It took me awhile to warm up to tacos de canasta. They're the soft, steamed tacos sold on the street, and they're usually stacked in cloth-covered basket. Unlike at the regular street taco stands, where the vendors are furiously chopping meat or dunking flautas in a fryer, nothing really happens at a tacos de canasta stand. A man, or woman, stands under an umbrella next to a basket. The end. I didn't try them for months, because the idea of eating food that's been sitting in a basket all day sounded kinda gross. But then one day Alice mentioned that they were her favorite. Her eyes rolled back in her head as she described this specific tacos de canasta stand near the Chapultepec Metro. ("Oh my god, they are so good.") I tried them for the first time shortly afterward, at a stand in Tlalpan. I'd chosen an potato and rajas taco, and the vendor lifted up a section of the cloth and handed me an oily taco that looked nearly translucent in the middle. I was momentarily disappointed (is this going to taste like a mouthful of grease?) but then I bit into it. The potatoes and rajas had been stewed into this soft mixture that you barely had to chew. It was the taco equivalent of baby food. I loved it, because it was comforting and simple, and sometimes you need a break from all that chopped meat on the street. I've eaten tacos de canasta a few more times since then. Last week, I finally visited La Abuela, a crowded tacos de canasta stand in my neighborhood. The vendor is an old man who wears a newsboy cap, and he stands underneath a red umbrella. He has this weathered, kind face, like the stereotypical grandfather character in the movies. Every time I walk by, I steal a glance at him and think: he's so cute. He's not smiling here, but I promise, when he does, it's kind of adorable. La Abuela has a pretty extensive variety for a street stand. Crayton and I chose the frijol, papa, tinga, chicken with mole, and cochinita pibil. All of them had been cooked in the way that I remembered: oily tortilla, stuffed with a soft, stewed filling. The cochinita and the potato were the best -- the former with just a slight whisper of spices, and the potatoes, mashed to smithereens so that they slid down your throat with this kind of slick earthiness. They reminded me of the potatoes my great-grandmother used to make. She would slice them and fry them in lard, and then let them drain on paper towels for hours and hours, until they were so soft you could practically mash them with a fork. I would highly recommend La Abuela if you're in the neighborhood. The stand is located at the corner of Rio Rhin and Rio Lerma in Col. Cuauhtémoc, and it's open from 6 a.m. to 3 p.m. daily. La Abuela also has other branches around the city, and they offer home delivery, if you're having a party. If you're interested in making your own tacos de canasta, this site has pretty extensive instructions, including recipes for various fillings and how to properly line your basket to keep the warmth in.
One of the things I loved about living in my apartment was that we had an Extra, a local convenience store chain, a half-block away. They accepted my torn peso bills, unlike the other Extra two blocks away. And they had Bud Light. (Kinda nice when you're feeling homesick.) Then, last week, Crayton and I were out walking and we noticed it was closed. A sign taped to the door said they were doing inventory. Okay, no biggie. But then, a few days later, we saw this. Cardboard and newspapers taped in the windows. The sign, gone. For some reason the inventory sign remained, though. I'm so confused. Usually when Mexican businesses close, the government puts giant "CLAUSURADO" stickers all over the building, like campaign propaganda or something. No clausurado stickers here, but with newspapers in the window, I'm guessing they're closed for good? It's been like this for more than a week now. Since apparently no one is going tell the neighborhood residents the truth (although, now that I think about it, the newstand guy who sits in front of the store might know something), my theory -- completely void of facts, but let's call it a hunch -- is that the other Extra, the meanies who don't take torn peso bills, shut 'em down. They were like: "Look at you. The nice Extra. The one with actually helpful staff. Nope, you can't make it in this world. Goodbye." Or maybe Modelo, who owns Extra, decided that they couldn't justify the store's existence with another Extra so close by. (That one's in front of the American Embassy, where there's always lots of traffic.) Plus there's an Oxxo -- the most popular Mexican convenience store, where you can buy cell phones and detergent and lots of other wonderful things -- only three blocks the other way. Closing in on Extra like a hungry lion. Now that I think about it, our lonely, cardboard-taped little Extra should never have survived this long. It was doomed from the start. But what about us poor souls who only want to walk a half-block for some mineral water?
Just around the corner from my house, there's a line of street food stands maybe six deep. They're so close, we can hear the dudes rolling out their steel carts in the wee morning hours. At various times of they day, you can find chocolate and rice atole, plastic cups brimming with yogurt and cereal, sandwiches (some made with American-style bread, others on bolillos); flautas, carnitas tacos, tacos de suadero. And sunglasses and ties, too. It's a travesty that I haven't tried any of it yet. So yesterday I grabbed my friend Alice, a street food fiend, and we hit the streets for our first-ever Mexico City street food tour. Here were our rules: Keep it manageable. We'd only visit stands near Cuauhtemoc, which is my neighborhood. On the next tour, we'll delve into other areas. (Like the stands on the south side of Plaza de Insurgentes. GOD they look good.) Share. We'd split every item, as to keep tummies hungry for more food. Be efficient. We'd keep the tour to 1 1/2 hours. (This was my rule. I had to be back to continue working on a story.) Street food essentials to have in my purse: Here's how it went to down. Pics and details after the jump. ...