- The Nuestro Pan Dulce blog catalogs different pieces of Mexican sweet bread en español, and it's highly worth a visit to begin learning how to tell these breads apart.
- My favorite Mexican food experts, Yuri de Gortari and Edmundo Escamilla, made a great video that showcases a local Mexico City bakery and talks about the history of wheat in the country. (You can also hear the gas guy shouting "Gaaas!" in the background around the four-minute mark.)
- No mention of pan dulce would be complete without the story of my old encounter with the bike-riding pan dulce vendor (complete with audio!) in my former neighborhood.
conchas because I’m obsessed, but there are plenty others I like too: the campechanas topped with burnt sugar that remind me of the best, crispiest pie crust; the puerquitos that taste like piloncillo and molasses; the cocoles, lightly sweet and sprinkled with anise seeds, which taste just about perfect with a cup of coffee. Mexico’s history with breadmaking dates to the beginning of the Spanish Conquest, when, according to Spanish chroniclers, a freed slave named Juan Garrido -- one of the first black men in Mexico -- planted the first wheat seeds, which had been accidentally included in sacks of rice. The first wheat mill opened in Mexico in 1525. Over the course of a few centuries, bread consumption grew slowly, until eventually, in the 19th century, it became present on most tables next to tortillas. According to CANAINPA, Mexico's largest union group for bread makers, there are currently more than 700 types of bread registered in the country. Another article I've read places the number of unique Mexican sweet breads at 1,200 (!), with savory breads numbering 400. Interestingly, as CANAINPA's site notes, the modern panadería — a place where each customer grabs a set of tongs, and serves herself — did not exist until the 1950's. Before that, Mexican bakeries kept the bread behind glass display cases. If I’m being honest, most breads I’ve eaten at neighborhood bakeries in Mexico City look beautiful but don't taste like much. I've eaten the best bread in pueblos, or at nicer restaurants like El Cardenal that use good-quality ingredients. I think change is coming, though. More and more of Mexico's high-class food scene has embraced typical Mexican ingredients; surely recognizing traditional breads will not be far behind. Here are some of my favorite pan dulce photos from my archives. Feel free to share your favorite type of pan dulce with me in the comments! For more on Mexican pan dulce:I am pained when I walk by a bakery in Mexico and can’t go inside. It’s like going to a shoe store for me — I want to look at every single piece and wonder if maybe it’s my type. I usually stick to
One of the things I’m most proud of is starting Eat Mexico, my tourism company that gives walking tours of Mexico City’s street stands, markets and taquerías. Our five local guides — three in Mexico City and two in Puebla — conduct the tours, and my fantastic manager Rebekah carries the day-to-day. I’m in the background, helping develop routes and managing the books, and occasionally answering questions from clients. We recently had a photographer, Teddy Wolff, visit one of our Street Food tours, and his photos made me ache for the city and the food that I love so much. I realized that I haven’t posted many photos of what we do at Eat Mexico on this blog, so here’s a peek at our Street Food Tour, from Teddy’s files.
this quick piece I wrote for Culinary Backstreets, about mango season in Mexico City and what it means to me now that I've developed a mango allergy. Does this mean no more mango pico de gallo for me? Yes, probably. At least I still have avocados. I've seen mangoes a little bit here in New York, but it's not an explosion like it is in DF. That said, I'm super excited to experience all the other great things about spring and summer here, like fresh tomatoes, corn and peaches. My local green market opens in June.Just wanted to steer your attention to
There are an extraordinary number of street-cries in Mexico, which begin at dawn and continue till night, performed by hundred of discordant voices, impossible to understand at first.... At dawn you are awakened by the shrill and desponding cry of the Carbonero, the coalmen, "Carbon, Señor?" which, as he pronounces it, sounds like "Carbosiu?" Then the grease-man takes up the song, "Mantequilla! lard! lard! at one real and a half." "Salt beef! good salt beef!" ("Cecina buena!") interrupts the butcher in a hoarse voice. ...Then passes by the cambista, a sort of Indian she-trader or exchanger, who sings out, "Tejocotes por venas de chile?" a small fruit which she proposes exchanging for hot peppers. No harm in that. .... Towards evening rises the cry of "Tortillas de cuajada?" "Curd-cakes?" or, "Do you take nuts?" succeeded by the night-cry of "Chestnuts hot and roasted!" and by the affectionate vendors of ducks; "Ducks, oh my soul, hot ducks!" "Maize-cakes," etc., etc. As the night wears away, the voices die off, to resume next morning with fresh vigour.This is from the excellent Life in Mexico, written by Frances Calderón de la Barca, wife of the first Spanish diplomat to Mexico. It's a collection of her letters while she lived in Mexico City from 1839-1842, and it's a must-read if you're interested in this city and its history. The book is in the public domain, so you can read it for free online -- UPenn's digital library has a full copy, or you can listen to an audio version LibriVox. Or if you're like me and you like turning physical pages, you can order the book on Amazon.
