Before I got here I never would have imagined that I would eat some of the most amazing seafood of my life in Mexico City, 7350 feet above sea level. But last weekend our friends took us to an absolutely wonderful restaurant called Mi Gusto Es. It’s huge, informal, and very popular, spanning an entire block with lots of tables spilling out onto the street. The food is from the Mexican state of Sinaloa (which is where Mazatlan is) and it’s to die for. We started out with ceviche tostadas and Clamato Michiladas. I loved making my own tostada by squirting some mayo on a crispy corn chip disk, adding the ceviche, and then sprinkling it with lime and hot sauce.

Pretty soon two stone bowls arrived at the table, one filled with raw shrimp, cucumbers and red onions and the other the same but with scallops. The whole mix had been briefly but powerfully marinated in lime, super hot chilies, and lots of salt. This dish is called Aguachile and I have no idea why I’ve never heard of it before. How could I have gone for 32 years and never tasted this! It wasn’t  like a ceviche because the seafood hadn’t been “cooked” in the acid of the lime. The shrimps and scallops were still translucent and totally raw  but yet they still tasted powerfully of the spicy marinade. I can’t say enough about how good this was.

For our final course we had shrimp tacos. These shrimps were cooked with thin slices of guajillo peppers and wrapped in flour tortillas. I wished I wasn’t so full because I wanted more!

Then today, to further our seafood adventures we had lunch at a fancy spot right around the corner from our house, Contramar. This place is on every “best of” Mexico City list, and rightfully so. It was fabulous.

Like at Mi Gusto Es we started with tostadas. But these were a bit more upscale: spicy mayo, buttery thinly sliced raw tuna that had been marinated in lime and orange, crispy fried leeks and avocado. What more can I say, it was so so so so so good.

Then we had octopus and shrimp tacos (the filling is on the left) and another shrimp aguachile. In this aguachile the shrimp had been cooked in the acid of the marinade. It too was absolutely incredible, so spicy and fresh. It reminded me of Thai food in that way.

The octopus was so tender and spicy and it was exciting to put it inside of the tiny, warm handmade tortillas like this:

In the middle of this meal I actually looked at Rafael and said, “This is living!” as I took another sip of my Michelada.  And then I got this beautiful fig tart for dessert:

The crust tasted like a fresh Pecan Sandy, the filling like sour cream cheesecake, the figs like fruity sunshine… a great end to a great meal. I can’t wait to see what I get to eat tomorrow!

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We went to a cafe in Condesa called El Maque for breakfast yesterday. They have conchas (sweet sugar crusted rolls) that I will dream about.  They are sweet but not too sweet, the bread part is like if white bread married a croissant and the sugar crust is light and sandy. The really good thing about these particular ones is that the crust is seamlessly stuck on the bread. With a lesser pastry the outer layer can flake off as you eat it. Not with these. It’s  totally sad that I won’t be able to take them home with me. You need to eat them when they’re fresh or they loose their fluffy softness.

The rest of breakfast was really good too. I got huevos revueltos and they came with a side of refried beans and chilaquiles, much better than homefries in my opinion.

After breakfast we walked to Chapultapec park to go to the Anthropology Museum. It was a bit of a hike and by the time we got there we needed some refreshment so we bought 2 cokes and a water and sat outside for a bit. We went inside the museum, ready for some culture and found we didn’t have enough money to get in (and they don’t take credit cards)! If we hadn’t bought the stupid sodas we would have had enough! The ATM at the museum was broken and we were in the middle of the park, really far from a bank, so we decided to just walk back to our apartment and that’s when we saw these guys climbing up a pole outside the museum.

One by one four men dressed in bright red and white outfits climbed up this 100 foot pole and then sat in a square crows nest at the top. Once they were up there they seemed to be doing something with ropes as anticipation grew in the crowd below. Finally a fifth man climbed up the pole and sat in the middle of the crows nest. And then the four original guys gently slid off the railing head first attached by ropes around their waists.

The fifth man played a little flute as the crows nest slowly turned. The ropes were wrapped around the top of the center of the pole so as the crow’s nest turned more rope was let out and the upside down flying men got closer and closer to the ground. Once they were almost to the earth they each sat up in their rope seat and landed on their feet.

It was actually calm and peaceful to watch once you got over the shock of seeing them upside down in the air. After some interneting I’ve discovered that it’s an ancient Totonac dance and their proper name is the “Voladores de Papantla”. You can read more about them here. So even though we couldn’t get into the museum we still were able to see something really neat.

After we got back to our apartment it went from being a sunny beautiful day to a menacing storm in a matter of minutes and we were glad we made it home before the rain (this is a view from our deck). Don’t get me wrong, I’m not complaining, it’s 104 degrees in NYC right now so this is just perfect.

A few days ago we walked through the beautiful tree lined streets of Condesa on our way to lunch at El Califa, a very popular taqueria.

We sat outside and ordered 2 Sidrals. I love this soda, it’s apple flavored and is so refreshing. Lots of the restaurants we’ve been going to have served us sodas in cans so I was super psyched to drink the first Sidral of the trip out of a proper glass bottle.

Ok now on to the main event. The tacos were spectacular! What you see here are 2 steak tacos con queso (the dark ones) and 2 costras. Costras are pieces of meat surrounded in cheese and then fried on the grill and served on a flour tortilla. The cheese is crispy and tastes kind of like a parmesan crisp. I thought of my friend Nicole as I ate this magnificent thing. There was something about the mix of the flour tortilla and the crispy cheese that I knew she would love.

