Friday, April 30, 2021

The Hole in the Wall

Mexico City is chock full of "taquerías"... taco joints.  When I first started renting the apartment where I now stay, there was a "taquería" just a block away that I would frequent.  It was part of a chain called "Taquearte".  Then they moved to a larger, glitzier spot, also very close, across the street from the World Trade Center.  It was a fancier place, but it seemed that the quality of the food went downhill.

I then started going to another "taquería" that is two blocks away.  It's called "El Huequito", and it is also part of a chain.  The original location was started in 1959 in the Historic Center of the city, and it was barely a square meter in size.  It came to be known as "huequito" which means a "little hole"... in other words, a hole in the wall.  That original place downtown is still in operation, but in the years since then the business has expanded to include six other locations.  Although it is not as big and fancy as the new "Taquearte" in my neighborhood, my nearby "El Huequito" certainly wouldn't be called a "hole in the wall".  It is bright and clean, and much, much larger than a square meter.  It has seating inside and out.  Unless it is a chilly evening I usually eat outside, and with the current pandemic, outdoor seating is my preference.   

Last week, one late afternoon. I went to "El Huequito" for my dinner.  

I started out with Aztec soup.  Aztec soup and tortilla soup are quite similar, and the one is often confused with the other.  In fact I needed to research the difference myself.  While tortilla soup has a tomato-based broth, Aztec soup has a bean-based broth.  Anyways, "El Huequito" has a very tasty Aztec soup.

 Although the menu has a variety of tacos, "El Huequito" is known for what they call gourmet "tacos al pastor".  "Tacos al pastor", made with marinated pork and onions, are perhaps Mexico City's best known variety of taco.  I usually order three "tacos al pastor" when I am at "El Huequito".  This time, however, I decided to order the "Pastor Especial" with cheese, which the menu describes as a "temple to the 'taco al pastor'".

There was a tower of "pastor" meat with melted cheese draped over it along with tortillas for making your own tacos.  The metal container on the table has lime wedges and a variety of salsas from mild to incendiary for finishing off your taco.

Needless to say, I did not go away hungry from "El Huequito"!

Thursday, April 29, 2021

On the Front Line

There is a fence which runs along the busy boulevard of Paseo de la Reforma on the edge of Chapultepec Park.  You will always find a photographic exhibition, usually quite interesting, along this fence.  Last week when I walked back from the Anthropology Museum, the theme of the exhibit was "Heroines and Heroes of COVID 19", a tribute to the medical workers who are battling the pandemic across the nation.

Medical workers gather outside a hospital in Tijuana to pay a candlelight tribute to a coworker, a 54 year old nurse who died from COVID shortly before her scheduled retirement.

Wednesday, April 28, 2021

More from the Museum

Continuing our visit to the second floor ethnographic exhibits at the Anthropology Museum, we will next look at a gallery devoted to a number of linguistically related tribes which inhabit central Mexico.  The most numerous of these peoples are the Otomí, who number today more than 600,000 in eight Mexican states.

The Otomí are noted for their textiles, particularly their embroidery work.


This large piece of embroidered fabric represents the agricultural calendar of planting and harvesting of corn.

The Otomí are also well known for creating the rag dolls which have became emblematic of Mexico.  You may remember that last year Alejandro and I visited the town of Amealco, in the state of Querétaro, which claims to be the origin of these dolls.

The traditional garment of Otomí women, as well as those of many central Mexican tribes, is the "quechquemitl".  It is made of two rectangular pieces of fabric, often embroidered, which are sewn together to form a triangular, poncho-like garment.

During "Carnaval" in the days before Lent, the celebrations are a mixture of Christian and ancient, pre-Hispanic beliefs.  The celebrants venerate the devil and other malign spirits that can protect or harm so as to maintain an equilibrium in the universe.

Masks used during the "Carnaval" festivities

A recreation of an Otomí "ofrenda" or altar for the Day of the Dead

In Otomí villages in the state of Querétaro there are family "oratorios" or prayer chapels that were built between the 18th and early 20th centuries.  Although they contain Catholic imagery, these chapels are separate from the Church, and are used by families to venerate their ancestors.  In the museum there is a replica of an "oratorio" in the town of San Miguel Tolimán, Querétaro.  The walls and ceiling are covered with Otomí paintings.

