Friday, April 18, 2014

Mexico City - Street Food and Hockey...Together at Last.

Exploring the street food scene in Mexico City was something that I had been dreaming about for a long while. With a trip planned for September, I was starting to get excited about finally visiting this mega-city. And that's when the email arrived....the Ontario Women's Hockey Association was looking for players interested in traveling to Mexico City for the Inaugural Pan-American Hockey Tournament. Obviously, I jumped at the opportunity. I'd be lying if I said it was all about the hockey....I definitely had alternative motives of the street food variety!

We arrived at our hotel late at night and I was pleasantly surprised the next morning when I stepped outside to discover several vendors already up and running. Of course, I headed straight for the tacos....

Breakfast - chicharron and rice
With the first day to ourselves, I took a couple of my teammates from Ottawa out to the quaint village of Coyoacan. We explored the artisan market as well as the historical sights. Paletas and tacos de canasta we eaten and we met up with some of the guys from the Argentinian hockey team. I even convinced a few of the boys to try chapulines!

Raspados vendor in the main square of Coyoacan

Chili-lime grasshoppers (chapulines)

Mango-chili, strawberry-cream and lime paletas

Tacos to Canasta (streamed in a basket)
Our hotel was located in the south east end of the city in the neighborhood of Tlalpan. The location was chosen due to its proximity to the rink, which meant that we were unfortunately nowhere close to downtown. But, no matter where you are in Mexico City, street vendors are everywhere. Subway stops are the most common place to find large collections of taco carts, torta stands, and freshly squeezed juices.

Street vendors for miles....
Meanwhile at he rink, there was some serious drama when we player the other Canadian team. While I'm not going to get into that, let's just say that I never want to play Sudbury every again. Thankfully it was a much better game against the Mexican National Team.

Hockey in Mexico...who would have thought that this would be the reason I'd end up here!

A few days into the trip, I was able to convince the team to join me at one of the taco stands outside of the hotel. I briefed them on basic language and taco cart etiquette (order, eat, then pay). Everyone did great and it was fun to introduce my new friends to a world that I am so passionate about. Meanwhile at the cart, I also had an amazing pork and cactus guisado (stew). Comfort food at it's finest.

Our next full day off was spent exploring downtown area. I took a small group to the Zocalo where we visited the beautiful National Palace and Metropolitan Cathedral. We wandered the streets of the Centro Hisotrico and I found my way to El Huequito, an al pastor stand that was one of the must-do places on my street food list. The small pork tacos did not disappoint and it was coicidentally loated next to a liquor store. Hello Mezcal!

Catedral Metropolitana

Inside the Palacio Nacional
One of the many Diego Rivera mural inside the Palacio
The best part of the day was a visit to Mercado of the largest markets in the city. We navigated our way past the overwhelmingly loud clothing and toy vendors, to finally reach the peaceful fruit and vegetable area of the market. It's always great to see all the different native foods that are foreign to most in North America. Picked up some mamey along the way.

Flor de calabaza (squash blossoms) and huitalacoche (corn fungus)
Past the fruits and veggies, and across the next street is the cheese and meat section. My favourite part of every market! I couldn't pass up the chance to get some queso fresco and chicharrones.

Panela, a soft unpasturized cheese. This one was made with the Mexican herb "epazote" and jalapenos.

Can't go the the market without getting a giant piece of chicharron!
While the hockey was fun and sitting by the pool was relaxing, I couldn't help but take every opportunity to venture out into the city. An afternoon trip to El Borrego Viudo was one of the highlights of the week. This time we tried out the subway. It was easy to navigate, clean and ridiculously cheap. 5 pesos to go one way...that equals 42 cents Canadian! After a short trip, we arrived at our next taco destination...

The biggest trompo I have ever seen!
Perfect lengua
Our friendly taquero and his suadero cooking away
Longaniza (sausage) and sesos (brain)
Our last day of the trip was spent out at Teotihaucan. These mysterious pyramids just north of the city are amazing and beautiful. While I always recommend venturing away from the tourist areas, Teotihuacan is something that every visitor to Mexico City must experience.

Pyramid of the Sun - Teotihuacan
Of course, after hitting the toursit-laden pyramids, it was time to visit the local tourist-trap restaurant. Honestly, I was pleasantly surprised. The menu had a significant number of traditional dishes. After a long day in the sun, I quickly disposed of a couple Tecate, along with some queso fundido and mole negro.

Queso Fundido - simply...melted cheese

The darkness of a mole negro
We wrapped up our tournament with a loss to the Mexican National team and I couldn't be prouder of their team. Their program is developing amazing quickly and they have recently progressed to the second tier of the IIHF. We taught the rink workers how to patch holes in the ice and sharpen skates. Everyone involved with the national program is as passionate as any Canadian about hockey. Lifelong friendships were formed and I'm excited to follow the team as they strive towards their goal of reaching the 2018 winter olympics.

National Anthem. Proud team.
Our awesome team. Random girls from all over Ontario. Lovingly nicknamed "Plan B"
Overall, it was a great introduction to the city. The people were wonderful, and of course, the food was awesome. At no point in my trip did I feel scared or threatened. I wish I could have captured some pics of the caldera, it was amazing to be in a city that is completely encircled by the rim of an ancient volcano. I'm looking forward to heading back in the future to explore much much more.