Micheladas in the Afternoon

In Mexico, it is popular to serve beer in a glass with lime juice a salted rim, often called a michelada.  It’s similar to a margarita back in the U.S., though, that I have yet to find a margarita in Mexico at a non-tourist establishment suggests to me that the origin for this American tradition might be this tasty, beer-bodied cousin.

There’s just something about a michelada in the afternoon… it’s not just the taste, crisp, light Mexican cerveza, citrus, and salt, but the way in which the amber beer, clouded with lime juice, catches the light in the afternoon sun.

Who knew that beer would go so well with lime and salt?

Who knew that beer would go so well with lime and salt?

Of course, micheladas are known by other names, including cheladas (like the new canned InBev product) and cubanas, and with other ingredients, such as chile powder and salsa inglesa, or Worcester sauce(!).  Michelada usually refers to lime-and-salt only, though I’ve disastrously found that this standard isn’t as common as I’d like.

 

México, D.F.

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Send in the Clowns

Last week, on my way about town, I saw an inordinate number of clowns.  There were several on the metro, a couple on the street, one hailing a cab, one going shopping at Parque Delta, and then three more at Mercado Merced….  I’m not sure what was going on; perhaps it was just a series of coincidences.

"Clowning around"(?) at Mercado Merced

"Clowning around"(?) at Mercado Merced

Some people like clowns, though I’ve always found them to be a bit, well, creepy.  That said, clowns in Mexico are a bit different than those up in the States.  It may be that they use different makeup, it may be that so many are women, or even just the lack of uber-creepy hobo clowns.  For whatever reason, they seem to be much more popular here, at parties, at hospitals, and, perhaps as a result, I don’t find them to be as creepy as I once did.  Hmmm, maybe there is something in the water.

 

México, D.F.

Late Night Tacos at La Copacabana

It’s been a while since I gave an update on the great taco challenge.  In a moment of foolishness some time last September, I had suggested a fanciful (and mildly disgusting) goal of eating 1000 tacos during the roughly 8.5 months I’m spending in México.  Well, less than half-way through that time, I’ve hit the half-way taco mark, too.  My own reaction is a simultaneous “ewww,” “cool(!),” and “hmmm, I could use a taco.”

On Friday night, after a few bowls of pulque at Novo’s, a bar within walking distance of the Coyoacan Metro station, we headed over to La Copacabana (not walking distance), a popular, late-night taquería.  There are, apparently, three such named joints, all relatively close to each other, possibly owned by a feuding family; this one is on Division del Norte, near Pacifico.  So, here is #500, a taco de cabeza, which is thin slivers of meat cut from the head of a cow:

Taco (#500) de cabeza at La Copacabana.  (Blame the pulque for any image fuzziness!)

Taco (#500) de cabeza at La Copacabana.

For the record, this was a first both at La Copacabana and eating a taco de cabeza (it’s meaty, with good flavor).  La Copacabana will likely not rank among the best places in town, but for late-night eats, hand-made, fresh tortillas, and a little avocado to top off a steak taco, it’s not bad.  In particular, the tacos al pastor, which are seasoned differently than most I’ve had, might make a return visit necessary.  The count so far: 507.

 

México, D.F.

What to do with Huitlacoche

Huitlacoche is a mushroom that grows in corn kernels, distorting their shape and turning the flesh black .  In the U.S., where some call it “corn truffle” or “corn smut,” huitlacoche is most often treated as a blight and corn cobs affected by the fungus are often discarded (“tragically ugly”).  However, in México, it is an expensive delicacy and often served in quesadillas or, more elegantly, as a stuffing for peppers, chicken, or fish.  Despite the strange, black appearance (it is often prepared as a black paste), huitlacoche has a mild taste that is rich in the mushroom/umami flavor and a silken texture.  And served with a little cream or cheese to bring out the taste, it’s spectacular.

Huitlacoche on the cob looks intimidating...

Huitlacoche on the cob looks intimidating...

Last week I bought a cob at the local market here in Escandón.  I got tips from half the vendors on how to prepare it; combined that with a few ingredients more common to my cooking back home; and some herbs from the little garden on the balcony, and went to work.  Despite the simple, ad-hoc recipe, the results were outstanding.

 

Huitlacoche Recipe

  • 1 lb fresh huitlacoche (on a corn cob)
  • 1/2 large white onion, diced
  • 4 cloves garlic, minced
  • 1 handful fresh basil, chopped roughly
  • 2-3 tbsp oil (olive, vegetable, etc.)
  • dry chicken or vegetable stock or salt to taste
  • 1/4 cup water
  1. In a large pan, sauté the onions and garlic in the oil
  2. With a knife, cut the kernels of huitlacoche off the cob; leave them whole or chop roughly
  3. When the onion is becoming translucent, add the huitlacoche; stir often over a medium flame until the kernels also start to become translucent or the liquid has evaporated
  4. Add the water, basil, and stock powder, to taste
  5. Continue cooking until the water evaporates; the huitlacoche kernels should be translucent, with a black interior, and very tender
  6. Serve immediately, with tortillas and cheese or sour cream, or refrigerate for later use (it takes well to a microwave)

 

México, D.F.

Fairytale Mexico City

Despite the 6 months that I have spent in Mexico City, there are still times at which I find myself utterly surprised by the city, shocked into a loss for words.

