Misfits and lovers in Mexico City

Published: July 23rd 2016
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We have been in Mexico City for six days now, and today we were starting our Real Food Adventure of Mexico.

We woke early to the rumbling sound of trucks and buses idling outside our hotel, and to the sounds of revellers making their way home from a big night out in Mexico City. Music had continued into the early hours of the morning, and we had drifted in and out of sleep all night. We worked on our travel writing while lazing in our room before heading out to our favourite bakery (La Espiga Panificadoras) for breakfast at 11am, which was just around the corner from the hotel. We both ordered omelettes with ham and coffee/tea, which was a fairly basic brunch by our standards, but I still had a stomach bug which I’d been carrying for more than a week, despite hitting it hard with anti-biotics.

After breakfast we headed to the Diego Rivera Mural Museum, which was only a short walk through the Alameda Central from our hotel. I knew the museum housed one of Rivera’s most famous works – Dream of a Sunday Afternoon in the Alameda Central – but I didn’t realise it was the ONLY work in the museum. Still, it was well worth the entry fee, as the mural had an interpretive chart (in Spanish and English) with all the characters named, including Hernan Cortes with blood on his hands.

We meandered back through the Alameda Central, where I was approached by two young students (and their mum) who were obviously undertaking a school project which required them to interview foreigners. They asked my name, nationality, my thoughts on Mexico City and my favourite Mexican food. They then asked if they could have a photo with me, which their Mum took. While talking with them we noticed a few interesting sculptures down a lane on the other side of the road, so we went over to investigate and found ourselves within the courtyard of the Memory and Tolerance Museum (Museo Memoria y Tolerancia) and Foreign Relations Secretariat. We had initially planned to walk to Bolivar Street to look for a Mexican guitar, but my stomach again got the better of me and we had to detour to the hotel and settle in for the rest of the afternoon.

We headed out for a taco crawl at 7pm, but I knew I wouldn’t be eating a single taco. We walked to El Rincon Tapatio, a buzzing little place just around the corner from the hotel. Ren ordered two tacos – lengua (beef tongue) and birria (stewed goat). They looked fantastic, but I couldn’t imagine eating anything. We had both been looking forward to this taco crawl for about six months, and it was so frustrating that we couldn’t share the food as we always do. Having said that, I was thankful that I could at least walk the streets and enjoy the atmosphere of a Saturday night in Mexico City. Ren liked the tongue taco, but she wasn’t a fan of the birria.

We then made our way through Chinatown to our favourite taco place – El Huequito. While I wasn’t able to sample the tacos on this occasion, I’d eaten here three times already, so I knew what I was missing. Ren ordered two tacos al pastor (pork tacos – the only type they serve) and said they were as good, if not better, than the ones we had tried previously. This marked the end of our taco crawl, and the last thing on our agenda was a visit to a cantina (public bar) for a sip of mezcal.

We dropped into Cantina Teo Pepe, a fantastic little place that resembled the bars I’d seen in John Wayne movies, right down to the swinging doors and barman pouring drinks straight from the bottle. We ordered a Gusano Rojo mezcal, and it was rough and smoky. It was the first thing I’d been able to consume all night, and I absolutely loved it. There is something about mezcal that I really enjoy – the smokiness, the warmth, the taste, the afterglow. We struck up a conversation with a Mexican guy from Puebla who was drinking at the bar with his father, and they were both so welcoming of us to their country. We loved the atmosphere of the place, and we were reluctant to leave, but we had a long day ahead the following day.

During the night our Guide shared the following popular mezcal verse, and I couldn’t help but smile as he recited it on the street (first in Spanish, then in English):

For every bad, drink mezcal
For every good, mezcal as well
If there is no remedy, mezcal is a medicine

Because if cure you don’t get, at least you forget.

We made our way back to the hotel, picked up a few drinks and settled into our room to catch up on our travel notes. Having not eaten for twelve hours, I was beginning to wilt, and I eventually crashed at 10:30pm.

We woke late and headed out to breakfast at 8am. We were looking for somewhere different, but it was a Sunday and the only place open was our favourite bakery (La Espiga Panificadoras). We picked up two pastries and a yoghurt drink and took them back to our hotel room, as we were heading out on an orientation walk at 9am. We first walked to Alameda Central, which was so much easier to get to on a Sunday, because Avenida Juarez was closed to traffic. There were joggers and bike riders everywhere, and the atmosphere was incredibly friendly.

