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Foodie Mexico

Sugar high in Mexico City: La Pasteleria Ideal

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Mexico City.

22 million people pounding the pavement and stop and go traffic packs even the narrowest alleyways. Stop and look around for just a minute and there is an ever-present feeling that some type of major event has just let out in one of the world’s busiest cities.

In fact, late one recent Sunday afternoon, we discovered that everyone in the city is either headed to or coming from one single location. That place is a bakery called La Pasteleria Ideal on Avenida 16 September. Like ants marching into their mothership, Mexicans from all walks of life pile in through the tall 19th century wooden doors: young Goth teenagers with headphones, hats and chains, suburban housewives, overweight seniors,bodybuilders, police officers and skate punks, all with their mothers, invade this one single bakery and pour out again with millions of calories wrapped up to go.

pasteleria ideal mexico city cakes and pastriesIn business since starting out as a bread bakery in the 1920s, La Ideal’s three bakeries have become ingrained as a part of the fabric of Mexico City. Tables are stacked high with every possible combination of chocolate, custard, dulce de leche and dough formed into multi-tiered cakes, soft cookies, flaky pastries, donuts dripping in frosting. Hundreds of sugar addicts literally pile dozens upon dozens of sweets onto oversized silver trays in a way that would make an innocent bystander think the end of the world were near.

pasteleria ideal mexico city cakes & pastriesDani was immediately in her element the minute we walked through the doors. She handed me our bag, the camera and floated off on Cloud 9 to explore her Mexican Mecca. Her last words, and knowing nod, allowed me reprieve. This was too much for me, an itching fear inside me growing at the thought of what this insulin-charged crowd would do if the donuts ran out. You would think the four security guards circling inside the store might calm me, or the fact that, even late on a Sunday afternoon, more than 20 staff members dressed in white and blue were still ushering out cart after cart of freshly baked goods. As I bobbed and weaved my way out the door, I watched one of those employees get stopped with his cart in the middle of an aisle, and a seemingly docile mother of three clear an entire level of the cart onto her tray.

Mexico City Pasteleria IdealIn the thirty minutes I waited outside for Dani, I watched as hundreds of people poured back out the doors, each with their beautifully wrapped packages. Those few people who purchased only a few items had them wrapped in thick paper, tied shut with a string. Most others, however, left weighted down by three or four large boxes, all tied together with heavy-duty twine. When Dani came out, I’ve never seen her smile so wide. On our way back to our hotel with our La Ideal package, we were suddenly aware of just how many people, even several blocks from the bakery itself, were carrying their pastries, too.

Mexico City pasteleria ideal packagesBoarding our plane to Costa Rica early the next morning, I caught a glint of approval in the flight attendant’s eye as Dani passed with her pastries. Hell, based on the pandemonium the day before, I thought she’d try to buy one off us. If you want to lock in on a true Mexico City tradition, head to one of the three La Ideal Pasteleria locations in the city.

Mexico City Pasteleria Ideal

 

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Why you need to see Mexico…now

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Surrealist painter Salvador Dali said he couldn’t live in Mexico because it was too surreal for him – a piece of information sure to stir up intrigue in anyone familiar with the artist’s work. But what made him say this? And why should you visit the very place this mind-bending artist couldn’t handle? Read on to find out why a holiday to Mexico could make you glad of the persistence of memory…

Mexico City Street ArtMexico’s weird and wonderful landscapes are one thing you are unlikely to forget once you’ve seen them, and the country’s views could well have inspired Dali’s ‘surreal’ label, with breath-taking mountain ranges, sprawling desserts and tropical rainforests all vying for attention. In fact, the second-largest remaining tropical rainforest in the Americas stretches through Mexico’s Yucatan Peninsula, and is home to equally enthralling creatures such as the white-lipped peccary, the tapir, the scarlet macaw, the harpy eagle and the howler monkey. Also, The Nature Conservancy reports that five large cat species live in the lush greenery there.

Tulum ruins But let’s take a step back and look at Mexico’s position on the map, and what this means for the holidaymaker. This stunning country is bordered by the Caribbean Sea, the Gulf of Mexico, the US and Guatemala. While the majority of the Mexican northern and central territories are located at high altitudes, the yearly temperature average doesn’t normally fall below 20 °C, but does reach up to 28°C. In other words, Mexico is nestled in surroundings that make it a diverse and interesting landscape and it enjoys lovely weather that is not unbearably hot.

For those who want a holiday full of fantastic sights and activities, Mexico is perfect. Tourists can go diving to explore part of the world’s second largest coral reef at the Parque Marino Nacional Arrecifes de Cozumel, or snorkel with whale sharks in Cancun. History buffs can enjoy the city’s rich selection of museums or visit the ancient empire of the pre-Hispanic Aztec capital – the ruins of which were found under the Mexico City Metropolitan Cathedral – and see two religious temples, pyramids, serpent carvings, and shrines.

Palenque ruinsIf you want to laze around on a stunning sun-kissed beach, Mexico can deliver the perfect backdrop to your holiday snaps with its 450 different beaches.

Food in Mexico is a vibrant melting pot of different influences from South America, the Caribbean and Africa, but that’s not to say it doesn’t have its own clear identity too. Dishes based on corn and vibrant, spicy foods with tongue-tingling chilli flavours are available in abundance in Mexico, and a new and exciting food experience is always around the corner if you’re prepared to be adventurous!

