5 Must Do’s in Mexico City
It’s been a little over a week since our return from México City and I still can’t get over what a fantastic time we all had there. Mexico City is alive in a way that many places, especially here in the states, never are. The public parks and plazas are filled with art, street performers, food stands, musicians and most importantly friends and families spending quality time together in the city’s many beautiful outdoor spaces. And while the sheer number of people peacefully coexisting together in tight quarters can occasionally be overwhelming for those used to a more solitary way of life, there is something beautiful about the level of human to human interaction that takes place in Mexico City on every corner.
Having recovered from darker times economically, Mexico City is currently one of the safest destinations in the entire country and offers both locals and visitors an incredibly diverse array of activities to choose from. With so much to see I definitely recommend doing some research ahead of time to make sure you can fit in all of your “must sees”. Equally important, I urge you to leave yourself some free time to casually explore daily life in the city by roaming around. Make sure to visit not just the historic center, but other residential neighborhoods such as La Condesa and her even hipper sister, La Roma.
If you’re not sure where to start on your Mexico City itinerary here are five major musts from our most recent trip! In addition to these you must check out the Frida Kahlo museum in Coyoacán, (splurge for the interactive tablet and headset) but seeing as it’s the #1 visited destination in México City it hardly needs a write up here!
#1 Mercado Jamaica
Do you love food, flowers and vibrant colors all melted into one slightly chaotic experience? If yes keep reading, if not… maybe we shouldn’t be friends anymore 😉
Assuming you’re still reading, take my advice and head to Mercado Jamaica to experience an authentic Mexican market where you can find everything under the sun from fresh fruits, flowers and veggies to meats, cheeses, grains, cleaning supplies, woven baskets, tequila, grasshoppers, used cell phones and more. We spent hours at the market trying a variety of local dishes such huaraches, tlacoyos, quesadillas with squash blossoms, atol de elote and tacos made with green chorizo. If you’re not familiar with Mexican cuisine, particularly street food, the market can be overwhelming so it’s a good idea to get a local guide to show you around or to brush up on your knowledge before hand. I highly recommend checking out this handy article full of useful info on Mexican street food.
Two words of advice for eating at the market:
1. Keep an open mind and be ready for some adventurous eating. More likely than not, you won’t be familiar with all of the ingredients in the foods you try but chances are you’ll walk away a satisfied customer. Mexican cuisine is bursting with unique textures and flavors that are sure to expand your palate. So please, don’t knock the idea of eating crickets or grasshoppers until you’ve tried it at least once and remember, you can always was them down with a little mezcal.
2. When it comes to street food and market stalls there is always the slight risk that you might get an upset tummy due to the fact that the food safety regulations you are likely accustomed to back home are not in full force south of the border. That being said, plenty of market stalls have high sanitation standards and are perfectly safe to eat at. Try to pick a stand that seems popular and crowded (locals don’t like to get sick anymore than you do), that looks fairly neat and organized and where the person taking your money is not the same person preparing your food. Lastly, go for mostly hot foods made to order and don’t risk eating things like lettuce or berries which are notorious for transmitting food-borne illnesses.
If you’re a serious foodie and would like a guided food tour of Mercado Jamaica or other markets and neighborhoods in Mexico City please shoot me an email at firstname.lastname@example.org so I can get you in touch with some folks 🙂
#2 Ballet Folklórico
A visit to the Palacio de Bellas Artes alone is worth the price of admission as it is perhaps the most gorgeous architectural work in all of Mexico City. Construction on this stunning Neoclassical building began in 1904 and was completed, after various interruptions, in 1934 giving it a rather Art Deco interior. Apart from serving as a venue for a variety theatrical performances, the Palacio de Bellas Artes also functions as a museum that houses murals by famous Mexican artists such as Diego Rivera and David Alfaro Siqueiros.
If you’re in the historic center on a Sunday or Wednesday than do NOT miss your opportunity to score a seat at the Ballet Folklórico. Performed by the Mexican National Ballet Company, the group continues to present the original choreography created by the late Amalia Hernández accompanied by a full band who performs live on stage and from the side balconies. The ballet is a reflection of Mexican history and culture and takes you on a journey through time and space with examples of Aztec dancing, life in a small town in Chiapas, a festive celebration in Jalisco and beyond. Mexico’s Ballet Folklórico provides audiences with a thrilling and captivating expression of Mexican culture that will deepen your understanding of the complex melting pot that is México.
