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By Francesca de Luca
There are plenty of reasons to visit Mexico, and food is definitely one of these! In order to live a full Mexico City experience and enjoy Mexican food like a local, of which Mexicans are very proud, just follow these few tips to blend in with the locals and enjoy your meal, or as Mexicans say, “provecho!”
As a tradition that has been ongoing since pre-Hispanic times, street food is a must in Mexico City, where its people live constantly on the move. Cheap and tasty, street food puts everybody on the same level and you will typically see a diverse variety of people eating standing at a stall, from white collars to street workers. You can find food vendors and stalls at every corner and markets, however, I suggest to follow locals´ recommendations and to check out the clientele of the place - if it is full, a Mexican would eat there and I would too! The street’s choice in delicious Mexican antojitos (tapas) - tacos, quesadillas, tostadas, gorditas, sopes – is great however each “puesto” (stall) sells only one of these tortilla-based bites so look for a specific stall depending on your craving. Bear in mind that there is no take-away as tortillas must be eaten warm and as soon as they are served.
Unlike many cultures, Mexican dining doesn’t have much etiquette surrounding how you should eat, with the exception being that you must eat street food with your hands. Eating by hand is an art form, and a Mexican can definitely recognise somebody who is eating an antojito for the first time! Take a taco, for example. The Mexican rules to eat it correctly are either you are in a “puesto”or a“taquerìa” (tacos restaurant), and at both you must use your hands to grab the taco with three fingers, raising the little finger, tilt your head a little to bite the taco from the side. Don’t worry about making some of the filling or salsa fall - it is almost inevitable if you are not Mexican – and enjoy it!
Whatever the filling, make sure to garnish your antojito with one or more of the amazing sauces that are always offered at the counter or on the table. There is a huge variety of sauces to choose from – the basic ones are red and green, depending on the chillies are made of, then you can have sauces of habanero, peanuts or pineapple, just to mention a few! Sauces are packed with flavour and can be very spicy, so try it first as you cannot trust the judgment of a Mexican when it comes to how spicy something is! However, it is likely you will end up with a burning mouth, “enchilarse”, as they say, don’t worry as this is the Mexican way. If it is a taco you are eating, just add a sprinkle of lime (the Mexican “lemon”) and enjoy it!
If locals have more time for their “comida”, the main meal, a Mexican would typically go to a “fonda” (homey restaurant – typically a real house’s room) or to a market between 1pm and 4 pm to have a “comida corrida”, a very reasonably priced set menu that usually consists of soup, a main course with rice or salad plus a small desert and an “agua del día” (flavoured water of the day). Mexico is famous for its delicious aguas, so make sure to try the most typical, “agua de horchata” (rice and almonds) and “agua de jamaica” (hibiscus flowers). Tortillas, the Mexican bread, always accompany the meal, so dig in and use them to make your own taco or as an edible fork. If you fancy “platillos”(dishes) which are more complex, such as Cochinita Pibil, Chile en Nogada, pozole, head to a traditional restaurant.
Mexican food is rich in carbs so forget about your diet for a few days! Don’t be surprised to see people having hearty breakfast as, in general, the Mexican eating system goes from largest meal to lightest meal, in contrast to the typical western trend of eating little for breakfast and lots for dinner. A staple of Mexican cuisine, principally in the capital, that’s served exclusively for breakfast on the streets is the “guajalota”, or “torta de tamal” (tamale sandwich). This is a truly Mexican experience, however, if it is really too much for you (after all, the tamale itself is essentially just corn masa dough filled with either meats, cheeses or vegetables), just eat the tamale alone and skip the bread!
The classic alternative is “chilaquiles” (tortilla chips bathed in either a red or green sauce and topped with chicken or egg, plus crema, onion and cheese). Again, as is the Mexican way, you might find them served in bread in the form of a “torta de chilaquiles”. Don’t worry, there are also lighter delicious options to choose from for your breakfast or brunch such as “huevos a la mexicana”, “huevos rancheros” or “enchiladas”, that usually Mexicans accompany with a fruit salad and a pan dulce. You can find all these yummy food in fondas, markets or breakfast spots.
Photo credit: mexicanfoodjournal.com
If you want to respect traditions and immerse yourself in a family atmosphere, head to a Sunday tianguis (food market) to try a typical food Mexicans usually have for brunch or lunch on a Sunday. “Barbacoa”, is slow-cooked meat over an open fire, or more traditionally, in a hole dug in the ground covered with maguey leaves. Don’t forget to ask for the barbacoa to be served with a consomé as this is the traditional way. Mole, a sauce with a base of chillies and spices that can have 30-plus ingredients, is also something Mexicans are used to eat at weekends or for a special occasion so if you want to try some, especially the richest and more complex ones, head to a traditional restaurant either on Saturday or Sunday.
Some food is eaten only for certain festivities, such as - Chile En Nogada (Puebla’s chillies are filled with meat, fruits and spices) in September, “el pan de muerto” (bread of the dead), a delicious sweat roll Mexicans bake only for the amazing celebration of the Day of the Dead festivity - so don’t ask around for these if it is not the right time of the year!
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