Hot, sweaty and discombobulated, we wandered down a rugged yet well kept street hunting for tacos. The Roma district is one of Mexico City’s booming culinary hot spots. Guided by our local friend Missahel, my brother Rustin and I entered the Mercado.
El Mercado Roma is one of many mercados around town. For those who have not traveled to foreign countries and experienced local markets like this, I will attempt to paint you a picture. As you get close, you can see the vast structures that house the market. The smells start to waft into your nose—grilled and stewed meats, fried things, fresh fruit, flowers, and more as you go around every corner. Sensory overload. Beyond the magnitude of smells, next come the sights and sounds. Bright, vibrant, fresh produce is everywhere. Venders happily yell at each other, while hoards of local consumers weave their way through the maze of stalls shopping for tonight’s meal.
While I love nothing more than shopping at the market to cook something myself, this adventure was about finding tacos. We had already traveled all day, and we were famished. With our local friend, we stopped at one of the taco stands. Two older gentleman whipped around faster then most men half their age and cooked us some delicious tacos—suadero (steak), cachete (cheek), and cecina (cured pork). There were so many things on the menu that I’d never had, including a drink called tepache, a fermented pineapple juice. Each taco tasted unique, fresh, and packed with flavors. The cecina was our favorite. As I was eating the tacos, I was again reminded how the corn tortillas here seal the deal. They are different—not sure why—but I can only imagine it is the freshness of the masa, and the fact they have been doing it for a lot longer than we have in the states.
Leaving the taco stand, with that tortilla still on our minds, we ventured on. And it just so happened that a tortilla maker had a store 20 feet away. I stared in marvel at the little machine, much like a pasta machine, pumping out fresh tortillas. Missahel, our friend, kindly asked if we might try one. Boom, right off the press and into my mouth. Fresh, uncooked tortillas do not taste like a whole lot, but the instant gratification of tasting that tortilla right after having the tacos was very satisfying.
The adventure through the mercado continued and, while one could easily write an entire book on touring mercados, I will continue on with the day, leaving you with the thought of Fried Plantains, smothered with your choice of jams, crema, cajeta (caramel), nuts or any candy topping you can imagine.
It was time for Missahel to leave us and head to meet his friends for a birthday party, so Rustin and I decided on a place in La Condesa for dinner. La Condesa is a trendy upscale neighborhood just west of our hotel. Upon arriving, via taxi, I thought “wow, this feels like we could be in San Francisco in the Mission District, it is so clean and sleak.”
I had done some research in pursuit of contemporary Mexican food and Fonda Fina was the first place on the list. It did not disappoint. Tortilla soup poured tableside, filled with soft pasilla strips, beans, and avocado. It made me feel like I was traveling back in time. The broth had notes of earth and smoke. It was beautifully balanced. Follow that with black bean, root beer tamale, pasilla salsa, and queso fresco. This dish was rich and unlike anything I have ever had. The root beer in the tamales really shone through, and the pasilla sauce was dark and jungly. We had not even received our entrees and I was already so content. Grilled Chicken, asparagus, sunflower sauce & Roasted White Fish (sword fish), potatoes, nopales, guajillo-pineapple sauce.
These were our selections from a list of proteins, sides and sauces. It was a fun interactive way to order, and we both struck gold. The sunflower sauce paired perfectly with the chicken, while the dark roasty guajillo sauce balanced nicely with the grilled white fish. The roasted nopales were my favorite part, until Rustin mentioned they had dropped a basket of tortillas. Unlike anything I have had, griddled delights not much bigger than a silver dollar, intended to use to scoop up your sauce, or make bite size tacos. Delightful!! Watch out Centro, this one is coming your way. A late night mezcal at a super hip mezcaleria finished the night off just right.