This October, Tasting Table is getting away from it all. Come away with us as we explore the world of travel.
Mexico City is a riot of colors, sounds, smells and, of course, flavors. For the uninitiated, this 570-square-mile metropolis that's home to more than 21 million people can be overwhelming. The traffic is horrific, pollution is a serious problem and the metro is so crowded that during morning and evening rush hours, policemen shepherd women and children into dedicated, less sardine-packed cars.
After the initial sensory shock of touching down in this confounding and invigorating place, things begin to slow down. You find your pace, learn to filter out the excess noise and begin to focus on what's truly important here: stuffing your face. Mexico City's vibrant street food is available on nearly every corner in town, but it really reaches its apex within the city's bustling indoor markets, where patrons can sit, eat and linger over a sweet horchata or an icy agua fresca. Shoehorned helter-skelter amid piles of tropical fruits, vast displays of piñatas and butchers hawking entire sides of crunchy chicharrón, market food stalls are an indispensable resource for the city's legions of workers, providing a hot, filling, affordable meal—and the chance to take a load off on a plastic stool.
The city is home to more than 50 indoor markets, each advertised by a tall "Mi Mercado" billboard and each prized for various assets. Situated in the city center, the Mercado de Jamaica specializes in elaborate, fresh-cut floral arrangements, while the under-the-radar Mercado de San Juan is a favorite among chefs for whole-muscle cuts of meat and pristine produce. Located in the cobblestone-streeted historic district of Coyoacán, the Mercado de Coyoacán is a kind of jack-of-all-trades, a little-of-this, little-of-that market that's a must-visit after touring La Casa Azul, the magical home of painters Frida Kahlo and Diego Rivera that's just two blocks away.
The Mercado de Coyoacán is a jumble. Far from featuring orderly sections devoted to meat, fish, produce and so on, as you might expect to find in Barcelona's famous Boqueria or Paris's lauded La Chapelle, you're just as likely to find a counter loaded with homemade mole pastes as you are to stumble into a tiny room to devoted to all the latest iPhone accessories. But Coyoacán's randomness is part of its fun: While searching for dried ancho chiles or bright yellow zucchini flowers, you might decide to also pick up a warm bag of candied nuts—or an R2-D2-shaped piñata.
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No matter what you're shopping for, a trip to Coyoacán is bound to stoke your appetite. Fortuitously, the market houses one of the city's most-praised tostada outposts, Tostadas Coyoacán. Established in the same year as the market, 1956, the company has been slinging its famous cow foot, stewed chicken and slow-roasted pork tostadas to acclaim ever since. According to Carlos Felix, Tostadas Coyoacán's manager since 1990, what keeps customers coming back is the quality of the ingredients.
"Everything here is fresh," Felix tells me during a recent visit. "That's why the people love us so much."
Each tostada, typically topped with guisados, or meat "stews," or citrus-cured ceviches of shrimp or octopus, comes loaded with Mexican crema, shredded lettuce, queso fresco and avocado. Diners then add their choice of homemade chile de árbol-based salsas that range from mild (tomato, onion and cilantro "Mexicana") to fiery (a brick red chile morita option featuring roasted tomatoes).
While the market—and the tostada stall—is open and busy seven days a week, it's on Sundays when things get really crazy, and Tostadas Coyoacán serves hundreds, if not thousands, of tostadas in a day.
"On Sundays, families say to each other, 'Where should we go?' And they come here, and they eat," Felix says.
And it's not just local families who come out to cram down tostadas: The stall regularly receives visitors from far-flung locales including Japan, China, India and more, Felix says. But no matter where they come from, he tries to make them feel at home.
"Here, there's no such thing as race, no such thing as color," he says. Then he steps behind the counter and heaps some rare sliced tuna onto two crisp tortillas. Just a few hundred more to go before his day is done.