The food of San Pedro Atocpan and Milpa Alta, in southern Mexico City

I’m friendly with the guy who sells me chiles and mole paste at Mercado Medellín. Over the years we’ve talked about me visting him in San Pedro Atocpan, the village where he lives, about 90 minutes southeast of the city center.

San Pedro is part of the delegación de Milpa Alta, which, along with Tlalapan, makes up the southernmost area of the Distrito Federal. (Think about that. You can ride a bus for 90 minutes in this city and you’re still within the city limits.)

A few weeks ago I finally had a weekend free, and so Crayton and I and our friend Chris rode the pesero out to San Pedro early one Sunday morning. The bus took us through Xochimilco, and then on a windy, two-lane road lined with cactus and corn. San Pedro is known for its mole, so I figured we’d check out a few markets and then have mole for lunch. I didn’t count on being completely hypnotized by the food.

The Milpa Alta Market

Once arriving in San Pedro, we took another pesero to Milpa Alta, a slightly larger city nestled in the hills. The produce there was even more gorgeous than in Xochimilco.

At a tianguis in front of the market, vendors sold local bluish-red corn, rabbits, herbs I’d never seen, quelites, and piles of wild mushrooms.

Check out the mushrooms for sale, on the sidewalk outside the market. Aren't they gorgeous?

Chile nuevo, sold outside the market in Milpa Alta. It's not very spicy.

This was just on the sidewalk. Erik, my friend, ushered us inside the market and vendors were selling wild mushroom tamales. I’ve never seen or heard of a wild mushroom tamale in three years of living in Mexico City. It was divine — picture meaty bits of mushroom, soaked in a green chile sauce.

A home-cooked meal in San Pedro Atocpan

I was happy just having gone to the tianguis in Milpa Alta. But Erik and his family had prepared a big spread for us at his house, with several local foods: mixiotes, esquites, fava bean salad, three types of mole. Everything tasted just as good as it looked.

Doña Belia, preparing tortillas at Erik's house in San Pedro Atocpan

Mixiotes

Those are the mixtiotes -- it's slow-cooked, spicy meat, cooked in maguey leaves like little purses. These were made with mutton.

Fava bean salad, one of my faves. It has onion, cilantro and queso fresco.

Blue corn esquites

Blue corn esquites! I'd never tried esquites with blue corn in Mexico. These were phenomenal.

Cecina and locally made chorizo.

Carrots, corn and squash

A basket of goodies.

When in San Pedro Atocpan… try the chicharrón

There was a bowl of chicharrón on the table at Erik’s house, and I’m telling you, it was the best chicharrón I’ve had, ever. It was this deep-brown caramel color, and thick and crunchy, not like the wimpy beige stuff I usually see in the markets where I live.

I asked Erik why it was so good and he said: “It’s homemade.”

I thought all chicharrón in Mexico was homemade? If anyone out there knows the difference between the two chicharrónes — the beige, more mainstream variety and the rustic dark-brown stuff — I’d love to hear about it.

Homemade chicharrón

The best chicharrón I've ever had in my life, hands-down.

I’m planning another visit out there hopefully in the next few months. If you’re interested in visiting yourself, San Pedro Atocpan is hosting a mole festival through the end of October.

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15 Responses to “The food of San Pedro Atocpan and Milpa Alta, in southern Mexico City”
  1. Daniel Becker

    I’m going to Milpa Alta this weekend for the Feria del Mole. I’m looking forward to seeing something new here in DF.

  2. Brian Watkins

    Those pretty pictures are making me hungry. I really want a wild mushroom tamal and some mixiotes.

    (Think about that. You can ride a bus for 90 minutes in this city and you’re still within the city limits.)

    I’ve only been to Milpa Alta on bicycle but it’s less than two hours from the Roma up to San Pedro Atocpan en bici. With the speedy start transit passengers get on the tren ligero, that means the bus is actually significantly slower than a bicycle up into the mountainside pueblos.

    On the other hand, the subway and bus ride out to Mixquic in Tláhuac took us four hours from the center and that’s also within the city limits. It’s considerably more urban feeling than Milpa Alta. Línea 12 should really improve life out that way. I wonder how long it takes to commute to the IPN medical school at 3000m at the top of Milpa Alta.

    • Lesley

      Hi Brian: Milpa Alta en bici? I want to do that. I guess I need to buy a bicycle first. How did you find the route? Also, I can’t believe it took four hours to get to Mixquic. That’s longer than taking a bus to San Miguel Allende.

      • Brian Watkins

        The best way to find routes in and out of Mexico on a bike is to ask people who ride them or use the Google Earth 3-D view. The Xochimilco-Oaxtepec route over the top of Milpa Alta has very calm traffic and is only medium steep.

        The Bicipista route from Chapultepec over Ajusco is traffic-free and not very steep but I don’t know how to get from Ajusco to Milpa Alta but there must be ten different good routes. I go from Ajusco down to Tepoztlán or Cuernavaca and you can make a loop (multi-day) through Oaxtepec.