The bistec and ribeye con queso tacos were really the stars of the show though. They consisted of a thin slice of meat on top of a corn tortilla covered in Oaxaca cheese and grilled. The cheese was so dark but yet still melty on the inside. It was one of the best things I’ve ever eaten.After lunch we walked around a bit more. I thought this old abandoned house was pretty although not very representative of how well kept up and fancy most of Condesa is.Even though we were super full we found an ice cream place, Neveria Roxy, and I got a cajeta cone. Mexican ice cream is kind of  mix between gelato and Edy’s. It’s stretchy like gelato but has a more sandy texture like Edy’s (or Dryers for my West Coast readers). Anyway, it was delicious. Next time I go to the neveria I’m going to get a guanabana cone!

We spent Sunday walking around Polanco, the neighborhood where Rafael grew up. It’s always been a tony place but since he moved away 25 years ago it’s really gone insane. It’s like 5th Avenue, with a Cartier Store and a Bentley dealership. When Rafael was living here there were no US companies at all in Mexico, not even McDonald’s so times have really changed.

We ate at Klein’s which, unlike the Converse store next to it, has been there since the 1960s. It looks like a Jewish deli but mostly they serve Mexican comfort food along with hamburgers and hot dogs. I got some delicious enchiladas Suizas which were mild and creamy but kind of tangy. I have no idea what they have to do with Switzerland. Rafael got chilaquiles with chicken, another favorite of mine. They are basically corn tortilla chips drenched in green sauce with cheese and chicken. Perhaps they are a long-lost relative of the nacho?

After lunch we walked in the Parque Lincoln. It has a gigantic aviary full of parakeets in the middle of it.

I love parakeets.

For dinner we kept it light (not really) with more tacos! I had promised a pic of pastor con piña so here they are in all their glory. This is the food of the gods!

Rafael and I are on an extended vacation (almost 3 weeks!) to Mexico City to explore the city, work on my Spanish, and EAT!

On our first full day we walked around exploring Roma, the neighborhood where we’re staying. This area is very European and has little cafes and Spanish style architecture everywhere. I keep saying that this part of Mexico City  reminds me of a cross between Spain and an overgrown jungle. It’s the rainy season right now so everything is totally lush but the temperature is cool and San Francisco like.

That first morning we went to breakfast at a cafe. I love that even though the cafe looked  like it could be in Barcelona the food was really Mexican and the eggs came with hot homemade salsas and refried beans.

Then later that night we had our first real tacos. Man they were so good. I got a pastor taco that was so great. The meat was on a huge vertical spit like the meat for a gyro sandwich. On top of the spit was a whole pineapple. They shaved the meat onto your tortilla and then shaved the pineapple on top of that. I’ll have to get a picture soon- it’s the way they do it all over town. It was heavenly.

The other revelation of the night were these rib-eye con queso tacos. The meat wasn’t all chopped up- it was one thin slice topped with some cheese (I think it’s Oaxaca cheese) that had also been grilled so it was brown and toasty.

We also got Micheladas. In Mexico City they have a bunch of different Michelada styles, the regular one has only lime juice and salt (outside of the DF this is called a “chelada”) but they also make versions with Clamato and then our favorite, the “Cubana” which comes with lime juice, chili, and worcestershire sauce. I wonder if they actually drink beer this way in Cuba, Susannah do you know the answer?

OK, I’m going to try to update this blog pretty regularly so I have a good record of our trip. I hope you guys like pictures of tacos….

Adapted from “Aromas of Aleppo” by Poopa Dweck

Ingredients:

  • 3 sticks of butter
  • 1 cup of superfine sugar
  • 3 cups of flour
  • slivered almonds
  • 1tsp almond extract

Clarify the butter by melting it on low heat. Do not stir. Skim off the foam and discard it. Let it cool to room temp.

Preheat the oven to 300 degrees.

Beat the sugar and butter for about 5 minutes until the mixture is white and frothy, add the extract, then add the flour one cup at a time.  The dough will be pretty crumbly. Knead it by hand until it sticks together more easily.

Roll the dough into walnut sized balls and place them onto an un-greased cookie sheet . Press your thumb into the middle to make a little well. Stick some almond slivers in the well.

Bake for 10 minutes or until the bottoms are lightly browned but the tops are still white.

Cool and eat!

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Rafael’s grandmother Dora is famous for her baking. She’s Guatemalan and her family is of Middle Eastern Jewish decent. She also spent part of her life in Italy. This means her baked goods run the gamut from pizza to chocolate cinnamon cake to challah. Her challah recipe was actually published in cookbook called “A Blessing of Bread“.

For years, every time I’d make a crumbly sugar cookie Rafael would say they tasted like “draibes” a cookie that Dora used to make. I was intrigued but Rafael could tell me little about them besides that they were sweet and crumbly. I googled every possible spelling I could think of but nothing fit the bill. Then a couple of weeks ago  I mentioned the elusive “draibes” to Rafael’s mom Elena while we were visiting DC. She told me that they were actually called “graybehs” and that she had a recipe for them. It turns out they were in a cookbook I already had at home, the wonderful “Aromas of Aleppo” by Poopa Dweck. Dora’s side of the family is originally from Aleppo Syria so this book is chock full of the delectable foods associated with her.

Elena and I made the graybehs and everyone said they tasted close to Dora’s. It’s possible they were just being nice but I thought they were exceptional, crumbly and light and totally tasty.

I am happy to report that, after much struggling, I have figured out the secret to making a perfect omelette a la my friends Jacques and Julia. It is not the amount butter, or the type of eggs, or the motion of your wrist. No, the elusive secret is a good non-stick pan! For an anniversary present my lovely mother in law bought me a serious ceramic non-stick pan. I had been eying it ever since I read a post about it on one of my favorite blogs. This thing rules. I don’t think glue would stick to it. Perhaps Jacques and Julia would say I’m cheating but I am just too thrilled to care.