Nicos, mentioned local items on their menus, but that was about it. A lot has changed. Mexico City now has an eco-friendly tiangius every two weeks. La Nicolasa, a fabulous shop in Azcapotzalco, stocks organic products made in Mexico. New restaurants including Quintonil, Maximo and Kui make it a point to use locally sourced ingredients where possible. De la Chinampa, a company that works with Xochimilco farmers, has supplied local restaurants with pesticide-free, ecologically friendly produce for the past three years. Lately, though, they're pushing to let consumers know that they also do private deliveries. They'll bring Xochimilco-grown fruits and vegetables to your doorstep for a small (75 peso) delivery fee. You receive a spreadsheet, place an order and receive the goods within one or two days. De La Chinampa offers tours to anyone who wants to learn more about their operations, so I organized a group of 12 people last weekend to hit the chinampas. Chinampa is the name for a floating farm and it's the main way produce is grown in Xochimilco -- sprouted in layers of fertile mud, directly over water. The Chinampas Tour Begins We set off from the Cuemanco docks around 4 p.m., with a gorgeous salad (composed of locally grown ingredients) and cheese to munch on as we drifted. Ricardo Rodriguez, who runs De la Chinampa with his wife Laura, a biologist, mentioned that more than 26,000 hectares of Xochimilco's land could be developed for farming. Nearly 12,000 of those hectares are in Xochimilco's Ecological Reserve, the area we were visiting that day. De La Chinampa wants to generate a demand for Xochimilco produce, which would eventually create more farming jobs and hopefully restore the area ecologically. Much has been written about Xochimilco's ecological decline; a recent Washington Post story quoted an UNAM biologist saying that he feared that within his lifetime, Xochimilco would no longer exist. For those who don’t know, Xochimilco has been an agriculture hub in Mexico City since prehispanic times. A network of canals used to ferry produce to the Centro. The last canal only disappeared in the 20th century. Ricardo said he believes this damage is reversible. It's an overwhelming challenge, but on the tour, meeting the farmers, it seems possible. Inside a working chinampa in Xochimilco About an hour into our ride, we docked at a little cottage with flowers growing out front. A field stretched out to the left of the cottage. Nothing moved, except for wind rustling the trees. Ricardo introduced us to the farmer, Nicolás, who's been growing produce on this particular chinampa since he was a little boy. He showed us his neat rows of quelites, chard, radishes, and the lushest spinach I'd ever seen. Nicolás walked us through his farming process, describing how he uses mud, earth and local ground cover to keep the soil moist, cool or warm when needed. He also stressed that he doesn't use any chemicals. "I'm an enemy of chemicals," he said, smiling. My friend Janneth asked him how he learned to farm and he told us his grandmother taught him. None of us really wanted to leave the farm -- the grass there was so thick, I wanted to take off my shoes and run around -- but we eventually got back on the boat. We stopped at a smaller farm afterward. We poked around the succulents and patches of spinach. Finally, it was time to leave. We watched the sun set on the way back. As I mentioned above, De La Chinampa will give tours to anyone (a minimum of 10 people) interested in learning about their products. The tour runs about 3 to 3 1/2 hours and is conducted in Spanish. To arrange a tour, or to receive a spreadsheet with De La Chinampa's products available for order, contact Ricardo Rodriguez with De La Chinampa at ricardo[at]delachinampa.mx. De La Chinampa is also seeking donations to build a sort of community center for the chinamperos in Xochimilco, which would offer training on local agricultural issues. They're getting close to their May deadline and still need quite a bit. To give, visit their Fondeadora page (it's like Kickstarter in Mexico).When I moved to Mexico City in 2009, people here didn't talk much about where their food came from. A few stores sold organic groceries. A small handful of restaurants, including Pujol and
I snapped this a few months ago at Plaza Meave on Eje Central, in the Centro Histórico. They've got the biggest spit (trompo in Spanish) that I've seen in the city. It's always crowded, and fun to just sit and watch -- the taquero works like a madman, slicing meat with one hand and catching it in a tortilla. The tacos are decent. I've only had them at mid-day, when the meat isn't quite caramelized enough. If you want to go, it's located on Eje Central, north of Mesones.
