Eating Our Way Across Mexico
Our seven week trip through Mexico is slowly coming to an end. As we work our way across the country, we are doing our best to sample every menu item possible. Since we only have seven weeks, we are setting ourselves up for failure given the regional and national diversity of food in Mexico.
The food was a key motivator in our decision to come to Mexico. It’s good. Really good. So good that I eat it all the time at home (mostly cooked in my own kitchen). In fact, while we were on our summer vacation in Canada last year, I suffered from Mexican food withdrawal in Quebec City. Here in Mexico we are (obviously) surrounded by Mexican food every day. And I love it.
I tried to include pics of everything we have eaten so far on our vacation, but I had to cut it off at 29 images so this article doesn’t time out when loading in your browser.
If your eyes are still hungry after reading this article, then check out a few more food pics from our first week in Mexico, our day trip to Guanajuato, and in this article where I question whether we could retire abroad to Mexico.
Who doesn’t love meat? Vegetarians I suppose. Meaty goodness forms the core that anchors most Mexican dishes. The smell of meat on a grill often wafted us in to a restaurant or food stand where we had our fill of carne.
In addition to the meaty treats shown here, we also feasted on roasted chickens, tortas al pastor, empanadas filled with things like tuna, chicken, pork in mole sauce, chilis and cheese, and picadillo (ground beef and veggies in a tomato sauce).
Did I try them? Of course. Twice. I even fed a handful to our 3 year old and he kept asking for more. They are covered in lime and chili powder so you taste that more than the crickets, which I think taste a little like shrimp.
We hired a taxi for a day and had a chance to chat with the driver. The subject switched to local cuisine and we talked about food in the market. The taxi driver asked if we tried chapulines (crickets) yet. I said I had and they were okay, but I didn’t like the crunchy parts left in your mouth after eating them.
I asked him whether he eats crickets.
Of course! I’m Zapotec and we grow up eating crickets all the time, so it’s just another food. You really have to put a big handful in a tortilla to get a true taste of them.
I’m not sure I like crickets enough to eat a whole taco full of the little critters. But I realize it’s just another source of protein like cows or pigs or tofu (just a lot smaller and crunchier). If you’re used to eating them growing up, I guess there’s nothing weird or disgusting about devouring a big mound of crickets for lunch.
Later on, we observed a family shopping in the market with a few kids around age 4-8. The little kids couldn’t keep their hands out of the bowls of crickets. Sample after sample, these little ones were eating all the cricket vendor’s profits, one insect at a time. At least the parents had the kindness to buy a few bags of chili lime crunchy goodness. These kids and their insatiable snacking prove that if you grow up eating crickets, there’s nothing weird about it. Just a fun taste of the local food culture.
When we plan on being away from home for many hours at a time (like the trip to the Monte Alban pyramids in Oaxaca), possibly in areas without a lot of food service options, we’ll often pack a picnic lunch. Three or four bolillos or torta rolls total $0.20 or $0.30 USD. Add some meat, maybe some refried beans, cheese, and onions and you have an incredible picnic lunch. We tried a bunch of the local cookies and pastries and those make great sides on the go.
I love meat. Fruits and vegetables are good too. In addition to the fresh fruits and vegetables shown in the pictures here, we also gorged on mangoes, coconuts, papayas, oranges, bananas, watermelons, and broccoli. Everything was incredibly fresh and ripe compared to grocery stores in Raleigh and the prices on most fruits and vegetables were 50-75% less than comparable prices at home.
While walking through the open air markets, it’s easy to pick up a fruit or vegetable you’ve never tried, ask “como se llama?” and “cuanto cuesta?” then buy one. This cactus fruit, which tastes like kiwi and is about the size of a kiwi, was one peso or about 7 US cents. Perfectly ripe and juicy.
Souping it up
Lots of varieties in soups.
Mmmm pozole. It used to be made with people meat in the days of human sacrifices. Now beef and pork are much more common.
According to Wikipedia’s article on pozole:
After the Conquest, when cannibalism was banned, pork became the staple meat as it “tasted very similar”, according to a Spanish priest.
