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sud-777-mexico

Back from Mexico

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Detail from a huge mural by brilliant Mexican artist Diego Rivera.

 

Yesterday something quite extraordinary happened to me: I had a day off.

Of course it wasn’t a real day off – I answered about 25 work-related emails in the morning and did a few house-keeping jobs on the website in the afternoon – but, as you can see, I also found enough free time to finally write a new blog post.

Life has been pretty hectic recently. This time last week I was in Mexico with my colleagues from FoodieHub (formerly ‘Chowzter’).

FoodieHub have been making massive improvements recently so the trip to Mexico was a great chance to catch up with old friends and discuss how everything is going. For those unfamiliar, FoodieHub is a network of independent food writers located in cities all over the world. Each expert recommends the essential places to eat in their city, from street stalls and traditional family-run establishments right the way up to luxury fine dining. As the FoodieHub expert for Rio I guess I am duty-bound to recommend the service, but as it happens I’ve been using the site for all of my travels over the last 18 months and I’ve found it to be a brilliant way to track down the essential eats in unfamiliar cities (check out my list for Rio here).

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Guelaguetza: dancing with turkeys and fun with hats

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We arrived in Oaxaca with very little idea of what this ‘Guelaguetza’ thing was. All we knew was that it was an annual cultural event and we had tickets. The town was abuzz with visitors and colourful flags celebrating the event, but as we approached the venue, we were still guessing exactly what we were going to see.

We stepped out of a taxi outside a stadium-like structure which was perched on top of a hill overlooking the city. As we passed through the turnstiles we were handed what turned out to be a standard party-pack:

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Micheladas and Cubanas

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Well, time got away from me today – I was going to publish my final post on our trip to Mexico at around lunchtime, but then a bunch of other things came up and now the clock is striking 6pm. That final post will have to wait until tomorrow, but I’m still going to throw in a mini-post about one of my favourite Mexican treats: Micheladas and even better, Cubanas.

According to Wikipedia, the exact ingredients and definitions of a Michelada vary according to your location in Mexico, but in general we are talking about a beer mixed with lime juice, served in a salt/chilli-rimmed glass. Then a bunch of other extras are optionally added such as clamato (tomato juice with clam broth), chilli powder, Worcestershire sauce, Maggi sauce. The Cubana variation (which ended up being our favourite) tended to have loads of extra chilli sauce and extra spices and seasoning.

All this backs up the point I made in the previous post about peanuts – why have a boring old beer when you can have a spicy, sour, salty beer instead? Here were a few of our Michelada / Cubana highlights:

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Eating Oaxaca

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After 6 days in Mexico City (aka DF), we decided it was time to get out of the big city and see a bit more of Mexico. We had heard that there was some big annual cultural event going on in Oaxaca (a city located in the state of the same name, around 500km southeast of DF), so we hopped on an overnight bus and rolled into town at 6.30am.

Feeling shattered from a bad night’s sleep on the bus, we stumbled into our hostel and asked if we could check in early – we were desperate for a shower and bed. The woman at reception looked as us impassively and said check-in was at 3pm. Urgh! Six and a half hours to kill!

We dumped our bags and sloped off into town to see if we could find breakfast. What we found was a city with almost no buildings higher than 2 stories, full of markets, crafts and street food. We wandered into the first market we found and had what turned out to be a very traditional Oaxacan breakfast.

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Eating out in Mexico City

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We ate a LOT in Mexico City! In fact we ate so much good food in that pretty much every day involved the same conversation at some point: “Man, when we get back to Rio, we’re going to have to get in shape”.

Yeah, “when we get back to Rio” …but in the meantime:

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Eat Rio Eats Mexico

Even though I’ve been running my own culinary tours in Rio for almost a year, I had never been on a food tour as a guest until just a few days ago. Mrs Eat Rio and I put ourselves in the hands of the good people at Eat Mexico Culinary Tours and we did not regret it!

Here are a few of the highlights:

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This was our guide, Anais. First stop: a street stall for seafood tostadas.

 

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The way things are right now

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Chilaquiles Image source

 

Well it’s Friday, and in days gone past that would have meant a guaranteed post here at Eat Rio. Then along came the World Cup and a deluge of food tours and my whole writing/posting routine got messed up.

So now that the World Cup is over, things should be getting back to normal, right?

Well, not quite yet. Mrs Eat Rio and I have been working 7 days/week for the last 3 months, so we are both completely exhausted. A few weeks ago we decided to book ourselves a holiday to Mexico so we can get away from everything and fully unwind.

I visited Mexico back in 2010 and absolutely loved it. For Mrs Eat Rio it will be her first time in the land of tequila, mole and chilaquiles (we plan to indulge in all 3 of those items, plus much, much more).

Of course I’ll be indulging in some serious relaxation, but I will also be taking my camera with a view to record my experiences and perhaps draw some parallels and contrasts between Mexico and Brazil. And when I get back, things will get back to normal (promise!).

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Watching Brazil vs Mexico

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Casa Alto Vidigal is a hostel and bar sitting right at the top of the Vidigal favela.

 

Well, Brazil have played 2 games now and I think it’s fair to say that most people have been pretty underwhelmed. So far there have been no dominant displays and no goleadas – just a feeling that something isn’t quite clicking when the team get out on the field.

I have a few Mexican friends living here in Rio, and they had all decided to watch the game at Casa Alto Vidigal, a hostel/bar at the very top of Vidigal favela. The journey would normally take a little over an hour, so I gave myself a little over 2 hours and set off on my journey. Within minutes I received messages from other friends who were also trying to get to Vidigal – everyone was telling me that the traffic was the worst they’d ever seen in Rio.

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Kebab Chic and a Mexican Correction

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One of the things I try to do with Eat Rio is publicise food-related projects that I think deserve support and recognition (my motives are entirely selfish – as a resident of Rio, I want the food scene to improve in terms of variety, quality and value for money). So when I hear about something interesting – someone making neapolitan style pizzas in a mobile pizza oven; a couple of guys making authentic Mexican food in a Favela – I’m always keen to know more.

Last week I had a call from Yves (remember the Cheese Maverick?), telling me that he was about to start doing something new – he was calling it Kebab Chic. My curiosity was well and truly piqued, so I took a friend down to Travessa do Comércio to find out more.

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nachos

The only Mexican food in Rio

My introduction to Mexican food in South America was disappointing. I had been in Argentina for 3 weeks and was starting to feel that I should eat something other than those bife de chorizo wonder-steaks for which the Argentines are rightly famous. There was a nice looking Mexican restaurant nearby so we decided to go along and get some spice in our lives.

The waiter approached with a fearful look in his eye, nervously holding a plate of nachos as if they might explode at any moment. His eyes widened further as he warned us that the sauces were muy picante. We approached the sauces with caution – I put tiny morsel on the point of a nacho and touched it to my tongue and waited. …and waited. Nothing!

To cut a long story short, the entire meal was utterly bland. I went on to find out that the people of many (though not all) South American countries are not particularly enamoured with the spicy heat and strong flavours associated with Mexican cuisine.

The next time I had Mexican food I was in Mexico and it was a revelation!

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Crossing the border into Mexico in 2010. Exciting times lay ahead.

 

I was blown away by the mind-blowing flavours – salt, spice and sour in almost every bite!

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Real Mexican food – full of punchy flavours that brighten your day. Nothing like the bland imitations I had tasted in England and Argentina.

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