If I had to pick one thing that I love the most about Mexico, it would be the food. If I had to pick one thing that I love the most about Mexican food, it would be market food. In the past I’ve written that the best quesadillas for me can be found in a food market in Coyoacan. I also wrote about the delicious tostadas I had at Mercado Coyoacan. But that is only the tip of the iceberg and Pablo Neruda said it better when he wrote:
Mexico is to be found in its markets. Not in the guttural songs of the movies or the false image of the Mexican in sombrero, with mustache and pistol. Mexico is a land of crimson and phosphorescent turquoise shawls. Mexico is a land of earthenware bowls and pitchers and fruit lying open to a swarm of insects. Mexico is an infinite countryside of steel-blue century plants with yellow thorns. The most beautiful markets in the world have all this to offer. Fruit and wool, clay and weaving looms, are evidence of the incredible skill of the fertile and timeless fingers of Mexicans… Mexico, the last of the magic countries, because of its age and history, its music and its geography…
Last week I had the opportunity of discovering parts of the city I didn’t know, including an incredible market in downtown Mexico City. My guide was Nicholas Gilman (Nick) who, as a Mexican citizen now, has spent several years writing about good food in the great city. I met Nick a couple of months ago through Facebook and his blog. We talked a little online and finally last week we met for a tour of the city.
Our first stop was what Nick calls the best seafood establishment in the city. El Caguamo is a food stand in the corner of Ayuntamiento and Aranda (click on the picture above to see the map) and, like many things in this city, you don’t think much about it when you first see it, until you try it. I ordered a caldo de camarones (shrimp stew) and a tostada de pulpo (octopus) that didn’t disappoint. The stew was spicy, but not so much to make it inedible. It came with two giant shrimp in their shells (head and legs attached) that weren’t easy to eat, at least not for a pseudo-gringo like me that is used to having his shrimp cleaned.
And then came the tostada, oh that luscious, beautiful hard tortilla topped with octopus cooked to perfection, hot sauce, cilantro, onion and avocado. Every bite was a reminder that in Mexico we know how to eat well and the best places to eat are these little holes in the wall that you never read about in culinary magazines, websites or guides (with a few exceptions, but I’ll talk about it in a little bit).
After we had our delicious lunch sitting on stools on the sidewalk of Ayuntamiento street (people walking behind us and sometimes hitting us because of the reduced walking space that the seafood stand leaves for an area that sees a lot of pedestrian traffic) we walked a block to visit a market that is famous for its, many times, rare food: Mercado San Juan.
If I was missing Ohio because of the many different and unusual ingredients that can be found in specialized and international stores, I don’t have to worry anymore. Mercado San Juan has a little bit of everything. According to Nick, the mercado’s history goes back to the colonial era when the Spanish settlers created it to supply ingredients for their cuisine. I need to do more research about the history of the market, but I could say that the Mexican food that we know now was born in places like this. Here are some pictures of just a few things that I found in this magical place (first picture of this post was a stand with different kinds of pumpkins I haven’t seen anywhere else in the city and the second one is a picture of live maguey worms):
Want to feed an army? You can find from whole chickens and ducks to whole baby sharks, tunas and… piglets!
In the mood for some Asian food? You can find all the ingredients you need here and more!
My favorite part, however, was the cheese sampling we had at one of Nick’s favorite stands. We sampled several artisan cheeses made in Mexico and I learned a lot about the cheese industry in the country. I will dedicate an entire post to this topic in the future.
After the market we walked around downtown for some research that Nick had to do for his job. Part of the research included a place where one can eat the best canasta tacos (basket). I love this kind of research and job. I will, also in the future, write more about this kind of tacos.
It was a great day because I met somebody with the same passion for Mexican food as me and because I got to know more about the city I was born. Nick was a great guide and I’m looking forward to learning more from his experience in this country. He has written a guide for dining in Mexico City, Good Food in Mexico City, that includes a lot of places that regular media doesn’t cover, like the street seafood stand where we had an amazing lunch.
The trip was so inspiring that I want to explore the markets of my country more and share with you the amazing food that can be found there and how to prepare it at home. I’ll let you know more about this side project in the future. For now, I hope you enjoyed this virtual tour of this great experience.