We made our way along the avenue to the Benito Juarez monument, where we were shown a number of architectural nuances (apparently the result of political jealousy) that I simply hadn’t noticed on the countless times we’d walked past over the last five days. For a start, all of the columns appear to be upside down, and Benito Juarez himself (well known for his antipathy to organised religion) is sitting and staring directly at the Corpus Christi Catholic Church on the opposite side of the Avenida Juarez, destined to forever gaze upon a symbolic representation of the very institution he fought so hard to separate from the State.

Continuing along Avenida Juarez, we found ourselves in the lobby of the incomparable Palace of Fine Arts, but we didn’t buy entry tickets, as we’d spent a considerable amount of time exploring the exhibitions a few days earlier. We crossed the bustling Eje Central Lazaro Cardenas with a photography shoot model in a big bright pink dress who was attracting a lot of attention, and then ambled along Avenida Madero (which was much quieter on a Sunday morning). We tiptoed through the tranquil Templo de San Francisco, and then headed straight down Avenida Madero to the Zocalo. This part of Mexico City had become second nature to us, and we loved the fact that we had bonded with the city so easily. We walked to the Plaza del Templo Mayor, and then dropped into the Metropolitan Cathedral for our third visit in six days.

While it wasn’t quite midday, it was time to eat, so we walked to the San Juan Market for a carpaccio brunch at a small seafood stand (El Capricho) in the heart of this lively inner city market. We enjoyed platters of shrimp and octopus ceviche, sierra ceviche and raw tuna with basil and chives. Sierra is a white fish similar to mackerel, and it was delicious, as was the tuna. After a refreshing agua de jamaica (iced tea made with hibiscus flower), we wandered through the market’s narrow walkways, confronted at times by slaughtered carcasses of pigs, rabbits and sheep. Our Guide gave a fascinating explanation of the different types of chillies at one of the small market stands, and we stopped at another stand for an incredible jam tasting.

After a busy morning of city walking and ceviche, we headed back to the hotel to freshen up before making our way to the Frida Kahlo Museum (Casa Azul, or Blue House) at 2pm. Located in Coyoacan, the museum is about 12km south of Mexico City, so we decided on a minibus for the 30 minute trip. The traffic was heavy and slow, but the stop-start trip offered us a fascinating insight into the extent of this great city’s urban sprawl. However, we weren’t prepared for what awaited us at the museum – a queue longer than I ever imagined, snaking its way up and back an entire suburban street. As we reluctantly took our place, murmurs amongst the queuers suggested a wait of an hour, possibly two. It was a Sunday – the one day of the week when every Mexican has free entry to museums. This is a fantastic national policy, and we certainly didn’t begrudge it. However, the museum closed at 5pm, and we didn’t know how much time we would lose in the queue. What to do. What to do.

When all seemed lost, Ren saved the day. Two museum employees started walking down the street, yelling out something in Spanish the local queuers were ignoring and I clearly could not understand. Ren, however, did understand. They were offering a special deal for those intending to pay to get in. For the same price, you were fast-tracked to the front of the queue, given 30 minutes to explore the Frida Kahlo Museum, then bused to the Diego Rivera Anahuacalli Museum (30 minutes’ drive away) before returning to the Frida Kahlo Museum for the remainder of the afternoon. It was brilliant! The locals weren’t interested (they had free entry), so we marched straight through the gate. I did feel a little guilty, but the prospect of standing on a street in the mid afternoon sun for two hours was too much to bear…

Once inside, the enormity of our Mexican travels suddenly hit home. We had watched the 2002 film ‘Frida’ (a biopic on the life of surrealist Mexican painter Frida Kahlo) before we left Australia, and we now found ourselves standing in the house where she lived and died. Despite the crowds and tourist shop, the house and its surrounds had a very calm ambiance. I’m not sure what Frida would make of her family home being converted into a museum, but when it offers such an important pilgrimage to so many, it’s a little easier to pardon (or at least overlook) the intrusion. Trapped in an unending line of tourists, I slowly made my way through the various rooms, taking photos of the interesting photos on the walls. I’d navigated about three rooms when I was suddenly tapped on the shoulder by a very friendly museum employee. I didn’t have a camera pass, which I was meant to purchase as I came in. How incredibly embarrassing! They moved a chair, opened a floor to ceiling window and pointed me in the direction of the entrance gate. I had to give up my place in the line, which was inconsequential to the disapproving glances I received from tourists who were proudly displaying their camera pass.

I purchased my pass, re-joined the line of tourists (from the start) and just managed to make my way through the remaining rooms before boarding our bus to the Diego Rivera Anahuacalli Museum. This was a side trip we hadn’t planned, but it turned out to be an interesting afternoon. The museum was designed by Rivera to house his personal collection of pre-Hispanic art, and it also contains a number of draft works of his art, including his study for the ‘Man at the Crossroads’ mural. While the concept (and cost) of constructing an ostentatious building for a personal art collection seemed a little on the indulgent side to me, especially given Rivera’s Marxist inclinations, I was grateful for the opportunity to see up close his draft works and sketches. I was also fascinated to read E.B. White’s extraordinary poem ‘I Paint What I See’ framed on one of the walls of the museum.

