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Posts Tagged ‘Dining in Mexico City’

 

Fifteen years ago, I traveled to Mexico City as a jumping off point for my first genuine “on location” television commercial shoot.  I vividly recall our night-time flight into Mexico City:  it is  one of the most populous cities in the world, and  it seemed to go on forever, hills undulating with sparkling lights,  like an endless golden lame gown,.  We only stayed long enough to get the crew together, so I did not see anything more than the inside of a hotel room. (A business travel tale that many of you will recognize). 

Over the years, there never seemed to be reason enough to go back, and reports of random violence, swathes of slums and seriously poor air quality did not entice. But since I was on my way to the very pretty colonial town of San Miguel de Allende, it seemed  a good opportunity to spend a few days exploring the capital of Mexico.  

I was there for four days in February, and am  here today on my way back to Toronto. I can say in all sincerity, that it has been a delightful experience. Even if my expectations were much higher, I would still be pleased. No trace of the dreaded smog:  the skies are uniformly blue, the temperature a comfortable 20 during the day. The traffic is very heavy, but the cars respect pedestrians and as long as you observe the same care that you would in any major city, say New York or Paris, you are very secure. 

In fact you may even be safer than in other major cities:   there appears to be 5 or 6 armed private security guards on every block, and police and private security cars dominate the streets. Outside every fine restaurant, serious men in dark suits congregate, waiting for their patrons to exit.  It actually becomes a little difficult to navigate the sidewalks, with all the bulky SUV’s with black out glass parked close by. Private drivers and body guards abound, and I think it is a bit of a status symbol (not unlike in LA) to have a security entourage. 

The city began to charm me when I watched a lovely young women carefully make my café con leche and present it with a delicate flower stenciled on the cream.  Mexico City is not as elegant or as self-conscious as Barcelona, another outstanding Latin city.  But it does have that wonderful mix of ancient, old and modern that appeals to the urban explorer. 

The architecture is an eclectic mixture of nineteenth century interpretations of Spanish colonial, mid-century modern and truly outstanding leading edge design. It feels warm, edgy, exciting and familiar all at the same time. The city is constantly rebuilding itself, and in the process, it continues to discover major pieces of Aztec construction, razed by the conquistadors’ centuries ago. The atmosphere is vibrant, energetic, positive and modern.

For my first stop in February, I was situated in Polanco,  the equivalent of Fifth Avenue, or Rodeo Drive;  lots of Gucci and Armani to be found. Many beautiful women wander around, expensively dressed. Or is that expensive women ,  beautifully dressed? I guess it depends on who is paying the black American Express Card bill. American Express is well accepted here;  another sign that this is not your stereotypical cheap Mexican holiday destination. 

The city is really all about business, with a Latin accent. Every coffee shop is filled with groups of earnest men and women, congregating around lap tops, reviewing plans and negotiating deals. Business lunches are long drawn out affairs, usually ending way past four pm. Given that dinner is rarely before 9, this makes perfect sense.   Mexican business people  here seem to be less addicted to their cell phones and blackberries. They appear to prefer to talk to each other in person, over coffee, wine or just walking down the street. 

My one regret is that I have had mostly mediocre meals here, which is a shame in a city so food obsessed. Unfortunately, when you are eating alone, you don’t want a formal experience every day, nor are you willing to risk   your health at a roadside stand.  So I seek casual resto-bars which serve small tapas style portions,  allowing me to sample a broader variety of food.   Sadly many of the restaurants nearby my trendy hotel are really just up market bars, frequented by chain-smoking, elegantly thin women (a coincidence, I think not) So the food is not the main event.

 However, I did have one outstanding lunch at a local hangout. One of the city’s favourite dishes is “pastor”;  slightly spicy marinated pork that is slowly grilled much like a gyro, and served with small maize tortillas and five different and delicious salsas. The flavours were clear, bright and sharp.  If I could, I would leave all of my clothes and stuff the suitcases with jars of these incredible salsas and moles!  

Since few gringos tourists actually do come to Mexico City,  I am afraid that the infrastructure is not as well-developed as in most Western or even Eastern cities. There is one tour bus, that gives you a three-hour orientation to the city, but that’s about it.  I could not find a walking tour, or a cooking class, or casual Spanish lessons. The hotels can arrange tours of course, but I found most of them wanted to get you out of the city, not deeper into it.   

But since this is the capital of the country, there are many wonderful museums and galleries to explore. The Museum of Anthropology is truly one of the best in the world, offering an exhaustive history of early man, and of course,  of the diverse, rich civilizations that contribute to current Mexican culture. You could easily spend 3 hours there. Afterwards, you can continue your immersion in Mexico culture at the Museum of Contemporary Art which is just down the paseo.   

As I sit in my lovely hotel room (The Four Seasons proudly hangs a huge Canadian flag outside its grand entrance:  how can you not love that?), I am contemplating the stunning Jacaranda trees in full bloom. Washington DC in spring is famous for the glorious pink cherry blossoms that ring the Jefferson Memorial.  Mexico City in spring is awash in purple flowers on a canopy of huge trees that bloom up and down the major avenues and then carpet the city in mauve petals.  It is a lovely memory to keep of a city that has been so much more than I expected, and definitely not at all what I may have thought.

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