Tuesday, April 27, 2021

Russian Lunch

 I can't remember exactly when, but quite a few trips ago I made a special trip to the Mexico City neighborhood of Santa María la Ribera for the express purpose of eating at a rather unique place, a Russian restaurant called Kolobok.  I remember the food as being quite good and a nice break from Mexican fare.

Apparently Kolobok was quite successful because they now have several branches throughout the city.  I was surprised to find one of them just a few blocks away from my apartment in the neighborhood of Nápoles.  And they had outdoor seating!

So, one afternoon I walked over there for lunch.  I started with borscht, the well known Slavic beet soup.

The borsht was very tasty, but I found it interesting that it was listed on the menu as a vegetarian dish when there were definitely some chunks of meat in the soup.  I didn't mind, but a vegetarian would have been upset.

For the main course I had chicken stroganoff.

The stroganoff was tasty, but, as you see above, the mashed potatoes and salad took up half the plate.  There were around a half dozen chunks of chicken. 

For dessert I ordered their specialty, honey cake.  That was as good as I remember from the original restaurant in Santa María de Ribera.

The meal was good, but not spectacular, and not a very good value when you consider that it cost as much or more than the excellent meals that I have had at El Cardenal or Angelopolitano.  I don't think that I will be returning to this branch of Kolobok.

Monday, April 26, 2021

At the Museum

Mexico City's greatest museum, and one of the great museums of the world, is the National Museum of Anthropology in Chapultepec Park.  During the recent surge in COVID cases the museum was once again closed.  However, shortly after my arrival it reopened, and I paid another visit last week.

The museum is renowned for its incomparable collection of artifacts from the pre-Hispanic civilizations of Mexico.


However, most visitors never make it the upper floor which contains ethnographic exhibits on the native peoples who inhabit Mexico to this day.  If you have a super-memory, you may recall that in January of 2020 I went upstairs and found that a complete renovation of the floor was underway.  It was my intention to visit one or two of the galleries on each visit and write about them on the blog.  I wrote an entry about the Huichol tribe of western Mexico who are famous for their impressive pieces of art decorated in beads and their "paintings" made of yard glued to wooden boards.

The renovation of the upstairs is still not complete, but I visited a couple more galleries.  First was the exhibit devoted to the Purépecha people, also known as the Tarascans.  Since pre-Hispanic times they have lived in the region that is today the Mexican state of Michoacán.  Before the arrival of the Spanish, they had maintained their independence from their enemies, the Aztecs, and had created the second largest empire of Mesoamerica.  Today there are around 200,000 people who still speak the Purépecha language.

The traditional attire of a Purépecha woman

The Purépechas are known for a wide variety of handicrafts.

Beautiful lacquerware 

Even in pre-Hispanic times the Purépechas were known as metalworkers.  Today the town of Santa Clara del Cobre produces handmade copperware. 

Painted gourds

In pre-Hispanic times the Purépecha were famous for the now nearly lost art of creating pictures from feathers.  This picture from the early 1800s depicting the Mexican coat of arms is done entirely in feathers.

The town of Paracho is famous for workshops which produce the finest guitars in Mexico.

Of the many folkloric dances of the Purépecha, the best known is the dance of the "viejitos"... the little old men... in which the dancers wear masks and carry canes.  It originated as a ceremony to ask "The Old God" for a successful harvest, and then after the Spanish conquest evolved into a parody of old white men.

In an outdoor exhibit, there is an traditional "troje", a Purépecha house built of pine wood.  These buildings have nearly disappeared, and this "troje", which was built in the early 1800s, was disassembled and brought to the museum.  This one is notable for its fine carvings on the columns and door.

Still to come in a future entry, is the museum gallery on the Otomí people of central Mexico.

Sunday, April 25, 2021

Yucatán Alfresco

Shortly after arriving at my apartment, I explored the neighborhood, and I discovered another nearby restaurant that had added some outdoor seating.  The place is called Seis28 (that's its street address on Insurgentes Avenue), and it specializes in food from the Yucatán Peninsula.  It is relatively new, but I have been there a couple times and the food is quite good.