A Ballad of Artistic Integrity, on the Occasion of the
Removal of Some Rather Expensive Murals from the RCA Building

What do you paint, when you paint on a wall?
Said John D’s grandson Nelson.
Do you paint just anything there at all?
Will there be any doves, or a tree in fall?
Or a hunting scene, like an English hall?

I paint what I see, said Rivera.

What are the colours you use when you paint?
Said John D’s grandson Nelson.
Do you use any red in the beard of a saint?
If you do, is it terribly red, or faint?
Do you use any blue? Is it Prussian?

I paint what I paint, said Rivera.

Whose is that head that I see on my wall?
Said John D’s grandson Nelson.
Is it anyone’s head whom we know, at all?
A Rensselaer, or a Saltonstall?
Is it Franklin D? Is it Mordaunt Hall?

Or is it the head of a Russian?

I paint what I think, said Rivera.

I paint what I paint, I paint what I see,
I paint what I think, said Rivera,
And the thing that is dearest in life to me
In a bourgeois hall is Integrity;
I'll take out a couple of people drinkin’
And put in a picture of Abraham Lincoln;
I could even give you McCormick’s reaper
And still not make my art much cheaper.
But the head of Lenin has got to stay
Or my friends will give me the bird today,
The bird, the bird, forever.

It's not good taste in a man like me,
Said John D’s grandson Nelson,
To question an artist’s integrity
Or mention a practical thing like a fee,
But I know what I like, to a large degree,
Though art I hate to hamper;
For twenty-one thousand conservative bucks
You painted a radical. I say shucks,
I never could rent the offices -
The capitalistic offices.
For this as you know, is a public hall
And people want doves, or a tree in fall,
And though your art I dislike to hamper,
I owe a
little to God and Gramper,
And after all,
It's my wall…

We'll see if it is, said Rivera

White’s poem was first published in The New Yorker in May 1933. At the request of the Rockefellers, Rivera’s mural in the Rockefeller Centre was destroyed in February 1934. As I stood and quietly read the poem, I tried not to laugh too loudly. What a brilliant depiction of the controversy that raged (on so many levels) over Rivera’s ‘Man at the Crossroads’ mural.

The afternoon sun was hot and we were wilting, so after a drink at the museum’s outdoor cafe, we boarded our scheduled bus and headed back to the Frida Kahlo Museum. When we arrived at 4pm, the crowds were slightly thinner, so movement through the museum was a little easier. We roamed the Blue House for another 30 minutes or so before walking into the town centre of Coyoacan. I had this unrealistic notion that the Coyoacan metro station would simply be ‘on the way’, and we would just discover it and catch a train back to Mexico City. However, street maps make suburbs look a lot more walkable than they really are, and it soon became apparent that the metro station was quite a distance from where we were. We decided a taxi was the best option, so five of us squeezed into the smallest of cabs for a slightly uncomfortable drive back to the hotel.

We freshened up, jumped into a minibus and headed out to dinner at Fonda El Refugio, a traditional Mexican restaurant located in Zona Rosa, about 5km west of Mexico City. We ordered tacos sudados (sweated or ‘armpit’ tacos) and plato surtido con chile relleno (a selection plate with a red enchilada, fried chicken taco with guacamole, cheese quesadilla, refried beans, butter fried beef tenderloin and a stuffed meat poblano pepper). The meal was fantastic, albeit a little expensive and old school. We started the meal with a traditional margarita, which was sensational!

It is always such a good feeling to end a fantastic travel day with a fantastic meal. We jumped into a taxi and headed back to the hotel. We worked on our travel notes for a while, but the day had been long and we were leaving Mexico City to travel to Puebla the next day, so we eventually succumbed to sleep at 10:30pm.

We woke early and organised our packs. We’d been exploring Mexico City for the past seven days, and we had become very fond of our room in Hotel Metropol. We walked to Pasteleria Ideal, a two-storey bakery on Avenida 16 de Septiembre, where we selected a few pastries for our two hour bus trip to Puebla. We then walked to the corner of Avenue Madero and Motolinia, where we stood and enjoyed breakfast from a small collection of very busy street stalls. We’d walked past this lively place so often over the past few days, and we’d really wanted to stop for breakfast a few times. We opted for a quesadilla (tortillas filled with cheese) each, these were stuffed with fried mushrooms, onions, zucchini flower and quesillo cheese. It was amazing, and it was enormous. We also had a plastic cup of freshly squeezed orange juice, which was incredibly refreshing.

