It seems pretty clear that one eats food on the streets, indeed not only eat, it seems that Mexico City lives on the streets. Houses are often built right up to the footpath with little or no outward presented living space, they’re often just walls. So Mexicans live life in the streets, they show affection on the street, they trade and earn a living on the streets and indeed they eat like kings from simple stalls and carts scattered everywhere. And by everywhere, this means seriously everywhere. From freshly squeezed juices and granola shakes to meats and heavenly fried goodness, the streets have it all.
On our first night we had the best tacos in the world, from there we’ve had all manner of stuff we can’t pronounce, the running theme is that it’s all amazing. We’ve had a few more posh meals at restaurants which have all been great also, including steaks, enchiladas and mole but the street food has us captured. It’s rare that a food is cheap, great, quick, cultural and lively with no drawback at all.
So lets get it out of the way, everything has chilli, there’s no avoiding it. Apparently there’s about 70 varieties of chilli in common use in Mexico City. Chilli is in everything and it permeates the flavour of food here. Surprisingly the chilli isn’t essentially that hot, I guess the Mexicans are just such experts working with it that it’s flavour without the pain. Walking past any street stall the aroma of chilli is intoxicating, its a true essential base to flavour.
There is one drawback though… chilli does go through the body quicker than a polly through taxi vouchers! Safe to say we’re best mates with porcelain thus far. We mentioned that we have had upset stomachs to a guy in a cafe in Coyoacan in the south of Mexico City. He immediately laughed and said that it’s Monteczumas revenge, revenge indeed! but the weird thing is that whenever a meal comes out we load up on the guacamole and salsas, they’re just so awesome and the combination of the food and the accompaniments is just like nothing we have at home. So gimme all you have Mexico, I can find a toilet anytime.
Mercados are markets and tend to house the elements of street food with a more communal feel. The vendors usually have a slightly more advanced cooking setup so you can get a few more things that aren’t as often seen in street stalls. The market in Oaxaca is a great example of this with food, clothing, alcohol, sweets and you name it whatever else available.
The meal we had here is a great example of what sets a Mercado aside from a street stall. We were harassed into a seat and handed a broad flat bowl like basket and asked to make a selection of vegies. Once done we were pushed along to a kind of informal butcher with all sorts or raw meats on display. Not so confident with Spanish yet I was able to say enough for two men, and we’re hungry (yes, Charlie has insisted I learn how to say I’m hungry in Spanish). So we sit down not sure if we’ve got it right but we kinda think we have. Being unsure who’s part of the communal setup and who’s a random hawker we get some fried grasshoppers and tortillas.
So the question begged… what are we gonna end up with?
Basically half a butcher shop of flame grilled goodness, meats and vegies. Throw in salsas, guac and salad and we’re in hungry Charlie (getting hungry/ angry, need food now) heaven.
If the chilli is the sun then corn tortillas are the moon. Chillies’ partner in aroma at any street stall is the corn tortilla. Either encasing some goodness or used as extra cutlery to dip or swipe up your food the tortilla is a staple to nearly every meal. But not to be written off as a bland bit of starch, the tortillas here are seriously tasty. Its really obvious that Australia doesn’t really do Mexican food very well en masse.
As well as the importance of the tortilla in balancing meals it’s also quite an art form making them. Perching up at a stool at a small kiosk you will often see the big bowls of very soft sticky dough. The way the vendors handle the dough, portion it, shape it and prepare it for pressing is quite amazing. The dough gets put into a small clamp type device and is smashed into the flat circular shapes we know. The process is simple enough but to smash out a tortilla about every 30 seconds which includes cooking them is really something to see.