When I left off, I had just finished talking about how Molly and I had saved money on our trip to Mexico City by staying in a hostel. Which brings me to our next category of spending, namely...
how little this trip cost overall, you might assume we made all our
meals from tacos purchased from street vendors and eaten while standing
up, but that's not the case at all. As I mentioned, breakfast was
included with the hostel, which was very convenient and also economical.
We ate breakfast at the hostel every day except for our last morning, when, tired
of the scrambled-eggs-and-ham-and-toasted-white-bread routine, we
decided to eat a nice breakfast in a cafe recommended in our guidebook. The other days we did tend to stop for mid-morning
coffee/snack breaks, as the coffee at the hostel left something to be
desired, plus I was ALWAYS hungry again by mid-morning. (Hence the
This is the least attractive picture I have ever posted or hopefully ever will post on this blog (wait, that's not entirely true), and I have posted it here twice now. For you. And for the corn. Don't look at me, look at the spicy, mayonnaisey, cheesey corn! Ok, I'll admit: it was way overcooked. What looked perfectly browned and roasted to perfection was actually dried out and chewy bordering on crunchy. It kind of felt like chewing on a bunch of baby teeth, if I'm being honest. (Molly had one bite and then said no thanks.) But for the toppings (and, ok, the novelty) alone, it was worth it. Worth it!
I will approach the rest of this post with a caveat: I am not a food blogger. And I am especially not a food photographer. So if the following photos are grainy/blurry/out-of-focus...blame Molly, 'cause she took most of them! Ha!
Molly and I arrived at our hostel at around 3 p.m., ready for lunch. We dropped our stuff and headed out to the nearby Hosteria Santo Domingo, which is, apparently, the oldest restaurant in Mexico City. We ordered, and when the food (finally, finally) arrived, this is what we had:
Molly ordered some kind of chicken mole dish. It tasted like flowers. She said it didn't, but it did. There was a strong flavor of violets, or some other flower. I am not a fan of flowers in my food, but she seemed to like it ok.
I ordered what would become a typical dish for me: some kind of fish. I think this one was snapper with squash blossoms. I thought the blossoms would be big, like when you get stuffed squash blossoms, but they were tiny and green and dry and crispy. They also gave the dish a bit of a flowery/herby flavor. It was a bit too salty (this would become a common theme). Overall, just ok.
The atmosphere of the restaurant was fun. When we arrived, it was packed (though it cleared out soon thereafter), and there was a band playing. Everyone there seemed to be a worker drone on their lunch break, and they were all dressed very conservatively. I felt like Molly and I stuck out a bit in our jeans, but it was nice to find a locals' joint, since the rest of the time we ended up eating with a lot of other tourists.
The next day we tried and failed to find a taqueria Molly had read about in a New York Times article. Our feet were aching from having already walked miles, exploring, and we were in desperate need of a lunch break. Though the smells from the taco carts we walked past were very tempting, we really needed somewhere to sit down for a bit where someone would bring us some food and a Coke. After having walked up and down the same street three times with no luck, we said, "Well, why don't we try that place with the tablecloths that looked cute?" Famous last words, people. When I realized the restaurant was offering a three-course menu for the equivalent of about four American dollars, I did have my suspicions, but by then it was too late. The coup de grace occurred when Molly received her main course (some kind of fish), and it was stone cold. The fish, the accompanying sauce, everything. It was actually colder than room temperature. She picked at it a bit and then had some of my food (a savory crepe, and actually not bad). No pictures because the whole thing (except for the crepe) was just too disappointing.
That night we decided to splurge a little bit. So far nothing had blown us away, food-wise, and we were ready to eat something amazing. Not wanting to be disappointed again, we consulted our guidebooks carefully and chose La Casa de las Sirenas. Reservations recommended, the book said, but we arrived around 8 p.m. and the place was...empty. As in, there was one other table and they left and then we were the only ones there. The servers idled languidly around the bar. The restaurant itself was beautiful, and I only wish it hadn't been too chilly to eat outside because the view is to die for. This was probably the best meal we had in Mexico and it was...ok.
