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.

Senora Garcia y La Concha Pederse

Senora Garcia and the Missing Concha

Ana, Senora Garcia (her mom) and Tia Cristy waiting for a table at Bondy.

According to Ana, the Sunday Family Meal is taken at the local Los Bisquets Bisquets Obregon, but every once in a while, they decide to go somewhere else. Today was one of those days and we found ourselves at Bondy Restaurante y Pasteleria Vienesa in Colonia Polanco because Senora Garcia wanted to have their famous Conchas. What are these famous Conchas, I hear you saying? They're a slightly sweet bun covered with a sugar-type coating much unlike anything I've seen in the United States. And when it comes to Conchas, Bondy is supposed to be the best.

Problem is, it seems that Bondy's is already out of Conchas and I think Senora Garcia is getting a bit upset.

Once we arrive, Ana meets with the receptionist to get a table. It's going to be about a twenty minute wait. No problem. Her mom goes to ask about the Conchas at it seems that the only Conchas left are floating around the restaurant on peoples' tables.

From my limited experience eating at Mexican restaurants, it seems that for Desayuno (breakfast) and Cena (dinner), the first course is a course of pan dulce or sweet breads. It's a great way to begin the meal and I've really gotten into it. The breads aren't sweet in the way our danishes and pastries are. They're lightly sweet so as not to overwhelm the palate so early in the meal. Add a cup of coffee or some fresh juice and you're good to go.

Except, Senora Garcia isn't. She's on a mission for Conchas and no one is going to get in her way.

Bread and salsa - an unexpected union.

Once we sit, bread and salsa arrives. Unlike the United States, they don't put butter on the table. They put salsa. It's kinda weird to this gringo but the light fluffiness of the bread paired with the zestiness of the salsa are an excellent match. If I wasn't trying to be on my best behaviour, I might have chowed down harder.

Bondy is an interesting place. It's a Viennese restaurant and pastry shop. I make a mental note to check out the pastry shop but forget later. I don't know why, but I'm always surprised to find cuisines from other parts of the world in the cities that I visit. Viennese is a surprise. Good thing the food here is good too. We're seated in the back room. A patio of sorts that's fully enclosed with walls, but with open windows around the perimeter. The deep yellow paint is comforting, or perhaps it's just the woman sitting across from me. I'm not sure which, but at this point, I'm too blind to care.

Senora Garcia and the Chocolate Concha.

Our server and the manager comes over because Senora Garcia is none too pleased. This is Bondy dammit and they're supposed to have Conchas. While she's been nothing but wonderfully nice to me this whole week, you know she's a tough lady. Don't get on her bad side or Zwack! You're dead meat.

Unfortuntely for the dynamic duo, they've gotten on her bad side by not having the Conchas ready. They're famous for Conchas and it's unacceptable and inexcusable that they do not have more for us (at least that's the gist of what I'm understanding Senora Garcia telling these two). I'm the new guy on the scene so I don't quite know how to act. I just keep to myself, while part of me wants to start laughing at these two guys being berated by Senora Garcia, and the other part of me is just glad not to be in their shoes.

Tia Cristy and the Other Concha.

Somehow and from somewhere, two Conchas show up on our table. A chocolate and a vanilla one. They're two beautifully sculpted pieces of bread topped with a delicate sugar crust. They look divine. I don't know where they came from or how they materialized. Maybe they made them fresh. Maybe they were hiding. Maybe Senora Garcia had them lifted off of someone else's trays. I've come to accept the fact that there are certain things in life I don't have to know. These Conchas are one of them.

Turns out, that after all the heartache spilled upon the staff, the Conchas are for Tia Cristy and myself. Me, because I'm visiting from the United States, and Tia Cristy because she's visiting from Mazatlan and will be going home in a few hours. At first, I'm a bit embarassed. After all that work, I thought Senora Garcia should have it. No, no, no - that's not acceptable, but maybe you should split yours with Tia Cristy, suggests Ana, so that we can have a taste of both. Good idea.

The Conchas are wonderful. Light, airy, puffy and lightly sweet. The sugar topping is delicate, crusty and delicious. It's not overtly sweet, just an overall light sweetness that's perfect with a cup of coffee. I make a mental note to find a Concha place back home and buy regularly.

Finally - my Chile en Nogada.

On my first day in Mexico City, Ana kept telling me about this very seasonal dish called Chile en Nogada. The ones at Gigante Supermercado were okay, but I should wait until we go to place that does it better. Bondy is the place. It's a large poblano chile filled with picadillo- a mixture of meat, aromatics, fruits and spices, that is topped with a nogal(walnut)-based cream sauce and pomegranate seeds. It is served cold and is oddly delicious.

Of course, the chile gives it a light zing, but the rest of this sweet, savory and rich delight. Kinda hard to describe but very tasty. In fact, it's one of the only dishes I've ever had that I thought would pair beautifully with coffee. Put those two together and it would be an absolute sensation.

Senora Garcia and her Frijolada.

To my world, all of this is just a little bit odd. I've been here a week and have spent a considerable amount of time with Senora Garcia and Tia Cristy. While I was a bit worried before meeting them, I'm feeling pretty darn welcome by them and I think I get along with them - especially since Tia Cristy (after getting used to my odd penchant of taking pictures of all our food) has started to encourage me by yelling out: "photo, photo!". Of course, there have been some missteps along the way, like my use of the word "tu" instead of "usted." Ana corrects me yesterday on my improper use - of course, I'm horrified. I'm trying to make a good impression but I might as well be yelling out "YO!" Ana assures me that he mom understands and is pleased that I'm trying to speak Spanish, but that very morning upon getting into the Tracker...

"Hola Jay, como estas?", calls out Senora Garcia from the drivers' seat.
"Muy bien Senora, y tu?"

Bloody Hell. Chihuahua. It seems like I can't stop - even though I stop myself immediately after saying it, it's too late. I'm the monger of disrespect. If I wasn't trying to make a good impression, I probably would have blurted out: "Shit!"

Molletes para Ana.

Senora Garcia is a gracious lady and readily acknowledges that I'm trying and it's okay too because it seems that the Mexican youth are also losing the respect of using "usted" when speaking with older people. It's a very generous accommodation but I feel dumb nonetheless. And I was trying so hard to remember!

Imagine what the reaction might have been like if I was the one without Conchas - Zwack!!!!

Bondy Restaurante y Pasteleria Vienesa
Galileo 38
Colonia Polanco
Mexico City, Mexico
+52 5 281 1818