After 20+ visits to Tikal National Park in Guatemala along with visits to Machu Picchu in Perú, Palenque in Chiapas and various other archaeological sites I’ll admit that I don’t always jump for joy at the idea of staring at old stone buildings. Teotihuacán, however, was a refreshing surprise. Located approximately 40km outside of Mexico City, the site remains much more of a mystery than many other ancient cities and nobody knows for certain just who its original inhabitants were, with some speculating it was a multi-ethnic state.
What is clear, however, is the ancient city’s influence throughout Mesoamerica as noted by its striking similarities to Mayan sites in the south and the presence of materials not known to be native to the region which serve as evidence of an expansive trade network. Although later discovered by the Aztec after its collapse, Teotihuacán is distinctly reminiscent of Mayan civilizations in regards to its architecture, paintings and forms of written communications. Many scholars believe that the powerful influence of Teotihuacán’s inhabitants on the Maya reached as far south as Honduras.
What stands out the most about Teotihuacán, even beyond their advanced drainage system, is the impressive artwork that adorns the walls of many of the existing building and temples. The works are not only beautiful and sophisticated for their times, many of them are extremely well preserved with shades of deep green and crimson red having barely faded 2,000 + years later.
Bonus fact: The inhabitants got the pigment for the crimson red paint by crushing up the cochineal insect (similar to a roly poly) that lives on the prickly pear cactus. Just think about that for a second..hundreds of giant stones intricately painted with bug guts that still retain their color today. Mind blown.
#4 Cooking Class at Roldán 37
10 days into stuffing my face with tortillas, tacos al pastor, fresh fruit, queso fresco and cerveza I was in a major food coma and had sworn I was sticking to ensaladas and jugo (juice) for the remainder of the trip. Then, it happened. We went to Roldán 37 for a cooking class and had the best meal in México yet, complete with an interesting side of history. While we didn’t get our hands quite as dirty as we had envisioned, the “class” was more of an interactive fine dining experience, it was worth every peso spent.
The restaurant occupies what was once the former residence of the Fragoso family who lived on the second floor and used the first floor as an warehouse for chile storage seeing as they are one of Mexico’s top producers. Today, Roldán 37 is part restaurant and part museum with many of the rooms showcasing original furniture and decor. The place brings new meaning to the phrase “mi casa es su casa”.
Our host, Chef Rómulo, served us delicious margaritas and refreshing juice from the maguey fruit while he walked us through the steps and secrets behind the dishes we later noshed on. First up was a thick and decadent guacamole with the perfect balance of lime and salt and a hint spice accompanied with homemade tostada style chips. The real showstopper, however, were the chiles rellenos bathed in creamy sauce that was bold in flavor without being too heavy. From the first bite the whole group was in culinary heaven as we savored every bite while pushing our stomach capacity to the test. Just when we thought we had seen and eaten it all, we made room for a little tres leches cake that was, again, to die for. I don’t even like tres leches cake my friends but this was out of this mundo.
Please do yourselves all a favor and head to Roldán 37 in Mexico City or check out their sister restaurant Paloma Blanca in San Antonio, Texas.
#5 Artisan Market in Coyoacán – Cerámica Servin
Mexico City’s ritzy Coyoacán neighborhood continues to boast traditional Mexican charm despite being one of the neighborhoods hit the hardest by the 1985 earthquake. Many come to the neighborhood for the Frida Kahlo museum and stay for the cheerful music, happy children running through the park and the many alfresco dining options that surround the central square. Located across from the main square is a small handicraft market which is, for the most part, your average Mexican craft market. However, there is one stand in particular that deserves special mention.
Off to the righthand side is the Cerámica Servin stand that sells incredibly beautiful and high quality handmade ceramic goods. This family run operation began three generations ago when husband and wife team, Ambrosio and Carolina, started selling their handmade crafts. Today, their seven children and many grandchildren have spread out across the country and have small shops in places like Morelos, Guanajuato, Querétaro, Oaxaca and Chiapas. Everything is handmade using all natural materials and no two works are exactly alike. Instead of following a designated pattern, the artists mold and paint the works in the moment based off of their mood and instinct. If you’re in the area be sure to look up Cerámica Servin and if you can’t make it down here to Mexico don’t fret, we have a small order of goodies coming in soon for resale in the U.S. and if all goes well we will continue working together to buy directly from the producers to get their products available to a larger market!