Mexican Street FoodWithout wishing to argue with one the most famous artists of all time, thanks to it’s beautiful landscape, exciting and colourful food offerings and amazing history, perhaps there’s a better word to describe Mexico.

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Polaroid of the week: Mexican Tacos in Playa Del Carmen, Mexico

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polaroid of the week mexico 2012 tacosAs soon as we arrived in Playa del Carmen, our first stop was the row of taco shops on 10th Avenue. We used to eat here on the cheap when we spent a month in Playa del Carmen two years ago. Just a block away from the tourist restaurants of Playa’s thoroughfare, the famous 5th Avenue, are a couple of authentic little hole-in-the-wall spots that serve no-frills tacos, sopes and quesadillas, tortas and other Mexican fare. (We  rave about Mexican street food here).

So if you find yourself in Playa del Carmen and don’t want to eat overpriced pizza or Burger King on 5th Avenue, head one block over to 10th between 8th and 10th Streets for fast, spicy, cheap eats.

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Mexican Street Food…We miss you!

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In several posts we’ve waxed lyrical about our love of Mexico – the friendly people, colorful and rich traditions, seductive beaches – but nothing can top our passion for Mexican street food. In fact, without realizing it, over the course of our 88 days in the country, we became addicted to it, and once we crossed over into Belize, we were forced to quit our street food addiction cold turkey.

For two vegetarians on a budget, the street food in Mexico was not only cheap, delicious and vegetarian friendly, but eating it left our food-making decisions to fate, our lunch choice depending on which food stand we happened to pass. From our first day in Mexico City onward, there was not one disappointing occasion on our three-month street food binge.

The main ingredients of nearly all Mexican food involve a flour (or corn) tortilla of varying size and thickness, beans, tomatoes, guacamole, onions (and for meat eaters, a choice of meat). Cheese, when present, is an additional ingredient, rather than the main player as in the version of Mexican food north of the border.

With these basic ingredients, it is possible to create dozens of delectable variations which are all delicious and almost always cost less that $24 Pesos/ US $2.00.  In addition to the variety of veggie options and delicious flavors, it is also the communal experience of eating the street food that we love. Small plastic stools surround these very basic metal food stands, and people from all walks of life sit together for the few minutes it takes to cram an order of quesadillas or tacos down. We have listed some of our absolute vegetarian Mexican street food favorites below.


Tacos de Canasta:
The ingredients of these tacos are simple –potatoes or beans (or for non-vegetarians either chicken or beef), inside of a folded tortilla. ‘Canasta’ means basket in Spanish, and refers to the fact that hundreds of these tacos are piled high on top of each other in a very large basket, where they sit, steaming all day, waiting to be sold. The soft tacos are then covered in a spicy green or red salsa.
Price – avg 4 for MX$20/4 for US$1.80

Flautas: These are actually similar to their U.S. counterparts – a corn tortilla, filled with potato, bean, cheese or meat, rolled up and deep fried for a crunchy, delicious treat.
3 large, filling flautas cost MX$15 /US $1.20

Tlayudas: Pronounciation is as difficult as it looks, but preparing these street food treats is simple as pie. A 12-inch long oval-shaped super thin and crunchy blue-corn tortilla is topped with beans, spicy poblano pepper slices (called rajas), loads of cilantro and a mild green salsa on top.
1 for MX $15/US $1.20


Tamales:
Cornmeal stuffed with corn or beef wrapped in corn husks and steamed. These are last on our list, but on the list for sure!
2 for MX$8/US $0.65

Quesadillas: Rather than the large flour tortillas filled with cheese and sliced like a pizza, these are more like larger tacos stuffed with veggies and/or meat and only a moderate amount of cheese. Dani discovered Flor de Calabaza quesadillas in Mexico City, which are stuffed with beautiful, edible, yellow squash flowers.
1 for MX$7/US $0.70

Elote: Corn on the cob, cooked on the grill and preferably doused with Mayonnaise, chilli, lime juice and parmesan-like white powder cheese. The unhealthiest, tastiest corn on the cob on the block costs around MX$12/US$1.

Escuite: This is exactly the same as the Elote described above, but corn kernels are removed and put into a cup and mayo, chilli, lime juice etc is added on top.
1 for MX$12/US $1

Chalupas: Nothing like the Taco Bell version, these are tiny little silver dollar pancake sized tortillas, fried in butter/oil with red or green hot sauce and a sprinkle of cheese on top.
5 for MX$15/US $1.20

Tortas: We have saved the best for last. Mexicans have been given many gifts, but one of the most remarkable is the ability to fit so many delicious ingredients onto a roll. Mexican tortas, or sandwich rolls, fit enough to impress even Shaggy and Scooby Doo. Cheese, lettuce, tomato, an entire omelette, as many deli slices of meat as you like, bacon, avocado, mayo, you name it, and you can have it on a torta for MX$24 / US$2.


We have yet to begin seriously sampling Guatemalan street food, but from what we have sampled so far – tostadas, pupusas and fried plaintains stuffed with black beans – we might find a love for the street food here by the end of our time here as well.

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