We then walked to Centro de Artesanias Ciudadela, a rambling handicrafts market close to our hotel. I’d read that it was a good place to pick up hand crafted guitars from Paracho, so I wanted to see if it was worth a longer visit when we returned to Mexico City in a weeks’ time. It was just what I’d been looking for. There were small stalls with handmade guitars hanging from the ceiling, and there were also a few luthiers that appeared to be selling (as well as repairing) guitars. We only had 20 minutes, as our bus was leaving at 11am, so I tried a few guitars and decided it was definitely worth a visit on our return. I sat down and tried one guitar, and I absolutely loved it, but the guy selling it signalled to me to stop. He walked to a stereo at the back of his shop and played two excerpts of Mexican guitar, and while I listened he pointed to the stereo and insinuated that the guitar I was holding should only be used for that style of music, not what I was playing (which was one of my own pieces). I’ve always recoiled from the slightly parochial belief that certain instruments can only be used for certain types of music. An instrument in a musician’s hands can be played in any way a musician pleases. Needless to say, old mate in his guitar shop didn’t get a sale!

We made our way out of the market and headed back to the hotel. After seven days in Mexico City, we were leaving (with heavy hearts) and travelling to Puebla.

On our sixth day in Mexico City we decided to further explore the buildings and little lanes that we’d missed so far. We’d roughly followed the Lonely Planet guide’s Downtown walking tour, and given the walking tour was predominantly set west of the Zocalo, we’d covered most of it already by walking to and from our hotel, but we thought we’d fill in the bits we’d overlooked.

We started by having breakfast at the Espiga Panaderia bakery near our hotel again, which wasn’t as nice as it had been previously. We had an omelette with ham and some potato side dish that was really dry. The fresh bread rolls were superb, as was my cup of tea.

We then headed around the Alameda to the small (microscopic actually) Museo Mural Diego Rivera that houses what’s referred to as the most endearing of Diego Rivera’s murals – Dream of a Sunday Afternoon in Alameda Central. It’s tucked away in a small building on the edge of the Alameda. In the very long mural that covers the entire back wall of the museum, Rivera has painted Mexico's heroes and villains from various periods, all grouped around himself depicted as a small boy holding hands with a skeleton. Frida Kahlo stands behind him holding a yin/yang sign. I think this was now my favourite of all the Rivera murals we’d seen.

We then spent some time exploring Plaza Juarez at the top of our street, which held an interesting group of buildings including the Museo Memoria y Tolerancia (a museum dedicated to preserving the memory of genocide victims), a beautiful old Templo de Corpus Christi, and a pair of modern towers which house the official sounding Foreign Relations Secretariat and Tribunales. This was all set around a pool filled with eye catching small red pyramid shapes. I loved the plaza very much for its mix of architectural types and relaxed spaces, which were filled with people enjoying their Saturday afternoon.

We had planned on exploring further north and south of the Zocalo, but Andrew still wasn’t feeling 100% so we wandered back to our hotel to have some quiet time. I ducked out to get some drinks and pastries to snack on during the afternoon, but other than that, we spent the afternoon sorting ourselves out for our next Intrepid Travel trip, and catching up on our writing.

The group meeting of our Real Food Adventure Mexico Intrepid Travel trip was at 6pm. It’s no secret that the food was a huge factor in our decision to come to Mexico. Even though we had already got to know a lot of Mexico’s favourite/most popular foods and the cuisine local to the States of Yucatan and Chiapas in the south, we were looking forward to this journey through some of Mexico’s most famous luscious culinary regions – Mexico City, Puebla and Oaxaca.

We love getting to know a country through its cuisine, as there are often rich cultural traditions associated with food. We get the opportunity to try and understand cultural history, customs and philosophies through a means that we love. It wasn’t only a culinary tour though – we would also be exploring a few of the colonial and historic sites.

We travelled on a food trip through Malaysia two years ago, and it was a really fabulous experience, so we were coming to this trip with high expectations – which was probably not advisable. We wandered down at 6pm and met our two group leaders-in-training Balam (who had a background in history) and Arturo (who was a chef). Our main group leader Fernando was going to be joining us the next day. There were nine of us in the group – Ziggy and Danette (Aus), Christine and Gary (Aus), Jacob and Natalie (NZ), Logan from our last group and ourselves.

