From Cancun to Mexico City
Why is Mexico City so cool? Hard to say, really, but it has an energy about it that rivals New York, an appreciation for art that rivals Paris or Rome, and a badass history unlike any other. I suppose when your city was built the Mejicas atop a magical lake where an eagle was eating a snake on a cactus, then conquered by the Aztecas, destroyed and rebuilt by the Spanish, you're bound to have a colorful culture that has thrived in spite of a lot of turmoil and bloodshed. The country itself is the connection between North and South America and has access to both the Caribbean and Pacific which makes it a melting pot of cultures.
Paul, Lauren, Sasha, Anna and I left the family compound at Akumal on Saturday morning, hopped on a quick flight and were checking into our (very fancy) hotel in the posh neighborhood of Polanco by late afternoon. My adrenaline was pumping to be in the city - the energy there is infectious - and we've all seen the movie Man on Fire.
That night Paul had arranged for a Mezcal and Tequila tour through the city, so at 8 PM we were picked up by our guide and took off in a van to find the best tacos. First we stopped by a microbrewery that sold craft beers of Mexico, which was cute but paled in comparison to San Diego, home to over 200 microbreweries (spoiled, I know).
Next we went to a taco shop that I can't remember the name of for the life of me, but we had a taco that was spicy and cheesy and crispy and delicious and my mouth waters just thinking about, especially compared to the bland food of Cuba (where I'm writing from). Back in the van and on to the next place, we went to a restaurant that was closed (again I forget the name), but opened after hours especially for us. Our host and owner of the establishment took us through a mezcal journey that was delicious, informative and left me in quite good spirits.
Mezcal tasting and tapas
The first mezcal we tried was strong and smokey and and had an overpowering flavor, but then again I'd never really had mezcal before so didn't have anything to compare it to. The second one had the classic worm in the bottle (for flavor) and was accompanied by a salt that had ground up grubs in it. Yum. The fourth one, called Pechuga, was filtered through raw chicken breast, which sounds absolutely disgusting but for some reason gave it a nice smokey/sweet but easy to drink taste. The sixth mezcal was 65.4% alcohol by volume, and evaporated in my throat (i.e. was absorbed directly into my bloodstream) before making it to my stomach. After making our way through six mezcals, our host had us try the first one again. It tasted light, sweet and smokey and totally palatable, particularly compared to the 65%. It was cool to experience how the taste of the mezcals change in comparison to one another.
That's some legit mezcal
In all honestly I was pretty drunk by the time we had made it through six mezcals. Our host then served us each a plate of small tapas - bread with chorizo, smoked swordfish, taquitos and a beautiful mound of guacamole topped with roasted crickets. I'm not totally opposed to eating bugs, but when you sprinkle crickets on my favorite food we might have a problem. I thought about picking them out of the guacamole but I figured their legs would break off and stick out of the avocado, so I might as well give it a go. Eating roasted crickets on a belly full of mezcal wasn't the most pleasant experience, but had I been more sober and had they not been tarnishing my guac, I think I would have liked them a bit more. They weren't too bad, crunchy and earthy tasting, but I did feel like I was picking crickets out of my teeth for the rest of the night.
Mexico City cuisine is some of the finest in the world, and its chefs use interesting and innovative ingredients. Apparently crickets commonly used, and have been since ancient times, along with grubs and scorpions. Chapultepec, the site of Montezuma's palace in Tenochítlan (ancient Mexico City) literally means "Cricket Hill". An empire built on the backs of crickets - go figure. But I shouldn't be surprised because Mexico City is full of surprises.
After the mezcal journey our tour guide took us to two more taco shops, one of which is an auto repair shop by day. When the tour ended at midnight I was so stuffed with tacos and booze that in spite of the crazy energy of a Saturday night I fell blissfully into a king size bed, shared with Anna and Sasha, which we giggled about it until we all passed out.
Three peas in a king size bed