Wednesday, October 29, 2008

Travel ∩ Mexico City’s good taste

From sour to sweet to crunchy, new food means a new world

Part 4 in a week-long series on exploring Mexico City through the five senses.

An army travels on its stomach and so do I. Some of Mexico City’s flavors are easy on the palate; others are strange and new. Here, in pictures more than words, are some of the ways the sense of taste can transport you through this city, especially during Day of the Dead preparations. (All photos are by Ardis Berghoff, who took most of them October 26, 2008, at the Mercado Jamaica in Mexico City.)

The official fruit of Mexico should be the lime. From the sweet-sour limonada made with sparkling water, to a wedge squeezed over chunks of watermelon, papaya, cantaloupe, banana and pineapple for breakfast, its addition is simple and delicious.

Chili powder can be dusty sweet on sopes de pollo (shredded chicken, lettuce and tangy cheese piled on small, soft corn tortillas). Molé can look like melted chocolate (because it often contains cocoa) but can carry chili’s hot bite, too.

Pomegranates the size of softballs quench a thirst.

Dark red chapulines (fried grasshoppers) are a Oaxacan delicacy, but a woman from Puebla was selling these in Mexico City. You can eat them straight – they have a pleasing crunch, then chew a bit like soft wood and release a salty, earthy tang.

This German woman has lived in Mexico City for twenty-five years and loves to cook chapulines with garlic and onions and add them to tacos along with salsa, saying she likes the way they crunch and appreciates their protein. She’d just bought a bagful to take home.

Nopalitos are chopped cactus paddles (nopales) that have been scraped of their thorns. They emit their own clear ooze. When boiled and then tossed with peppers, onions and other vegetables and chilled, they make a refreshing and nutritious salad.

Camotes [sweet potatoes] are slow-cooked in copper kettles and end up sweet and tender.

They may look like pan de muerto (bread rolls for Day of the Dead), but these brown twists are made from a paste of tart tamarind and lots of granulated sugar, which gives them crunch.

Dulce de calabaza is roasted squash that is so sweet Mexicans eat it for dessert during Day of the Dead festivities.

The fuschia-colored sugar of these galletas (cookies) represents the blood of Christ. These cookies were on display next to Day of the Dead sugar skulls, an example of Mexicans' penchant for synchronizing various religions and traditions.

Sugar skulls ornamented to celebrate Day of the Dead line up under their leader, whose colorful serpent plumes are the maker’s version of an Aztec king’s headdress. Families save these skulls to put out annually on altars to deceased relatives, while children love the chocolate versions for dessert. Note how Mexicans mix Day of the Dead and Halloween traditions.

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