After the group meeting, Arturo took us on a taco crawl to try his favourite tacos around town. We started at El Rincon Tapatio on Indepencia Street, which was just around the corner from our hotel. However, we’d never have known that they were famous for their lengua (beef tongue) tacos. Andrew was giving his stomach a break and not eating, but I gave the lengua and birria (stewed goat) tacos a go and loved them. There was a trolley full of condiments near the table, so I spread nopales (prickly pear cactus paddles) and salsa verde (green salsa) on the beef tongue taco, and pico de gallo (fresh, uncooked salad made from chopped tomato, onion, coriander leaves, serrano chiles, lime juice – what Australians call a salsa) and guacamole on the birria taco. I had expected to love the stewed goat taco more, but I was actually surprised at how good the beef tongue taco was.

Next we walked to El Huequito on Ayuntamiento Street, which Arturo said was his favourite tacos al pastor (marinated pork tacos) place that serve tacos with onions. It was quite funny that we had also come to the same conclusion and had eaten there a few times already. Tacos are a Mexican culinary heritage that go back thousands of years, and the tacos al pastor are a genius fusion of the ancient taco and Middle Eastern style meat (brought over by immigrants to Mexico City at the turn of the 20th Century). The pork (it would have been lamb in the early days) is cooked on a turning rotisserie normally seen in a kebab shop.

On the way back home we stopped in for a sip of mezcal. Apparently mezcal used to be an old man’s drink, but it has experienced a resurgence in popularity all over Mexico in the form of a new hipster trend. We’d been tasting mezcals at Bosforo, a hipster bar near our hotel, and expected that we’d be visiting some too-cool-for-school bar with Balam and Arturo, but it was exactly the opposite. We popped into Cantina Tio Pepe, an old school local neighbourhood cantina. Since visiting it, we’ve read that it was (anecdotally) considered one of the oldest cantinas in the city.

While the quality of mezcal at the cantina was leagues behind that at Bosforo Next Door, it was still quite nice and the atmosphere was brilliant. There were people sitting in booths playing dominos, and others standing at the beautiful old bar. A guy standing at the bar took an interest in us and started speaking to us about our trip. He was out drinking with his father who was totally sloshed, but they were very happy and enthusiastic about trying to get to know us. It seemed very important to them that we liked Mexico, and that we felt welcome. It was a lovely chance encounter, and all because he thought he was in my way as we were being dorks and taking photos of the beautiful old style bar.

I’d really wished Andrew had been well enough to enjoy the tacos that night, but he certainly enjoyed the mezcal at the bar. I’d really taken a liking to mezcal too, as there’s a certain warmth and happiness that is emitted from it that cannot be described in mere words. There’s a popular saying about mezcal that Balam shared with us - ‘para todo mal, mezcal, y para todo bien, tambien’ (mezcal for the bad times, mezcal for the good times) - which just about describes how I feel about it. 😊

Having over-expanded my stomach with delicious tacos, and expanded our hearts with warming mezcal, we went to bed very very happy that night.

The next morning (our seventh day in Mexico City), we had a food focused walking tour of the Mexico City’s Centro Historico. We had walked most of the area already, but there were new details pointed out by Balam and new eateries pointed out by Arturo (a very proud resident of Mexico City) that we’d completely missed.

Balam provided detailed historical and cultural explanations of Avenida Juarez, the Alameda Park and the Benito Juarez monument. I’d gathered that Benito Juarez (the first and only indigenous president in Mexico) had presented the country with a very important turning point in many ways, but it was also interesting to get his personal story from a local. Benito Juarez was from Oaxaca, and I could sense the pride in Balam’s tone when talking about a fellow Oaxacan.

Avenida Juarez leads to Paseo de la Reforma, a beautiful central boulevard that leads to Chapultepec and cuts diagonally through the city. Both roads are closed to traffic on Sunday mornings, so cyclists, joggers and families had turned the pedestrian-only streets into an open-air exercise space.

We kept walking to the Palacio De Bellas Artes and got a brief architectural explanation of the building in relation to the surrounding art deco buildings, including the Torre Latinoamerica building. This tower was Mexico City's tallest building when first built in 1956. The tower has brilliantly survived two earthquakes, and we wondered if the newer skyscrapers would fare as well.

At this point it looked like the rest of the group were going to line up for tickets to get into the Palacio de Belles Artes, but we’d already spent considerable time exploring the inside of the building, so we left and checked out the very arty San Francisco Church on Avenida Madero where Mass was in progress. We crossed the road and went back into Sanborns cafe in the Casa de los Azulejos to have a coffee, but the lines were again too long to get a table.

Even though the streets and traffic were calmer on a Sunday, the restaurants, art galleries and Museums were full to capacity, due to the fact that Sunday lunch is a big family event and Museums are free for locals. We kept walking on Avenida Madero, which was so much more pleasurable to stroll down without the millions of touts. We eventually met up with the rest of the group and reached the Zocalo.

