effortless balance from the start.
In the past, the review lessons of tequila etiquette were then held in the city’s center at a hidden-corner restaurant named the Salon Luz. Five unassuming tables with accompanying plastic chairs are situated outside of the entrance. If I weren’t with Talia, I would have easily sauntered past the joint without a second’s thought. In order to enter Salon Luz, one has to walk past the outside tables and then climb down a few stair steps into the main room. Below the ground level awaits a nostalgic, local, classy ambiance — as if it were an elegant Mexican Cheers. Ordained in dark wood tables and booths designed in a simple, yet quality, fashion around a bar and kitchen window opening, Salon Luz boasts to have been visited by many famous politicians and celebrities since its opening in 1914. Ernesto “Che” Guevara, the idolized Argentine Marxist revolutionary, even ate here during his Mexico trip in which he met Fidel Castro.
Our one hour “snack” plan seamlessly turned into more than three hours full of tequila and cerveza, along with eating an enjoyable entrée named steak tartare — a dish I did not know existed until this mission and thought it to be a Mexican one until told otherwise. Salon Luz is a fairly expensive place to eat or drink for those on tighter budgets, but well worth the visit to feel the tradition breathing through the walls.
There are many foods beckoning to be had in Mexico City. From tamales to sopa de gallina (chicken soup) to barbacoa (meat cooked very slowly – whether in a deep pit, over an open fire, or steamed until tender), but any Mexico City food list would be incomplete without sampling the revered Gringa – a flour tortilla soft taco filled with marinated pork and cheese. This is a simple, flavorsome, and abundantly offered treat located throughout the city in many taquerías. It is said that the name originates in the 1970’s thanks to a pair of female (Gringa) American exchange students. They were known to order tacos al pastor (marinated pork-filled “corn” tortilla tacos) with “flour” tortillas. But regardless of the name, I ate these tacos faster than Talia had eaten her fried friends.
Mexico City is a huge metropolis of food – comprised of its own creations and a mix of the entire country’s varied palettes. For a food and beverage awakening, this town has a solid syllabus to experience. While I don’t see myself eating any other grasshoppers before my return, I now prefer to sip (rather than shoot) my Don Julio or Herradura. And I sincerely look forward to learning more on my next visit. Buen provecho!
Salon Luz: http://restaurantes.rinconesdemitierra.com/salon-luz/
El Fogoncito (and the “Gringa” history): http://www.fogoncito.com/english/empresa/hist_gringa.html
For part of one of My Mexico