This morning, at a coffee stand inside the Terminal del Norte bus station in Mexico City: Me: I'd like a cafe americano with milk, please. Young woman: We don't sell an americano with milk. You can get a black coffee or a cappuccino. Me: Can't I just get a small amount of milk in my coffee? YW: No. Me: What if I paid extra? It's only a very small amount of milk that I want. YW: We don't sell americanos with milk. Me: What if I paid for a cappuccino? And you could give me an americano with just a little milk in it? Then I would be paying for extra milk, because I want less than you put in a cappuccino. *She looks at me doubtfully.* Me: So I would be paying you more money. You would win. YW: That'll be 21 pesos. *(Yelling to her compañera)* She wants an americano with milk. *** A few minutes later, I watch as the barista adds exactly one-half cup of milk to my coffee, the same amount she used in other customers' cappuccinos. So much for wanting, as I told the girl in Spanish, "un chorrito de leche, nada más."
Last week over lunch at El Cardenal, one of the restaurant’s owners, Marcela Briz, stopped by our table. Dining with me were some fancy guests -- Penny, two chefs from the States and Ruth Alegria. So Señora Briz graciously gave us each a little present: a lotería game she researched and designed based on traditional Mexican foods. I’ve seen riffs on the traditional lotería game before, but never anything that focused specifically on food. This game is actually quite educational. Each card contains a detailed description in Spanish of a variety of Mexican foods and cooking utensils. There's a metate, comal, molcajete, cazuela, plus prehispanic foods like chinicuiles (maguey worms), amaranto and flores de maguey. And dozens more. If you're not familiar with how to play lotería (I actually don't have much experience), Wikipedia says it's like bingo except with pictures. Sounds easy enough. I wonder if you can play with mezcal? As of now, the game is only available in Mexico City. You can find it the El Cardenal location inside the Hilton Hotel on Avenida Juárez, and at the Museo de Arte Popular. It costs 35 pesos, which seems like a steal for the amount of work that went into this. If you're a fan of Mexican cuisine and you're passing through the city sometime soon, you should pick one up.
Taco Tour, when I saw a chalkboard menu propped up on the sidewalk. Colorful tables and umbrellas had been spread out in a neat row, and baskets of paper flowers dangled underneath the awning. The cheeriness of it all made me stop. And so did the menu. This place offered “tacos guerrerenses.” What were those? As soon as I sat down, the waiter dropped off a little bowl of toasted pumpkin seeds. They didn’t taste like any pumpkin seeds I’d had before. Sheathed in their papery armor, they were crunchy and warm and tasted like the sun. Then came a little bowl of beans, another botanita provided by the house. And then, on the waiter's recommendation, I ordered a mole verde taco. Like the pumpkin seeds, this mole was unique -- herbal, assertive, not subtle as green moles normally are. (Marilau would call these pipianes.) The waiter explained that the mole contained a mix of hoja santa, avocado leaf, pumpkin seeds and something called hoja de mole. Most of the ingredients were brought directly from Tixtla, a small town in Guerrero state. Then this man, whom I'd later find out was Alfredo, one of the owners, volunteered another nugget: his mother cooked all of the food. At that moment, I felt really, really lucky to be living in Mexico. I ended up adding Con Sabor a Tixtla to my Taco Tour, and I’ve since gone back several times. It's right around the corner from my cooking school and Mercado Medellín, so when I'm in the neighborhood, I like to stop and say hi to Alfredo, who runs the place with his brother Juan Patricio. Once I even saw Yuri and Edmundo there -- they're big fans of the place, too. The food, prepared by Alfredo and Juan Patricio's mother Enedina Bello, consistently tastes like it’s been cooked with love and care. The menu focuses on typical items from Tixtla, so they're items you rarely see anywhere else. Besides the herbal mole, there’s fiambre, a mix of marinated meats and crunchy bits of chorizo served with white bread; Tixtla-style tostadas with sweet-and-sour dressing, and pollo enchipotlado, or chicken stewed with tomatoes, raisins and chipotle peppers. And the salsas -- the salsas! The ensaladita de rábano, made from hoja santa stems, lime, onion and radish, waps you over the head with its simplicity. A smoky, creamy salsa de jalapeño con aceite tastes like it contains avocado, but it’s actually just jalapeños fried with onion and garlic, and blended with olive oil. I wanted to gulp it down like milk in a cereal bowl. Con Sabor a Tixtla recently added a list of platos fuertes to the menu, and they do a special pozole guerrerense once a week. But if you go, you must get the fiambre. The meat is falling-apart tender, and seasoned simply but dazzlingly -- the kind of seasoning I wish I could emulate as a home cook. It's served on a bed of lettuce that's dressed the same salsa agridulce that comes with the tostadas. The dressing tastes like something you'd get at an Asian restaurant, which makes sense, considering Acapulco (Guerrero state's biggest city) was Mexico's major port to Asia and the Philippines for 250 years. On my last visit to Con Sabor a Tixtla, my friend Martin and I found ourselves sopping up the fiambre sauce with hunks of bread, even though we were stuffed. Here's the plate before we tore into it. Here are a few more photos of the place. If you're in the mood for a visit, it's located at Manzanillo 45b, in between Coahuila and Campeche. They don't have a website, but they do have a Facebook page. UPDATE: Con Sabor a Tixtla has moved! You can find them now at Chiapas 173, near the corner of Medellín. They're right next door to the pastes shop. The fonda also now has a website. ...I stumbled on Con Sabor a Tixtla by chance. I’d been wandering around the Roma neighborhood, looking for a few new places to add to Eat Mexico’s