Balam gave us an overview of the buildings of importance in the area (which are many!) and we then visited the Metropolitan Cathedral for the third time. The church yard was teeming with an enormous group of pilgrims dressed in white tops and yellow scarfs and ties. The atmosphere was very festive. However, it was very crowded inside the cathedral, and navigation was made more complicated because they all seemed to want to stand and chat at the entrance. We were glad that we’d already visited the cathedral twice, but it was still lovely to look around again.

We then doubled back along Avenida 5 de Mayo towards our hotel to check out a market and have lunch. We’d walked past Mercado San Juan a few times already, but we hadn’t ventured in. The very large San Juan Market is split into smaller markets that specialise in different areas. The one we visited was the city’s main food market, and the only one also specialising in gourmet and exotic food (Mercado San Juan Pugibet). The stalls seemed to be evenly split between vendors selling fruits, vegetables, meats, cheeses and others selling fully prepared goods.

We started in the seafood area, and I was pleasantly surprised at the size and variety of the fresh fish and seafood in the stalls. Arturo explained that Tokyo has the biggest fish market in the world, but a lesser known fact is that Mexico City has the second biggest fish market in the world… not something you would associate with a landlocked city. We stopped at one of the bustling fish stalls that apparently had a reputation for being one of the best seafood stands in the city. Our expectations were high.

Fernando (our group leader) had joined us at this point and we had lunch of shared platters of mixed seafood cerviche (octopus and prawns), a sierra ceviche (Mexican white fish) and tuna tartare. The tuna with basil and chives was melty good and by far the best of the dishes. I liked the other two ceviches too, apart from the octopus which was tough in parts.

We then explored more of the market. We first walked through the meat section which had venison, suckling pigs and rabbit on display. It was interesting to see that the skinned rabbits had their furry feet still left on, a novel way to ensure unscrupulous vendors didn’t sell skinned cats as rabbits. Interestingly, in Asia they leave the fluffy tail on skinned rabbits for the same reason. We then moved into the vegetable area, where Arturo gave us a much needed lesson on how to identify the range of dried chiles. Some we’d heard of and tasted, but others were completely new to us.

Our next stop was a fruit vendor, where we got to taste three indigenous fruits – a native species of citrus, a chico zapote (the fruit of the chicle gum tree, also known as sapodilla) and a mamey zapote. The citrus fruit looked like a big lime but tasted like a vaguely sweet but bland grapefruit, while the chico was very sweet with a grainy texture and large black seeds. We’d tasted mamey before, and I’m still not sure if I like it – it’s nice enough, but the dense texture and pumpkin like flavour gets a bit heavy after a few bites. I was told it makes a fabulous ice cream flavour.

Our last stop was at a gourmet jam and condiments stand. We sampled unusual jam combinations such as habanero chile and mango, jalapeno chile and capsicum, honey and cardamom, rose petals (which was like a delicious liquid Turkish delight), strawberry and chocolate, coffee and chocolate, lemon curd and many others that I can’t remember. A sesame and chia seed with red chile spread made a big impression, but we still had more travelling to do, and we didn’t think the jams would travel well.

Even though the area around the market was only a short walk from the highly polished tourist areas on the big Avenidas, it still had a very local community feel to it – laundry hung from windows, there were children on errands to the shops, lines snaked around the block at the small mills churning out masa (corn dough), and tortillerias were making fresh tortillas for the neighbourhood families and restaurants.

That afternoon Andrew and I had decided to explore the southern leafy district of Coyoacan. As everyone in the group had also decided to go there, Fernando organised a minibus for us. The Sunday afternoon traffic was very heavy and it seemed to take an age to get there. Coyoacan is a world away from the hustle and bustle of downtown Mexico City, with a high walled and tree-sy suburban street feel. Our main reason for venturing into the southern borough of bohemian Coyoacan was to visit Frida Kahlo’s Casa Azul (Blue House).

The Coyoacan area is renowned for attracting left wing political types and artists. I’m not sure if it was always this way, or if this had arisen because it was the neighbourhood of artists Frida Kahlo and Diego Rivera, and later the home of exiled politician Leon Trotsky. In a way this was an extension of our visit to the museums and galleries of Chapultepec. We’d seen a few of Frida’s paintings, including my favourite Las Dos Fridas at the Museo de Arte Moderno a few days before, and I had been hanging out to see the Blue House which is now Museo Frida Kahlo.