The stone soup was just okay, and at $8 USD it was probably the single most expensive food item we bought. Hey, it’s a novelty to watch the chef cook your soup by throwing a red hot rock in it. We’re also spoiled by eating crazy awesome soups and broths at home like pho, tom yum soup, and tom yum ramen. And Mrs. RoG’s mom’s various Thai/Cambodian beef, pork, chicken, and fish soups rich with some combo of garlic, fish sauce, lemongrass, kaffir lime leaves, and Thai basil.
At the grocery store
We spend a lot of time at the grocery store. The Mexican grocery store includes a tortilleria (tortilla shop), a panaderia (bakery), carniceria (butcher), and a cafe or hot foods counter (sometimes called the “soda fountain”). Sweet sales ladies ply you with free samples of bread, tortillas, salsa, hot dogs, cheese, spreads, peanuts, and other snacks.
It’s a great place to grab a bite or a whole meal. The prepared foods from the cafes are usually average to good and often less expensive than at a restaurant.
Fun story. We bought two orders of the five taco packs for 36 pesos each. When the taco lady asked what kind of tacos we wanted, I asked for four cochinita pibil, four barbacoa, and two pork carnitas (because I bought 10 total tacos, right?). No, that’s not how it works. After a couple minutes of confusion, I realized she wanted me to give her the order for just five tacos at a time, and then repeat the order when preparing the second tray of tacos. This was the only time I had a problem ordering tacos in Mexico.
Non-traditional Mexican food
Mexico isn’t all steak, beans, tacos, and tamales. We enjoyed a few dishes that aren’t Mexican food at all but were still delicious. Sometimes you want comfort food that reminds you of home, especially when you have kids that aren’t as adventurous at the dining table as you are.
In addition to what is shown here, we also cooked rice at home (served with eggs and soy sauce) and visited KFC for fried chicken and french fries. KFC’s sauces were unique, with jalapeno and pica-pop being two interesting ones. I also accidentally ordered one set of fried chicken drenched in green chimichurri sauce. I was the only one that liked the chimichurri chicken. Lucky me, I got to eat fried chicken leftovers for a couple of meals.
I had an interesting conversation with the server at the Chinese restaurant. Her Spanish was just a little worse than mine, but we managed to ask each other where we were from (I think she knew I wasn’t from Oaxaca).
She was from China, which explains the broken Spanish on her end. I told her the food they serve is very similar to the “Chinese” food we have in Raleigh. When asked if this was like the food they eat in China, she first said “no”, then “yes”. Then I explained the question again and she laughed and shook her head “No, of course not!”.
Almost every pizza place in Mexico has a “two for one” special on certain days of the week (usually Monday, Tuesday, or Thursday). Some pizza parlors have two for one deals all the time, where the price of two pizzas is just a small fraction more than the price of one pizza.
The Mexican pizza in the picture came with chorizo, jalapenos, onions, sliced tomatoes, and refried beans.
Watch out for non-traditional toppings. Hot dogs (“salchicha”) and bologna (“salami”) are pretty common toppings and not that great on a pizza in my somewhat expert pizza-eating opinion.
We bought two burgers to share as a snack. Then we realized how good they were and bought three more and finished them on the spot. Embarrassed a bit, I walked back to the burger stand and bought five more. “To go. For dinner. For all my kids over there” I apologized to the burger entrepreneur.
Did you save room for dessert?
We usually don’t. But we made room for a few sweets from time to time. In addition to what’s in these pics, we also dined on churros, budin (bread pudding), ice cream, flan, malt chocolate milkshakes, freshly ground chocolate paste, cookies, and tejate (a corn meal drink with cinnamon and spices).
Now I’m hungry
If you made it this far without stopping for a snack, congratulations. The food in Mexico is incredibly diverse, delicious, and full of flavor. And for those with their savings in US dollars, it’s incredibly cheap too.
We never spent more than about $20-25 USD for a sit down meal for a family of five including drinks and tip. And occasionally we wouldn’t spend more than $3-5 USD on street food where we grab some grub and sit in the park and chow down. As our trip wraps up, I realize we spent significantly less than our budgeted $40 per day on food. That’s not for a lack of trying though!
Which dish do you want to try the most? Would you try just one cricket?