Mexico City: Part One
Overwhelmed in the street grub metropolis.
Mexico City is dangerous, dirty, unsafe, and full of people eager to take advantage of every shorts-wearing gringo that steps out of their hotel door. At least that’s what you’ve been told. The Mexico City we visited was full of beautiful clean urban parks, some of the most patient, helpful people we have met, and of course, enough food to make you want to extend your stay a few more days (which is exactly what we did). If you haven’t already heard, Mexico City is one of the street food capitals of the world. Every block smells of meat. Every single anatomical part of a pig is cooking somewhere within three blocks of where you are standing. This is a carnivore’s city. Sure, you can find vegetarian and vegan tacos somewhere, but you’re not doing Mexico City right unless your colon is begging for fiber within the first 48 hours.
We arrived in Mexico City on the evening of September 18th to the downpour that tends to soak the city every evening around 5 or 6 o’clock this time of year. We were lucky enough to have Felicia’s aunt, a resident of the city, pick us up at the airport and drive us to our AirBnb in Colonia Del Valle ($106.32 USD for 5 nights). As we passed through the multi-lane roadways, which could have been much more effectively navigated via boat, the sweet scent of fresh corn tortillas filled the car from outside. The rain, a daily occurrence during the wet season, instantly flooded roadways. Though the water reached the door handles of the passing cars, the locals were not phased. At home, this would be all over the news. People being pulled from their cars, as rescuers stand in ankle deep water.
After dropping our belongings off at the apartment, we grabbed a much-needed bite to eat and headed back for the night.
Awaking the next morning, the first thing on our agenda was to make a trip to the closest grocery store to stock up on water. Normally, this would be such a mundane task that you wouldn’t even remember it during your recollection of daily activities. With arms full of plastic water bottles ($2.30 for 7 liters), we approached the register. After successfully handing our money off to the cashier, he proceeded to ask us further questions. All of which we responded to with a hesitant "sí." We’re still not quite sure what we agreed to, but we walked out of the store with our water and only a few confused looks from the cashier. It was this moment, our first venture into the city without someone to translate for us, that we realized our high school Spanish classes hadn’t quite prepared us as well as we had anticipated. We might not have known what the cashier said to us, but we did know how to say, “the boy has a brown cat.”
For our first meal of the day, we set out to find the ubiquitous dish of the city, tacos al pastor. It didn’t take long. We simply walked right around the corner from our apartment, and there was a glorious pile of pork meat roasting on the signature vertical spit. After putting down our first five of many tacos ($7.38 with 2 bottles of water), we headed down to the neighborhood of Coyoacan.
A passing glance at the Frida Kahlo house (wasn’t worth the wait or money for us), a stroll through Mercado Coyoacan, and the rest of the day was spent sitting in Vivero Coyoacan, watching daily life play out around us.
Despite the high likelihood of us bursting into flames, we also took some time to admire the beauty of the Church of San Juan Bautista. Say what you will about Catholics...and there’s a lot to say, (it’s okay we were raised Catholic) they were really good at two things: oppressing local populations and creating some pretty amazing architecture.
While hanging in Vivero Coyoacan, we made sure to experience one of life’s great pleasures, the elote. For nearly two decades, Felicia dreamt of the time she would once again unceremoniously devour this treat. Corn on the cob, with kernels the size of gum balls, completely covered in mayonnaise, and coated in chilli powder and cheese ($1.31). Of course, regardless of what the plumbing in your accommodations says, you add additional chili sauce. The corn comes either boiled or grilled, we happened to have boiled this time. Grilled elotes are more typical in the evenings and at night, when you can see smoke filling the corner of a city block. Obviously, over the course of the week, we tried both variations.
For dinner, we decided to stay in Coyoacan and patronize another of the countless street vendors. Deciding which one was easy. We did not think a single thought or say a word to each other, but suddenly we were standing in line, waiting amongst a dozen other people. We were guided by two rules which are deeply ingrained in all of our DNA somewhere: follow your nose and follow the crowd. Yelp and Google don’t mean shit when you’re trying to find the best food in a place like Mexico City. You’re not going to find the guy down the street selling tortas from a little cart on Yelp. But if there are a dozen locals lined up around him, you better be the thirteenth person in that line. In this instance, the artisan at work was serving up huge carnitas tacos, of which we ordered 4 ($4.28). No drink though, since Felicia couldn’t properly order an orange soda and, despite putting way too much salsa verde on her tacos, was too embarrassed to try again.
Nothing a kiwi juice and horchata couldn’t fix ($3.10).
One day in Mexico City, and we learned that we still had so much to learn and so much to eat. We ended the day feeling completely overwhelmed, as we laid on our bed frantically reactivating our Duolingo accounts. The fact that we had just embarked on the journey we had dreamt of for so long had just begun to sink in.