Postcard from Mexico City: Pausing for a playful food break at Mercado Roma

Close to 60 vendors are squeezed into the multi-story Mercado Roma, yet somehow I ended up with no photo overviews to show you even though we ducked in there several times. I tend not to enjoy the crowds crammed into narrow aisles of gourmet food halls, but, by visiting midday midweek, we found sitting at a counter very pleasant.

Serrano ham, Puebla-style cemitas, Spanish tapas, cheeses. One quickly senses this is a playground for chefs from established restaurants to experiment. So many places seductively beckoned us, but we stopped twice near the front at Saigon Cocina Vietnam. Large, plump shrimp punctuated with lemongrass atop rice starred in a made-to-order daily special. The flavorful scene-stealer proved to be the tuna banh mi spiked with the perfect amount of ginger sandwiched in fresh, firm French bread. A nice bottle of red can be procured from an outpost of Tinto Mx to accompany your meal.

The danger in eating at the counter at Saigon Cocina is posed by its neighbor, Que Bo, lurking behind your back. Chocolatero Jose Ramon Castillo tempts you with a display case full of gleaming Crayola-colored chocolates. On several occasions I managed to limit myself to letting just one melt in my mouth, slowly releasing layers of complex flavors. Also, tucked away in a back corner of Mercado Roma is a booth full of gourmet paletas, Bendita Paleta, that represent successful crossbreeding of traditional Mexican popsicles and Italian gelato waiting to be dipped in a chocolate of your choice.

On a Saturday when the market was hopping, we opted to seek refuge in the soothing, serene surroundings of a full-service restaurant upstairs, Seneri. Chef Fernando Martinez adds a contemporary twist to traditional foods from his home state of Michoacán, and he won us over immediately with an amuse-bouche of a rustic corn taquito topped with a sassy-looking fried charral, a crispy little whitefish we enjoyed mountains of served aboard one of the floating boat/restaurants on Lake Patzcuaro about 25 years ago. The crudo de pescado nestled in a foamy bed adorned with perky flowers was almost too pretty to eat, but we managed. Chicken de campo was enriched by a sauce of wild mushrooms. Avocado ice-cream served as a refreshing but not-too-sweet dessert. The entire meal was perfectly paced. We were never rushed, yet never left glancing toward the kitchen in search of the next course.

Mercado Roma might have won me over on the concept of gourmet food halls.

Leaving you with a glance at more of the chocolatero’s mouth-watering creations….

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