David and I love a good food walking tour. We find that they are the best way to get to know a new city or culture, so naturally, we wanted to start our Mexican adventure with the biggest food tour we've ever taken. This past Saturday, we spent 5 hours with our fantastic guide Nico from Eat Mexico walking, tasting, eating, drinking, and learning our way through La Merced, the second largest market in Mexico City.
Eat Mexico was started in 2010, and has since grown to include six tours in Mexico City, plus options in Puebla and Cancún. All of their tours focus on showing visitors the true nature of Mexican cuisine, but the La Merced tour is particularly aimed at "seasoned travelers" who love experiencing a little "sensory overload". Beyond eating, this tour takes a deep dive into the specific ingredients, cooking methods, and history that make Mexican cuisine unique.
La Merced itself is actually made up of 8 different markets (produce, cheese, flower, etc.), and is roughly the size of 4 football fields. Needless to say, I would not recommend trying to wind your way through the narrow, chaotic, and confusing walkways on your own. Just like a corn maze, you may spend hours trying to find your way out.
I don't want to give away all of the tour's secrets, but I do want to share a little bit of what we learned.
1. Mexico has an entire menu of herbs that don't exist in the US. Things like epazote, which is a staple in many dishes.
2. I didn't know what turmeric root looked like, until now. In the US, we rarely see it in raw form.
3. There are an indefinite number of moles, but all of them must contain chilis, fruit, and nuts. In the middle of the tour, Nico stopped at one of his favorite mole stands where we tasted 6 varieties ranging from sweet to spicy, and mild to bold. This particular stand is so well known they even have business cards with directions on how to find them again in the market. I will 100% be going back.
4. I love charales, especially the chili powdered ones. What are charales? Glad you asked. They are fresh water minnows that are often found deep fried, and are an awesome snack. Unlike many other Mexican foods we are familiar with today, charales are a pre-hispanic food, as are their insect cousins.
5. Tacos de suadero are a gift from god. During the tour we tried 4-5 different tacos, but these were by far mine and David's favorite. Suadero not only refers to this specific chopped brisket taco, but it also refers to the cooking method, which utilizes a special pot that is raised in the middle, allowing the meat to cook in oil on the sides, and the tortillas to warm in the middle. We also learned that you can ask for suadero "en trozos" (in pieces) and "sin tortilla" (without a tortilla) if you just want a piece of plain meat.
6. Mexicans love sweets, but aren't as chocolate crazy as I am. This is totally okay with me now though after Nico took us through the sweets section of La Merced. If you are allergic, or very afraid of bees however, please stay away from this area. The freshness of classic Mexican candies, which are often made with honey, attract a lot of (harmless) buzzing. We tried a number of different candies, all delicious, but I think my favorite was the goat's milk caramel.
There is so much more we learned, and ate during our 5 hours with Nico. David and I both left happily stuffed, and more comfortable with the foods and ingredients that we come into contact with every day. In fact, the very next day we made a stop at our neighborhood tianguis for groceries and put our new knowledge to use. If you aren't convinced this tour is 100% worth it already, I'll end by sharing some of the questions I got answers to along the way. You'll have to come for a visit yourself if you want to learn the secrets too!
Walking enthusiast, and kitchen experimenter currently living out my dream in Mexico City, Mexico.
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