Brush your teeth with bottled water and dress.
Walk down the grand stone staircase from your apartment in the renovated mansion.
Exit through the small door in the thick wood gate and let the buzz of the rising city wash over you.
Buy a coffee and listen to the motorbikes and taxis start to rev while shopkeepers noisily roll up grates and throw buckets of water across the sidewalks to start the day.
Skip breakfast and plan to work up an appetite.
Today is food tour day.
The day before I was kicking up my feet after wandering Mexico City and while savoring a local beer – more or less close to 5 o’clock – when I thought, “a food tour tomorrow. Why not? I’ve already been meditating on how to propose to the taquería chef at the stall down the street, let’s check out more Mexican food!” And like that it was done.
I met my lovely tour guide from Sabores Mexico Food Tours at a very auspicious location. Our first stop in the Centre Histórico of Mexico City is to try molé. Only one of nine kinds of molé (I didn’t even know there was more than one kind of molé!) and it’s excellent. Like, you need to be an fancy chef or sommelier to describe the incredible layers of flavor, excellent.
It’s like that for the next four hours. We go to the local market and meet with the produce sellers who distribute to high-end restaurants. They are so entertained by my delight they start pushing more and more tastes. Spectacular sugary pears, fresh mangoes with chili pepper, tiny cubes of quince paste that make my tongue briefly numb, and more before my guide laughingly intervenes and we move on to the vegetables. Miniature vegetables to be exact, we’re not just touring a Farmer’s Market here we’re touring a gourmet market, the Mercado de Medellín: chive flowers, teensy, tiny carrots, and under the onslaught of the company of food-lovers and incredible tastes I lose all self-consciousness and pretend to channel Anthony Bourdain.
I eat wild boar, roasted crickets – a Mexican favorite snack but yes, the legs feel weird – roasted worms, shaved tongue and incredible cheeses and salsas, vibrant spices and a NY Times reviewed ceviche stand. I’m on a private tour because no one else booked that day, so my guide and I – two women – go into the local canteen anyways for two cervezas. This is machismo headquarters and while not exactly forbidden to women, we aren’t exactly encouraged either. The table has spots just off the legs to hold beers where they won’t be knocked over by excited talkers and busy table games and the men yell….. randomly. Just because. It’s a canteen thing. Maybe we don’t get it because we’re women.
We finally finish outside a delightful sweets shop where I can literally not eat one more bite for fear I will explode. I’m deliberately drowning my senses in Mexico. In addition to frequenting that taquería stand down the street from my apartment, I also join new friends for dinner the next night at Azul Histórico – where we enjoy squash blossom soup, steak, table-side prepared Mexican chocolate and an excellent amount of wine. Maybe it’s the vacation, maybe it’s the wine, but Mexico has seduced me.
And for those who are a tiny bit nervous about the water, the food or eating street food in general, here are a few tips:
Starting with the basics:
- Don’t drink the water. I stayed local and simply bought big bottles of water from the nearby convenience store. Not expensive and not complicated. Put a washcloth over your mouth in the shower if you have a tendency to drink shower water, and keep a bottle of water in the bathroom to prevent sleepy-morning-you from brushing your teeth with sink water.
- Bring Cipro. I always have some in my travel case though I’ve only needed it on the rarest of occasions. You aren’t guaranteed to have an issue, but maybe you’ll be more adventurous with a backup plan?
And now the less obvious:
- Squeeze lime/lemon on your food. Mexican flavors pair well with lime and lemon anyways, so it’s a good complement. But the acidity helps ward off some things.
- Drink Coca-Cola with your meal. Look, this is the stuff you pour on your car battery to clean it off – I’m sure it will kill anything your system might not be accustomed to.
- Pick streetfood vendors with some care.
A) Get in line (always pick places that have lines of locals if possible) and
B) Check out the stand and chefs to see if the place is neat. Good chefs (even streetfood chefs) respect their work and don’t want their guests sick. Clean aprons with few splatters, clean counters, etc are a good indicator of this.
- Listen to your body. Twice in the last year I’ve started eating something and felt myself react a bit. I ignored the sensation and ate more -thinking it was lingering motion sickness, or just feeling a touch too hungry or something else. Wrong call.