Sunday, September 09, 2007

Eating Coyoacan

It's my last night in Ciudad de Mexico and it's a bittersweet affair.

My friends and readers have asked me what I've seen so far on this trip. Have I seen the Zocalo? Or the Mercado de San Juan? My mom wants to know if I've seen the Virgin of Guadalupe. Have I eaten at Izote? Or Aguila y Sol? Have I done all the things I usually do on my trips? Inquiring readers want to know!

Well, I've been to Costco...

And, to answer your questions: yes, THAT Costco. The warehouse members-only retailer with everything in bulk. I've been there. I've seen the Mexican Costco and, let me tell you, I couldn't imagine going anywhere else.

It sounds odd, I know, but I've either been busy with calibratiing judges or at the competition. Otherwise, I'm just hanging out with Ana - no matter where she is. She's got two cafes here in Mexico City, so we've been at one, or the other, or both. I even got a twenty minute stint tending the bar at her Nueva Anzures location. Good thing no one came in 'cause I wouldn't know how to take their order.

So, on my last night in Mexico City, we took a sort-of guided tour around some of the city's interesting spots.

First, a tour through the Zocalo where the city has set up and elaborate light display to celebrate Mexico's Independence Day on September 15th. The streets around the Zocalo are packed with cars and walking spectators who've come to see the fancy light display. From there, it's on through La Zona Rosa to see where the homosexual community hangs out - although why this is a notable part of my tour is still in question.

Touring the Zocalo from the back seat with Ana.

For some reason, Ana's baristas feel it absolutely necessary to take me to a table dance place. In fact, for the past four days, they've been asking and encouraging me to go. I've been politely declining and while there's certainly a level of respect for Ana that I do so, it's really because I'm just not interested.

Thinking that I'm only holding out because of her, Ana also encourages me to check it out. After a few moments of trying to convince everyone that I would prefer not to go, I give in because it seems that her baristas really want to go and are using me as an excuse. Those that know me probably are reading this reasoning in doubt, but let's get real - I've been doing this for twenty years. The chicks dancing on stage while spinning on a pole thing has gotten old and stale - especially when you've been spending your time with someone you really enjoy spending time with. The club was the usual augmented women, stacked and toned and perhaps five years ago I would have been all over it, but not now. It was a most excruciating fifteen minutes.

Finally, we get to Coyoacan. Home to Frida Kahlo. In fact, we drive by her parents house and it looks like it did in the movie. That was pretty exciting. In the town square, or Zocalo, there's the usual Sunday fiesta happening with lots of vendors selling all sorts of foods and handicrafts. I only bought a couple of Luchador stickers but what I really wanted to buy was a Luchador mask. That would have been cool.

Just in case you were wondering - that's copper tubing jammed in the squeeze bottles to fill the churros, don't know if the filling reacts with the copper, but it tasted good!

Our eating tour started with real Churros. Not the crap we find in the United States that's been frozen, boxed and reheated. This is the real deal. Extruded batter dropped into boiling lard - what more could you ask for? These technically are called Churros Rellenos, or filled churros. It's your choice of filling from Nata to chocolate to blackberry, strawberry and more.

Ana holding up our Lechera Churro. Muy sabrosa!

Ana and I decided to split two. You know what I like about her? With the exception of seafood, she's a pretty adventurous eater, and she's willing to share. A bite of this and a bite of that. I never have to wonder what her food tastes like because I'm going to get a piece. And well, I just love that!

We get a chocolate-filled and Lechera-filled churro. They both piping hot, delicious and dripping. All over my shirt. Crap. But damn were they good. Eating one is that event where you bite, realize it's too fricken' hot, then have to chew with an open mouth, trying to suck in air to cool down the churro that's boiling in your mouth. You're hoping you don't burn your tongue. You're hoping you don't burn the roof of your mouth.

Fresh corn coming out of the pot.

Next stop, just a few minutes later, is the traditional Corn on A Stick, or what Ana simply calls: Elote. It's boiled corn that's mounted on a stick and slathered with Crema, grated Queso Anejo (I'm guessing) and powdered Chiles de Arbol.

Being from Maryland, I'm used to a corn we call Silver Queen. It's thin, it's sweet and the kernels are tight and uniform. And, I'm guessing, it's also a breed that gives maximum yield to satisfy our nation's insatiable appetite. In contrast, this Elote is big and oblong-shaped with large, funky-sized kernels that are lightly sweet but with a definite snap and an elusive texture that makes it hard to tell where the kernel ends and the cob begins.

