Postcard from Mexico City: The place of coyotes

Brought into submission by the Aztecs of Tenochtitlan in 1428, the Tepanecas who lived in the ancient village of Coyoacan, the place of coyotes, remained resentful of their conquerors.

This historical enmity served the Spaniard Hernan Cortes (1485-1547) well. Retreating from revolting Tenochtitlan following the death of Moctezuma II (1466-1520) from unnatural causes, Cortes lost close to 900 men before arriving at Coyoacan. Fortunately for the Spaniards, they were welcomed as allies against the Aztecs. Coyoacan served as the conquistador’s headquarters and briefly as the capital of New Spain as his conquest of the Aztec empire was completed.

This early Spanish occupancy led to the beginning of construction of the parish church of San Bautista, completed in 1552, the third oldest parish church in Mexico City. The town remained independent of its expanding neighbor until finally its absorption into the federal district in 1857.

The central colonial plazas of Coyoacan are charming, an attribute not lost on those living in the center of Mexico City. On weekends, unfortunately when we chose to visit, traffic jams clog the arteries leading in and out. The quaint historic center is overrun by approximately 70,000 visitors. Advice: Visit on a Tuesday, Wednesday or Thursday if possible.

Postcard from Mexico City: A few leftover “dulces huesudos”

Still had a few “bony treats” left haunting my computer from wanderings around Hallowmas and Day of the Dead. A village of skeletons was the theme of a festival in La Alameda Central. Altars were set up everywhere, including Frida Kahlo’s Casa Azul in Coyoacan. “Una Ofrenda de Pelicula” exhibit in El Museo Dolores Olmedo in Xochimilco saluted filmmaking. Even shamans vending their cleansing spells in the zocolo enhanced themselves with bonemen make-up.

And then thrust in the middle were invasive Halloween traditions sneaking in more and more from el norte (see prior post). Once children discover the sweet rewards of trick-or-treating, it’s pretty impossible to close that door.

There does seem to be uncertainty about when to do what. In the Roma Norte area where we have been staying, the costumed children entered the restaurants and went to the bar areas at the back to ask the staff for treats. Sometimes they were given candy; sometimes spare change; often nothing. The businesses declining are fortunate the trick part as payback does not seem part of the formula.

Receiving mixed results, the period of requests seems extended. Families paraded their costumed kids out nightly – Halloween night, All Saints Day and All Souls Day in the confusion of adding this new tradition to ancient ones, or perhaps simply to maximize the possibilities of success.

This seasonal free trade between Mexico and el norte flows both ways. Certainly San Antonio is far richer from its artistic adaptations of colorful Dia de los Muertos traditions.

Once again, happy Hallowmas.

 

Postcard from Oaxaca, Mexico: Photo menu of a few local spots

Have some friends flying into Oaxaca about now, so wanted to do a quick photo menu for them of a few flavorful options. Our trip in August was shorter than most, so we did not visit quite as many places as normal.

As always, La Biznaga remains on the top of our list. The best margarita in the world is a major drawing card. Whether it’s for simple quesadillas for a light lunch or an upscale rare tuna atop roasted asparagus and crowned with an avocado mountain, we always leave happy. We had never tried the fish ceviche (featured photo) before or the stuffed Portobello mushroom and recommend both.

The patio of Los Danzantes is one of the most pleasant dining spots in Oaxaca, and it is a great place to sample mezcal cocktails. A major plunge into bold Oaxacan flavors is the ancho chile filled with huitlacoche (corn smut) and goat cheese atop a puree of platano, sweetened with a piloncillo sauce and swarming with a few of those prized chapulines (grasshoppers).

Rarely hungry at night, no wonder, we almost missed that El Olivo Gastrobar is open for lunch on Sundays. While popular for its tapas, it features two of our favorite dishes, arroz negro colored with squid ink and filled with seafood; and luscious large shrimp and serrano ham in a pernod sauce. Both could easily be split.

No fancy cocktails, but a nice house mezcal is offered at Casa Taviche. The draw is a delicious three-course lunch for 75 pesos. That’s right, less than $5. Everything is so fresh and well presented, from salads to small desserts. The choices for starters and entrees vary daily and usually include meat, fish and vegetarian options, such as chicken with poblano chiles or a vegetable tarta of layers of sweet potato and spinach. On weekends, Casa Taviche prepares perfect pork tacos, both cochinita pibil and al pastor.

And, on the other extreme, there is Criollo. A child of the famed chef of Pujol in Mexico City and Cosme in New York City, Criollo gets quite the buzz in food media. We simply were far from blown away by the flavors. I admit we got off on the wrong foot when they were out of the $42 red wine at lunch time and could not offer us another for less than $1500 pesos, a major jump. I’ll link you directly to the New York Times write-up so as not to prejudice you. Lunch at Criollo is a leisurely seven-course well-presented sampling of dishes using local seasonal Oaxacan ingredients prepared using traditional techniques. Aside from our disappointment on the wine front, it’s not outrageously expensive. But we simply enjoyed our experiences at other places much more. To me, what the young chefs of Mixtli are pulling off in their railcar parked in San Antonio is far more interesting.

Hating to sound negative again, but last year we recommended Mezquite. The upstairs rooftop is such a nice setting, and the amuse-bouche of corn esquite is a nice starter. The cochnita pibil was a mushy mess of a sandwich, but the tuna tostada was still nice and refreshing. Mezquite bills itself as a mezcal bar as well, yet the cocktails they served us were as sweet as the Shirley Temples we were offered as children. We ordered two perros oaxaquenos, described as containing mezcal artesenal, citrus and sal de guisano. They were pink edging toward red. We asked our server if we had the correct drinks; he assured us we did. We ordered additional lime juice on the side. After adding an ounce of lime juice to each, they were still too sweet to drink. Go for the view, and maybe order straight mezcal.

Have to sign off now. All these pictures made me hungry.