I went there one evening and sat outside.  It was cloudy, and  although the forecast did not call for rain, the weather looked threatening.  At one point the wind started blowing and there were a few drops of rain, but that was it.  I was not driven inside.

I began my meal with something that is not from Yucatán, but which you can probably find almost anywhere in Mexico... tortilla soup.  I have had tortilla soup in many different restaurants, but this one was exceptionally good.

For my main course I had a very typical Yucatecan dish called "queso rellleno" (stuffed cheese).  The cheese is Edam cheese, and there is much speculation about how a Dutch cheese came to be a mainstay in the cuisine of the Yucatán.  One story says that a Dutch vessel with a cargo of Edam was shipwrecked on the coast; another story says that it was contraband from the Dutch colony of Surinam that arrived by way of Belize.  

The round Edam cheese is supposed to be hollowed out and filled with the stuffing, although many restaurants, such as this one, take the easy way out and simply serve the stuffing on top of a slice of cheese.  The stuffing is a hash made of ground pork, capers, olives, almonds, hard boiled eggs and numerous spices.  It is then covered with a mild sauce.  The first time I had this dish was at a restaurant, which sadly no longer exists, in Mérida, Yucatán.  It was absolutely exquisite.  I have had "queso relleno" in other restaurants, but no where has it been the equal of what I had that first time.  Nevertheless, this was very tasty, and I left Seis28 satisfied.

Saturday, April 24, 2021

Walking to Condesa

One day while at staying at the apartment I rent, I took a long walk (maybe three or four miles) to the neighborhood of Condesa.  If you have read this blog for a while, you know that it is one of my favorite Mexico City neighborhoods, and that in the past I have rented a number of Airbnb apartments there.

I left my apartment and headed down busy Insurgentes Avenue.

I turned onto Nuevo León, an avenue which is a straight shot to the heart of Condesa.  The shady pedestrian walkway in the middle of the avenue was very pleasant.

Along the walkway I came upon a young guy who was selling little figures of birds.  He had carved them himself out of wood, painted them, and decorated them with feathers.  Even though I was just beginning my walk, and I would have to carry my purchase, I bought one from him.  I later gave it to Alejandro's nephew.

The avenue took me all the way to one of Condesa's two main parks, Parque España.

This monument in the park is dedicated to former President Lázaro Cárdenas, and was a gift from the city's Spanish community.  In the 1930s Cárdenas welcomed refugees from Spain after the defeat of the Spanish Republic in the civil war.

Just a couple blocks away is Condesa's other major park, Parque México.

The focal point of the park in an open plaza called the Foro (Forum) Lindbergh.  It was built in the late 1920's when the aviator Charles Lindbergh was an international hero.  (Before the park was planted with trees, Lindbergh had landed his plane here on a good-will trip to Mexico.)

A few years ago, the "Foro" underwent a much needed restoration.  Unfortunately, vandals have already begun to deface the art deco structures again with graffiti.

Thank goodness the restored paintings by noted Mexican artist Roberto Montenegro were covered with plexiglass panels.

The pergolas surrounding the forum, are covered with exuberantly blooming bougainvillea.


Behind the forum, the fountains in the duck pond were all running.

I find the signs, which date back to the park's creation, a rather quaint reminder of another era.  Their messages are politely sermonizing. 

"This park has been made for you and your children.
Care for it as your own."

"Respect for the trees, plants and lawns is an unequivocal sign of good breeding."

The neighborhood was developed in the 1920s and 30s.  Many of the neo-colonial and art deco buildings are still standing.  In fact, Condesa has one of the highest concentrations of art deco architecture anywhere in the world.

One of my main reasons for taking this walk to Condesa, besides enjoying its pleasant streets, was to check up on the building where I used to rent an apartment.  Prior to renting the place where I stay now, I spent at least a half dozen trips to Mexico City at a nice apartment on Amsterdam Street.  That modern high-rise was damaged in the September, 2017 earthquake.  On my last trip, in January of last year, I saw that the decision had finally been made to demolish the building.  It was in the process of being torn down.  Now there is nothing but an empty lot, and the sign on the barricade says that the structure will be rebuilt.