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What's Cooking Mexico

Posted Jan 17 2011 12:00am
Panuchos

Saying that I love markets would be an understatement. The best part of my culinary adventure in Mexico has been visiting its markets, both established and street markets. Jon said that in Mexico there was a market for everything and he was right. Want some computer parts or a whole new machine? Go to la plaza de la computación. Need electric supplies? You can find them at mercado Hidalgo o mercado Portales. Need baking supplies or cookware? La Merced market will probably have what you need. And if you are looking for some rare gourmet ingredients Mercado San Juan is the place to go.

Even though I was born in this city and lived here for the first 20 years of my life, there are a lot of markets and places I don’t know. That’s why I’ve decided to start a project that I’ll call Market Monday. During the week I’ll try to visit a market and I’ll post about it the following Monday. That way I’ll keep track of the markets and places I visit and you, my lovely readers, will learn a little bit more about these places and the amazing products and foods they offer in this very unconventional city.

Mercado Medellin

I’m going to start with a market I had never visited before in my life, Mercado Medellin in Colonia Roma. My guide for this tour was a great friend, amazing chef and restaurateur now living in Mexico City, Ruth Alegria. I was invited by Ruth to help her out in a cooking class she had scheduled for the day. Unfortunately, the class was canceled the night before, but that didn’t stop us from getting together and walk over to Mercado Medellin to buy some items and have lunch.

Don’t judge a book by its cover and don’t judge this market by it’s entrance. Like many things in Mexico, you have to look a little bit deeper to find beauty and really be surprised. One of the things that surprised me the most were the many booths that sold products from Central and South America. But my favorite was the one that sold all kinds of items from Yucatan. I know now where to get my ingredients for my next cochinita pibil or panuchos.

Flags

El yucateco

El yucateco

Ruth walked from aisle to aisle navigating stands of fresh produce, flowers, poultry, meats and food vendors. Every now and then she would stop to point out something interesting, like the place where they sell some exquisite carnitas on weekends or the stand where she bought a delicious rack of lamb for Christmas. I must say that being a tourist in my own city and having an American guide is a weird feeling. But I’ve been enjoying it and playing my role very well. I take out my camera and shoot a couple of pictures at the stand where Ruth is buying chicken bones for stock. I hear a guy behind me say “smile for the camera” to one of his friends and I smile as I’m taking the last shot. I like the idea of being considered a tourist, but I have to be careful in this city.

Chicken breasts

Mercado Medellin

After some shopping (Ruth had said she wasn’t going to buy anything but ended up with two heavy bags) we went up to the second level where there were some cocinas preparing for la hora de la comida (lunch rush). What caught our attention and really wanted to try were the albondigas yucatecas. Unfortunately they were not ready yet so we ordered panuchos. When they brought them to the table, however, Ruth was very disappointed because they were not real panuchos. They were only tostadas topped with cochinita pilbil, which wasn’t bad, but not the real thing.

The best part of this trip to Mercado Medellin was that I had the opportunity to talk to Ruth about her experience living in D.F. (Mexico City). After living most of her life in New York and New Jersey and managing 3 restaurants, two of her own in New Jersey and her parents’ restaurant in Manhattan, she and her husband decided to move to Mexico in 2003. Ruth’s parents were Nicaraguan, but she herself was born in Panama and lived most of her life in New York City. Ruth had only come to Mexico two times before in her life, but moving down to this country wasn’t a difficult decision.

After visiting several cities they decided to settle down in D.F. Ruth loves it down here. “The people, the food”, Ruth tells me. “are just amazing”. Being the owner of 3 Mexican restaurants in the U.S. she was an expert on Mexican food and started a cooking school in New Jersey. “But how could I try to teach Mexican housewives” she continues “how to prepare Mexican food?” Ruth’s love for Mexico and Mexican food is evident. Every time a friend would visit her she would take them on tours to different parts of the city and great restaurants and mercados to eat. That’s how the idea of organizing custom designed cultural and culinary tours of Mexico City was born. They include the best known of the city’s colonias to its most overlooked. Ruth offers a “non-tour” tour for every season in Mexico that focuses in the cuisine and rituals of that place and time.

Ruth Alegria

As we walk back to her place just across Insurgentes Avenue in colonia Condesa we stop at a couple of more places, a coffee house where we tasted a delicious French roast coffee and ended up buying half a kilo of it and at a corner where a guy was selling cheeses from the back of his truck. Ruth is a great person and amazing cook. Remember the “after Thanksgiving” dinner she had? I’m really glad I’ve been meeting such interesting people like Ruth. And this is only the beginning of a great friendship. Yesterday we went on another tour to La Lagunilla and Alvaro Obregon flea markets where we got some great deals on cookbooks. If you are coming to Mexico City make sure to contact her. She’s definitely a great tour guide and you will learn a lot about this magnificent city. To contact her please visit her websites:

¡Buen provecho!

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