If you’ve ever wandered near the eastern edge of the Zócalo, over by the Templo Mayor, you might have heard them: street vendors selling scarves, hats, sunglasses, purses, desk items and whatever else might be useful from tarps spread out on the sidewalk. As people pass, the vendors call out: “10 varos! 10 pesos mire! Todo le vale 25 pesos!” The vendors all have slightly different cadences, so when they shout at the same time, their voices turn into this sort of chaotic roar, almost banshee-like at times. It's amazing, annoying and slightly terrifying if you've never heard it before. What is all that noise in the background? Is it really people? Moneda Street in particular -- where the photo above was snapped, looking down Moneda from the Zócalo -- is so crowded it’s often impossible to walk on the sidewalk. Pedestrians walk in the narrow strip of space between the cars and the gutter. Or they just walk in the street. For the past few days I've been listening to the vendors' cries from our second-floor kitchen at the Fundación Herdez, where I'm taking a cooking class. Today on my way home I recorded a snippet of what it sounds like to walk through there. This was taken in the small area of space that borders the Metropolitan Cathedral, at the head of Moneda Street. I'm not necessarily complaining about these vendors, by the way. I'm just sort of... in awe. How do they not lose their voices at the end of the day?
I heard this guy while I was sitting at my desk a few days ago. Do you know what he's saying? I think he wants to buy old iron or metal stuff, similar to the La Lllorona lady, but I can't be sure. Incidentally, I saw a guy in Condesa today pushing a cart full of metal scraps while yelling, "Hierro viejo!" So I stopped him and said, politely: "Excuse me, I'm a foreigner. Do you mind if I ask what you are going to do with those scraps?" He said he planned to recycle them.
Chiles en nogada season starts in Mexico City toward the end of July. By two weeks ago, I hadn’t even tasted one in Mexico yet, which I considered a personal flaw. (I’m hard on myself.) Then I met a new friend at the end of one of my mezcal tours. He's a food enthusiast, too, and he suggested that we gather a group and spend the day tasting them. I loved this idea. I wrote him back: "Me encantaría!!" So he created a Google Map and we both added restaurant suggestions. Our criteria were that the restaurants needed to be places we’d never been before. And they should be more or less in the same area, since we’d be trying them in the same day. We decided we’d try four chiles in one day, with a fifth option. Of course we knew the chile en nogada is not a light food. So there'd be four of us, which meant a total of one chile per person each at the end of the day. We'd also order appetizers and drinks. (I stayed at the gym an extra-long time that morning, just to have some space.) Here’s how the tasting went down. For more on what exactly comprises a chile en nogada, check out the post I wrote on it last year. ...
I don't have a car, so I take cabs in Mexico City at least once every two days. I've been pretty happy with the cabs here, but a small number of drivers have tried to cheat me, usually by giving me an inflated fare. Yesterday for the first time, a driver gave me the wrong change and then laughed when I told him he owed me 10 pesos. "I can't give you 10 pesos because I don't have it," he said. "Sorry." This galled me. Sorry, I don't have it? What was I supposed to do with that? This morning I woke up before the sun came up and started thinking about all the things I've learned about taking cabs here over the past 2 1/2 years: always ask whether there's a meter, pay attention to the route, carry small bills. I thought this might be interesting to other people, too, particularly people who live here or visit frequently. I'm not complaining about Mexico City cab fares being too high, by the way. Taxis in Mexico City are much cheaper than what you'd pay in the States, and in fact I think rates in Mexico City are too low for the amount of time the drivers spend on the road. But in the interest of ensuring that consumers get a fair rate -- and in making sure they're conscientious riders -- here's my advice on taking taxis in Mexico City. ...