Yesterday, I visited the Centro Mario Molina, an NGO founded by its Nobel-Laureate namesake and president with extensive expertise on air quality and climate change here in Mexico City.  Paradoxically, the Centro is located far from public transport, in Colonia Bosque de las Lomas, a well-to-do area west of downtown.  Getting to Bosque de las Lomas required nearly an hour on a pesero, one of the the little microbuses the zip around the city’s streets.  After leaving Metro Chapultepec (finding the right pesero took almost 15 minutes), we quickly left the business district of Las Lomas (not the same as the Bosque of the same name!) and continued up past the mansions that line Avenida Reforma.  (I’ll put a marker on the map, see the page above.)  

Mexico City, itself, is a former lake bed and is relatively flat, with only a few hills, former islands, that are mostly undeveloped and pop up from the city-plane.  It was much to my surprise then, as we continued up and up, for nearly 45 minutes, first on Reforma and then on the similarly-named Prologación Bosque de Reforma.  At first, the scenery was as expected, passing enormous mansions that slowly gave way to smaller, though still wealthy, homes.  Continuing up, we passed a few ubiquitous malls, cube-shaped buildings housing a Starbucks, various salons, and other small boutiques around larger grocery store such as Superama.

For the most part, architecture in Mexico City is limited to these short, squat buildings, whose foundations are laid on the soft, loamy soil.  Colors are often bright, as contrast against the dusty sidewalks and streets.  Near downtown, and in the financial districts south along Insurgentes Sur and in Las Lomas, a few taller office buildings can be seen, those these larger buildings are by far the exception that the rule.  The crest of the hill, my final destination, was different.  Instead of the squat buildings is a stand of  thin, residential sky-scrapers, reaching 30, 40, 50 stories into the air.  These marvels of modern architecture look brand new, with light-colored skins of polished aluminum and rose-colored sandstone.  Each of the thin residential towers, like a sabre pointing to the sky, has watered, green grounds, with trimmed hedges, and a cobbled driveway, like a hilt, leading to the recently repaved-roadway.  I would have believed that I was anywhere but Mexico City.

On the other end of the hilltop is yet another mall;  having an hour to spare, I walked in, feeling the air conditioning and being greeted by an army of customer service employees, opening the doors for me and asking how they might assist my visit.  Inside the mall, immaculately clean, is an ice rink, health food stores, and several gyms.  I opted for a small ice cream, from a Dairy Queen overlooking the rink.  Everything seemed familiar, yet… different.  Such as the frozen yogurt cum health supplements store and the flower shop called “Sephora.”  And as I watched the children skating around the ice, to the same three upbeat songs, I could have sworn that the Disney Corp. was pulling the strings.

This isn’t the Mexico City that I know.

 

México, D.F.

In Pictures: Mercado Merced

The Mercado Merced complex, which actually includes several different markets, is one of the largest marketplaces in Mexico City, with vendors selling nearly everything that one can imagine.  The main building, alone, spans several square blocks, and passages at street level, above, and below, lead to a wider complex that is beyond my ability to compare.  It even has its own metro station inside the market.  

I go once a month for bulk supplies and have spent hours wandering the various buildings, shopping for grains, fresh and dried fruits, meats and cheeses, chiles, exotic ingredients, aquarium supplies, candles, voo doo dolls, live chickens, tacos, artisan crafts, kitchen supplies, and tupperware.  On the last trip, I brought my camera along to try to capture the size of the place; failing completely, I opted to take pictures of some of the wares in the central market, where the dry goods and fresh produce stalls are.

Chiles, stacked and ready for sale in bulk

Chiles, stacked and ready for sale in bulk

 

 

México, D.F.

The Rules of Thumb for Mexican Salsa

¿Son picosas?” I asked, pointing to three bowls of salsa at a street-side taquería near Torre Mural. One was a big bowl of proper guacamole, with large chucks of avocado and a green, velvety texture; the second, also green and full of onions and cilantro and other herbs; and the third, a standard smoked & roasted pepper condiment that could be more aptly described as taco-sauce than salsa. “Las verdes más que la roja, que no es picosa” the woman said, informing me that the two green salsas were hotter than the mild red. But I couldn’t stay my curiosity; the red is common, almost pedantic, but these two green ones looked different… forbidden… enticing. I had to try them…. Well. It’s almost an hour later, and the fire in my mouth is still raging.

Salsas are a ubiquitous part of daily cuisine in Mexico City and a specialty of many taquerías. Although the colors are often standard, red, yellow, and green, the varieties are nearly endless. Perhaps later, I’ll have tried enough to accurately categorize them; however, in the mean time, it seems prudent that I place a reminder here for myself about how not to obliterate my sense of taste. It’s not that every salsa is spicy, but, on occasion, those harmless looking bowls of uber-sabor can belie a monster.

The Rules of Thumb for Mexican Salsa

  1. Unlike back home, green and yellow salsas are much hotter than red
  2. The more interesting it looks, the hotter it’s likely to be
  3. Cooks, waiters, and customers will gladly give you their honest opinion…
  4. …but are likely to underrate a salsa’s bite
  5. Salsas with big chunks of pepper aren’t always hot; those without aren’t always mild
  6. Salsas off the street tend to be more interesting, and seem to be much hotter, than those at restaurants

Thus, it’s a good idea to always ask, always expert something hotter than described, and if it’s green and looks really interesting, have a fire extinguisher ready.

 

México, D.F.