I readily accepted the server's suggestion to start the meal with some tequila. (Molly, who had been distracted: "Wait, what did you just do?" Me: "This is what happens when I understand what someone's saying but don't know enough Spanish to respond. I just say yes to everything!") I didn't even finish my tequila (I made Molly finish it for me), and sure, enough, it was the most expensive thing on the bill. Ah, well.
Instead of a main course I ordered two appetizers: cilantro soup and duck tacos. The cilantro soup was only ok, considering my undying love for all things cilantro. Then I had a stroke of genius and squeezed some lime (from the tequila) into it, which gave it a lovely brightness it had been missing. Then it was delish.
Then the duck tacos. They were...ok. (Maybe I should have squeezed some lime on them.)
Molly had beef in a mustard sauce. It was yummy.
For dessert I had a corn flan, topped with corn syrup, garnished with corn. This dessert was half garnish, but once I got past all that it was fine. Sweet.
Molly had caramel crepes and seemed entirely happy. I was too creped out from lunch to partake, though I did sneak some ice cream.
I said that that was our best meal in Mexico, though I think that might not be entirely true. We spent the next day exploring the markets of Coyoacán. Once we made it past the basket vendors and the ceramic vendors and the textile and clothing and jewelry and cheap plastic shit vendors, we came upon the food vendors, and it was a sight to behold. Then we made it to the lunch counter area, and if you slow down for a second here, you are pretty much toast. You will be physically forced to sit down on a stool and put food in your mouth. Luckily, that's exactly what Molly and I were looking for. At one point as we stood in the cavernous enclosure with smoke and cooking grease billowing around us, we were surrounded by no less than three vendors all trying to persuade us to buy food from their counter. One man held out a handful pork, peeled a bit off with his grimy fingers, and offered it to us. I looked at him, looked at the pork...and ate it. It was delicious. (Perfectly fine after eating the pork from suspicious origins but done in by a frappaccino. Oh the irony.) A winner chosen, we let him lead us to our stools and proceeded to order carnitas tacos. Bowl after bowl of vegetables and toppings and sauces lined the counter, and we dressed our tacos and ate hungrily and messily until we were satisfied. Lack of linen tablecloths notwithstanding, this might have been the best meal we had in Mexico.
This is a literal mound of fried pig skins at the market. What this picture doesn't show is the sheer size of them. Imagine the skin from an entire pig spread out flat and then fried. These things were massive. We shared a bowl of them (broken into much smaller pieces, of course) before our tacos arrived.
That night we went to the popular Cafe Tacuba. There was practically a line out the door for this place, but it moved quickly enough, and we soon found ourselves seated in an enormous room packed full of other diners. I ordered my usual: some kind of fish. This time it was snapper Veracruz style, and it was so, so salty. I didn't finish it. Molly had something that I don't remember, and it was also crazy salty. No pictures. Overall, kind of a disappointment.
On our last night in town, we wanted something special, or maybe we wanted Chinese food, we weren't sure, but we had run through our guidebook selections and were thus on our own. How hard would it be to wander around and find something? we thought. So of course, after wandering miles and miles and finding absolutely nothing acceptable, and growing increasingly peevish about it, we ended up in a chain Italian restaurant mere blocks from our hostel. I ordered fettucine quatro quesos and it was exactly what I wanted. I couldn't have been more pleased. No more salty fish for me! I am perfectly happy with this bowl of cheesy noodles, thanks. No longer seeking culinary adventure, I yearned for a return to the familiar. I pushed away from the table blissfully full of carbs and cream sauce, which was just how I wanted it to be, and also how I knew that vacation was over.
Molly had ravioli pomodoro, which she thought wouldn't have meat in it (we were a bit carnivored out by this point, to be honest), but it had meat in it. Mexico is really good at sneaking meat into everything, even things you wouldn't suspect. I had a good laugh at the packaging of the sandwiches in the airport, which were simply labeled "queso,", but if you looked, they had ham in them. Apparently ham is the base, and you just build on from there.
The next morning we skipped the eggs and jamon at the hostel and went to Cafe El Popular. Molly got a yummy baked eggs and salsa dish, while I, still seeking comfort in my food, got a cafe con leche and a sweet bun.
Though some of things we ate on this trip were quite good, I never really had the gastronomic epiphany, the miracle meal, that I was looking for. All the more reason to go back, in my book. La proxima vez.