By Ian Graves
Over this past summer I traveled to the Mexico City area with my BLUElab team (a sustainability club on campus). Before the trip, I was really looking forward to having some real authentic Mexican food, and let me tell you, this stuff blew Chipotle out of the water. Overall, the main difference I found between the Mexican food here and that in central Mexico was the amount of meat and cheese. Here, you can get a loaded flour tortilla burrito with extra meat, with a ton of cheese and rice. This was not the case in Central Mexico. Since meat and cheese are not indigenous to the region, the more local and authentic Mexican food is simpler with more vegetarian options. Every tortilla we ate there was made of corn, and salsa verde was served with every meal. This didn’t surprise me too much since I figured that any “Mexican” food in the States would be Americanized, but it was great to experience the difference first hand.
We ended up eating out for every meal, so trying to condense everything down into a single article is hard to do. With that in mind, I’ve decided to share the four most memorable Mexican food experiences I had on the trip.
To start off, I have to talk about this dive bar in the heart of the Condensa district in Mexico City. It is called La Lavandería (the Laundromat) and it was hand picked by one of our guides, Allen. This was the first dinner we had in-country so Allen recommended an assortment of local dishes for us to try. The two most bizarre plates we got were a quesadilla with huitlacoche and then some fried crickets. Huitlacoche is a type of fungus that grows on corn that is usually added to tacos or quesadillas. It may sound off-putting, but it surprisingly tasted a lot like black beans. It was a great addition to a quesadilla with zucchini flowers, some Oaxaca cheese, and a nice helping of salsa verde. You would never find that quesadilla at my dinner table. The crickets were super crunchy and similar to sunflower seeds, but it is safe to say my bug tasting adventures are over.
Another memorable food moment was during our time in San Martín, Puebla Mexico. I’m not sure how everything came about, but the owner of a nearby convenience store offered to cook us dinner. It was a surreal experience because there we were, five U of M students sitting in some women’s home with her grandkids running around, being served amazing food. She made us soup, omelets, and really good enchiladas with farm fresh Oaxaca cheese we had received on one of our trips. It was delicious and cost everyone only $1.25 USD EACH!! It was just so cool to have an authentic meal, literally prepared by an Abuela (grandmother).
A great dish I had during the trip was tacos al pastor. Tacos al pastor is a dish made with pork that is slowly roasted on a spit. Thin slices of pork are then shaved off and placed on a corn tortilla with some fresh onion, cilantro and lime juice. Just think Greek gyros but with pork and Mexican chilies instead of lamb and tzatziki. I had to order this one a couple of times because it was just so darn good!
Finally, my favorite meal I had during the trip was at a chicken restaurant in Puebla. We had just spent the morning visiting farms in the area, so our guides took us out to a place that specialized in chicken. We were served a banquet. There was yellow rice, frijoles (beans), guacamole, a platter of salsa verde, spicy red salsa, some pickled peppers, and lime wedges as well as an endless supply of corn tortillas. We ordered chicken in a tamarind sauce, as well as a regular barbeque-type sauce and it was arranged in a basket with some pearl onions and grilled cactus. We also had a platter of various meats including beef and chorizo. To top it all off, we got a pitcher of horchata, which is a sweet rice milk drink with nutmeg and cinnamon. It was a refreshing way to wash down all the spicy and savory things. The whole meal was absolutely incredible and the shear amount of options properly satisfied all of my taste buds.
Unfortunately, there is so much more I’d like to mention like tortas ahogadas (drowned sandwiches) that were submerged in a delicious chili sauce and required a plastic glove to properly eat, or the mysterious Jamaican Water that was at every restaurant we went to (it is a hibiscus tea that tasted a lot like cranberry juice). These four great experiences are just a taste of the diversity and overall deliciousness of the food you can find in and around Mexico City.