It was a bit of a shock when we got there and saw a queue wrapped twice along the long wall outside the house, which didn’t seem to be moving at all. While we were standing in the queue, one of the staff made an announcement in Spanish about getting packaged tickets to the Blue House plus Museo Diego Rivera Anahuacalli with transport between the two museums. After we clarified the details with an English speaking staff member we jumped at the ticket package, because not only was it weirdly 10 pesos cheaper than a single entry to the Blue House, it also meant VIP access into the Blue House. I felt bad for everyone who had been queuing for hours, but I suppose locals had free entry on Sundays and didn’t wish to pay for a package. It certainly worked in the favour of non-locals and gifted us an unexpected bonus of visiting Museo Diego Rivera Anahuacalli.

From what I’ve read, the Blue House is seen as a site of pilgrimage in the feminist and art worlds. I’ve always seen Frida as a larger than life figure, so I was surprised that her house was quite modest. However, I suppose this was her family home, and as we walked around, her flamboyancy became very evident. The house is a very loudly coloured cobalt-blue fort, and the central courtyard has a stepped pyramid designed by Diego Rivera. The courtyard was full to the brim with plants, and a happy sleepy cat had cleverly put itself just out of the reach of the pesky children who were trying to annoy it. The house had papier-mache sculptures, small artworks and many original pieces of furniture. I’ve been to less than impressive houses-turned-into-museums before, but this was a perfect tribute to the distinctive visual of Frida.

We were also lucky to see the temporary exhibition of Frida’s clothing and other very personal items (like her body cast and prosthetic leg) which had recently been touring the world. As crowded and uncomfortable as the walk through the property was, I loved every minute of it. My favourite part of the house was the upstairs light filled studio, which was set up with Frida’s wheelchair, easel and paints.

After a 15 or so minute bus ride to the Museo Diego Rivera Anahuacalli, we waked into the very striking black volcanic rock building. Diego Rivera had purpose built this to house his very large pre-Hispanic art, which he had apparently collected over his lifetime and which contained pieces from all the indigenous civilizations in Mexico's history. It was a stunning museum, even though the art contained in it wasn’t something I would normally have travelled to see. However, I loved the second floor of the museum with its massive glass wall which contained an exhibition room dedicated to the life and works of Rivera. It displayed drafts and sketches for his controversial mural Man at the Crossroads, which was destroyed before it was completed in New York City's Rockefeller Centre due to its Communist themes. There was also a roof top from where we had a bird’s eye view of the cactus garden below and the trees and suburban rooftops of Coyoacan.

The bus dropped us back at Frida’s Blue House, and we went in for another look around. However, this time we knew where we were going, so we hightailed it to the areas we wanted to see for a second time and take more photos of. Thank goodness the crowd had thinned a bit – I could look at the art work without being jostled. I highly recommend a visit to the Blue House, especially for Frida Kahlo fans. However, I definitely wouldn’t recommend a visit on a Sunday.

Afterwards, we walked past the Coyoacan Market and into the town centre in Jardin Hidalgo. It looked like it had lots of nice restaurants and cafes, but we had a dinner date with Fernando back in downtown Mexico City, so we couldn’t linger too long. The little we saw of the gorgeous neighbourhood of Coyoacan was enough to make me like it – it had managed to retain a village atmosphere despite the enveloping sprawl of the city.

We returned ‘home’ in a taxi of five, which was a very squishy journey back to say the least. It was nice to be back in the Centro Historico and to wander around ‘our’ streets that we had come to know so well.

For our last dinner in Mexico City on this leg of the trip, Fernando recommended Fonda El Refugio as a good place to taste typical Mexico City dishes. Fondas are usually front rooms of houses that have been converted to restaurants and serve very traditional home cooked meals. El Refugio had come a long way from a casual family establishment – it had a range of copper pots hanging from the walls and busy dressed-up waiters, which gave it a very old school formal feel. Fernando told us they were famous for their traditional margaritas, and they were without a doubt the best classic margaritas we’d had on the whole trip so far!😄

We also ordered tacos sudados (sweated or ‘armpit’ tacos) and a tasting platter of plato surtido con chile relleno, with a red enchilada, fried chicken taco with guacamole, cheese quesadilla, refried beans, butter fried beef tenderloin and a stuffed chiles rellenos. The chiles rellenos (stuffed poblano pepper dipped in egg and deep fried) was delicious, and Andrew insisted that the enchilada, fried taco and quesadilla were tasty too, but since I was sick in Antigua, I’d lost my appetite for fried food (I hope this doesn’t last!). I had been looking forward to trying tacos sudados but wasn’t that impressed with these ones, I think I need to keep looking.

Even though we’d had a long day, I decided to stay up and do some writing. I posted our Palenque blog, which made me realise how far behind we were in posting our blogs. It was increasingly looking like we’d have to give in to the idea that the rest of our blogs would be posted after we got back home to Australia. The best laid plans… too much walking, loving my afternoon naps, something something, too many mezcals with dinner to write at night, something something, something something = no blogs were getting posted.