The Elote-dero (Is that really a word?) prepares my corn on a stick.

It's a tasty, if not odd, treat for me, although I'm starting to feel a bit full in spite of myself.

Ana looking ready to pounce on my Elote.

In my pursuit of quality coffee around the world, I've seen some interesting approaches that different shops use in making coffee drinks. And when I say interesting, I'm usually outright horrified.

One of the "must see" stops here in Coyoacan is Cafe El Jarocha. It's the most popular and busiest cafe in Mexico City. Maybe it's the Mexico City version of New Orleans' Cafe du Monde, but whatever it is, I'm shocked to my core.

I've reached a point in my coffee journeys that I usually won't taste the coffee at places. Why subject my short life to such monstrocities? But we're here because I "must" see it and the crowd is impressive. It's a busy shop. And I mean BUSY. There's multiple counters, perhaps two dozen baristas and two hundred people - all making and drinking utter crap.

We ordered an Americano and a Cappuccino. To make the cappuccino, the barista takes the styrofoam cup, fills it with milk and steams the shit out of it. I mean, he's pumping the cup up and down to make those large, dishwater bubbles and scalding the milk in the process. For the coffee/espresso part, he's got a large plastic jug holding some suspicious-looking black liquid that he pours in to top off the cup. Grate a little cinnamon on top and it's heading our way.

I want to run.
I want hide.
I want to tear down the walls that hold me inside.

The El Jaroche barista on a mission to massacre coffee.

I didn't get to see them make our Americano but it was putrid. Dark, black and angry liquid. A hollow form of what it might have become in the hands of a skilled and loving roaster and barista. It's a shame really, because I would love to write something positive about the coffee, but it was absolutely horrible. Perhaps the worst coffee I've ever consumed.

I wouldn't wish coffee this bad on my ex-girlfriends.

God only knows why she's smiling. That bouffant foam looks hostile.

Evidently, they do their own roasting at El Jaroche. It's a simple gas-fired roaster and it looks to be in good condition. I wonder how much coffee they consume in a week - cause it's nearly 11pm and this place is jamming. So jamming that the neighboring pastry shops and coffee sellers are also doing good business.

Places like this make me wonder why they are so popular. The coffee is absolutely horrendous, could it be the service or just the experience of being in Coyoacan with friends? I don't know.

The drum roaster at El Jarocho - but where's the Tostador?

I hate to go on and on, but it's rare that I run into coffee this bad. It's so bad, I can't drink it. In an attempt to ease the pain, I seek out a chocolate covered donut with sprinkles at a bakery next door. It's dry and not very sweet or flavorful and does nothing to help the coffee. I'm stuck.

As we walk back to the car and through the Zocalo, Ana manages to unload her cappuccino on a young girl asking for money. It's a horrible thing to do to the less fortunate people of the city but I'm glad to be rid of that putrid mess. I look for a place to stash my americano and find some garbage bags stacked outside a restaurant and conveniently lose my cup.

The night is ending and my trip to Mexico City is rushing to a close by the second. When you find someone you truly enjoy spending time with, the end is always a difficult one. It was in Tokyo and it's worse in Mexico City. As with any relationship, there's a lot of confusion, misunderstanding and self-doubt to overcome, but I'm hoping that those problems can be overcome and that this adventure will continue.

Meanwhile, it was the best time of my life - and I only got to see Costco...

Arigato Tokyo from Coyoacan.


true said...

Great stories and photos. For what it's worth, your coffee story is typical from what I've also found-- even when I try to buy whole bean, its almost impossible to find drinkable coffee in Mexico unless you are in a select few areas. It's just not a big part of the culture.

One of my favorite Mexican street food memories? I was working with a Mayan ejido south of Merida. Following up on a tip from one of the locals, I went into a nearby village to look for a specific fruit vendor selling oranges. It didn't look that promising. The oranges were split them in half and rolled in a mixture of dried smoked chile and sea salt. That was it. As it turned out, the orange was the most amazing combination of sweet-salty-smoky-hot that I've ever experienced. I've never had another orange as good.

Anonymous said...

SuperJay-you really need to have your own travel show because your coverage is amazing. Thanks for sharing your detailed adventures with the less fortunate. Also, you look overwhelmingly like El Coyote (sin su banda.)Hopefully, this will be taken as a compliment. If Ana can read this, she should definitely not let this one get away!