        Finding routes through the city traffic is harder with all the one-way streets. Worse, the quieter neighborhood streets don’t go through and riders end up on ejes which are not nearly as much fun. If you plan carefully, you can have a commute on all quiet streets. I worked out a way to the UNAM and back to the Roma but it took me four or five tries to find the best way to go.

        For Milpa Alta, I’d just follow División del Norte out to Xochimilco and connect to whichever route up the mountains seems to go where you’re headed. To get to Pueblo Milpa Alta you follow the main canal east and climb the Xochimilco-Oaxtepec highway up but I think there are faster ways to San Pedro Atocpan from Google Earth. Carry a map or a smartphone with maps.

        Be sure to have some miles on your legs and low gears before going up into the mountains.

        longer than taking a bus to San Miguel Allende.

        Yeah, San Miguel has motorways and gringos. Mixquic looks closer on the map but it’s farther away culturally and in travel time. That’s not even counting the time warp back to the 1500’s.

        Four hours on RTP busses to Mixquic was on Day of the Dead with traffic and transfers. I thought about coming around back from TAPO to somewhere near Chalco or Amecameca and then in from the EdoMex side next time. Maybe I could even use the upcoming Tren Suburbano. But there hasn’t been a next time yet.

  3. Don Cuevas

    You are a very lucky woman, Lesley!

    Keep up the great postings.

    Saludos,
    Don Cuevas

  4. Crystal

    Lesley,

    I really enjoy your blog and you always make me want to visit Mexico City again, it makes me reminisce about the couple of times I’ve been there and how much more I still have to explore. My husband’s aunt lives in Nicolas Romero which is before San Pedro, so we would have to take an hour and a half bus ride to get to the actual centro of D.F. It’s a pain in the butt but its actually amazing that people commute that much on a daily basis into the city, some even further.

    When you mentioned the travel distance it also reminded me of an article that I read about the punk scene in Mexico City which stated that most shows begin during the day and end early in the evening because of the fact that some kids have to commute as far as 3 hours. It’s kind of ridiculous, but life there is consumed by commuting, a lot! I think this can be said for Mexico in general because I know people who commute regularly from my husbands small town in Michoacan to Morelia, a two hour bus ride or even to Guadalajara. On the coast of Jalisco, one of my cousins will drive 4 hours all the way to Guadalajara when they have work there. It’s kind of a hassle but kind of amazing that there is regular commuting to these large cities on a daily basis and that you’re really only just a few hours from pretty much anywhere, so it doesn’t necessarily always feel like a “trip.” Definitely something to think about.

    • Lesley

      Thanks Crystal. Commuting really does seem like a part of life here. I was talking to a new friend a few days ago and he mentioned that his high school friend used to commute two hours each way, every day to school. I can’t imagine.

  5. Pete

    Lesley, where do you pick up the pesaro in Mexico City and how much does it cost to get to San Pedro Atocpan? Secondly, to your knowledge, do these pesaros run all day/night long? I’d like to do a day trip for the Mole festival and just wanted to plan my day around the bus schedule.

    Thanks! Pete

    • Lesley

      Hi Pete: I took the Metro to Tasqueña, then walked outside to the pesero station. It’s huge out there — they’ve got the peseros separated into different aisles, categorized by letter. I walked to Letra M and took the bus that said “Milpa Alta” in the window. First I asked the driver if he was going to San Pedro and he said yes. I told him to avísame when we arrived. I was nervous that we’d miss our stop, but it was fine. There are only two stops for San Pedro on the pesero, and the first one is at an intersection with a big mole store on the corner. (That’s where we got off.) I think it cost 10 or 12 pesos, I believe. I don’t remember exactly. It’s definitely not more than that. We got to the pesero station in Tasqueña at about 8:45 a.m., and arrived in Milpa Alta after 10 a.m. Hope that helps!

  6. Cooking in Mexico

    I haven’t visited your site in a while, and really like the new look. And the photos are great. They remind me of being asked why I wasn’t overweight (perhaps a question you get, also), being as I’m so into Mexican food. It’s all about quality, not quantity, and we some of the best food in the world here in Mexico.

    Kathleen

    • Lesley

      Hi Kathleen: Yep, I get asked that all the time. Although if I miss the gym for a few weeks, it can get a little dangerous… I really have to be vigilant about exercise and portion size! Also, of course not all Mexican food is fattening. So much of it is healthy. Thanks for stopping by. :-)

  7. Juan Garcia

    Lesley,
    First let me say that your new site looks great especially all the tempting pics. Second, what exactly is in the fava bean salad other than cilantro, onions and queso? Is there some type dressing? beans? Looks good and I want to see if I can make the salad at home in Houston.
    Mil Gracias
    Juan

  8. joe brennan

    anyone know of hotel to stay at while visiting San Pedro A?

    • Lesley

      Hi Joe: We went for the day only, but I vaguely remember a hotel off the main street in front of SP’s biggest church. It’s sort of catty corner from there. I know that doesn’t help very much, but next time I go there (which will probably be in the next two or three months), I can take a look and let you know.

      • joe brennan

        thanks Leslie….planning on spending some time in SPA, perhaps import to US some of the moles….hard to argue against all the anti-oxidants in the moles…

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