On our last morning in Mexico City (for this section of the trip), we walked down to Pasteleria Ideal to pick up some snacks for our bus trip later in the day – it’s somewhat of a Mexico City institution. It’s a two storey bakery brimming with more breads, pastries, biscuits, puddings and cakes than I’ve ever seen in one place! It was cavernous and packed with people buying vast quantities of oven-fresh bread and pastries. The upstairs section displayed all their model cakes for all occasions - it was a homage to icing sugar and multi-tiers. I think this could possibly be the world’s busiest pastry shop, but I’ll need to ask Siri.

We then walked to the corner of Avenida Madera and Motolina Street to buy breakfast from the many makeshift breakfast street stalls. It was a small but busy area full of sizzling hot plates and cauldrons of steaming soups. It seemed to be popular with policemen and people on their way to work. Fernando took us through all the stalls selling quesadillas (tortillas filled with cheese and other toppings), tamales (corn masa dough with a filling, wrapped in a corn husk and steamed) and breakfast tacos. We decided on the quesadillas with mushrooms, zucchini flowers and Oaxacan quesillo. From the choice of condiments in the cart, we opted for green and red salsa. It was delicious and by far the best quesadilla we’d tasted on this trip. The tortillas used were thick and fluffy, and very tasty.

We had an hour before we left Mexico City, so Andrew and I walked to a market Andrew had read about that was a potential guitar buying spot. The Artisans Market on the corner of Ayuntamiento and Balderas Streets was the nicest market we’d seen in Mexico City. As with most markets, a lot of the stalls had the same tourist stuff, but there were also luthiers and jewellery makers and other small and unusual stalls. Andrew found a guitar he loved, but the price was ridiculous and the old man in the shop was disinterested. So with plans to come back when we returned to Mexico City, we walked back to the hotel to get our packs and catch a taxi to the Autobus Station.

Our week in Mexico City had seriously flown by, but we managed to do quite a bit in that time and really enjoyed getting to know small parts of this mammoth city. We cannot wait to come back and spend more time here before we head home. And eat more tacos al pastor!

Next we travel southeast to Puebla in Puebla, Mexico.


23rd July 2016
cantina tio pepe

Mezcal madness!
Fascinating to learn from all your tastings, that mezcal is now up and coming with mezcal bars, and artisan producers making the authentic product. As you said, it used to be the old man's drink and was the cheaper version of tequila, which it still may be in the mass-produced bottles. Great that Mexico is preserving its food and drink heritage. Loved another day of culinary delights and art with you, and I'd die to see Frida's dresses--yum!
24th July 2016
cantina tio pepe

Re: Mezcal madness!
We just couldn't get enough of the stuff and brought a few bottles home :) The temporary travelling exhibition of Frida's personal items was a real treat as I hadn't even realised that it was at the Blue House.
25th July 2016

Tongue Taco!!!!!!!!!
A dodgy stomach that wouldn't let you eat a beef tongue Taco but you could still have mescal...sounds suss to me. I would pull the same stunt on Shelley but she would see right through me. As for the Guitar Nazi, don't you just wish you could pay for it, play "smash it up" and then pulverise it against and amp, or is that just me channelling my inner punk.
26th July 2016

Re: Tongue Taco!!!!!!!!!
Mezcal is supposed to be medicinal...that's Andrew's story and he's sticking to it :) I think the old man in the guitar shop would have had a massive heart attack right in front of us. He was such an obnoxious man!
28th July 2016

Real food adventure in Mexico
Andrew you'll be back and the taco crawl will be waiting for you. I'm so glad Ren understood and you ended up at the front of the line. Guilt and waiting are overrated! So much food, so little time. I love reading about each morsel and spice. We never tire of Mexico. The architecture, the foods, the people are always so wonderful and welcoming.
29th July 2016

Re: Real food adventure in Mexico
Absolutely so much food and so little time! Andrew enjoyed many more tacos for the rest of the trip, but sadly we never managed to go back to the beef tongue taco place :( You and Dave are so lucky to live so close to Mexico! :)
28th July 2016
cantina tio pepe

Just a taste
I'm certain he was pouring all of those for you.
29th July 2016
cantina tio pepe

Re: Just a taste
The pours of mezcal were always so generous! I struggled to finish this one, but luckily Andrew was quite happy to help me ;)
28th July 2016
mercado san juan

Everything is festive
Love the foods and colors.
29th July 2016
mercado san juan

Re: Everything is festive
You are right Merry Jo - there was no beige in Mexico! I wish ceviche was more popular over here, I really do love it...

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