Day 20: Enchiladas in Mexico City

Overland miles: 2549 Tacocount: 43 Days without Tea: 3

We arrived in the gigantic Norte bus terminal just outside the throbbing heartbeat of this country, Mexico City DF, two hours later than scheduled, i.e. 21 hours in total. That is as long as I’ve ever travelled on a bus (it’s an equivalent length of journey to travel by coach from Prague to London if that helps to put in in context for European readers). Even navigating our way out of the bus station, which resembled Heathrow T5 on a bank holiday, and into the first metro system we had encountered on this journey, was a Herculean challenge. We were, it is fair to say, a little tired and grumpy. What we needed was comfort food – Mexican style – and fast.

This was easier said than done. First we had to navigate three different Metro lines to get to our hostel but for a mere 3 pesos a journey (just 1.5p!) it seemed ridiculous to,pay for a taxi just to get stuck in the city’s endless traffic. Our accommodation was just off the Zócalo (the main plaza, pronounced like Pinocchioat the epicentre of the city, and whilst on our underground journey we had to contend with a full-out assault on the senses. The first thing you have to learn about travelling in Mexico is that Mexicans love noise as much as bright colours, and Mexico City excels in its production. As soon as we got our ridiculously heavy rucksacks safely onto the train, we we almost knocked off our feet by a series of vendors of momentarily diverting trinkets charging down the carriage, shouting the praises of their various wares. Most of these trinkets sold themselves noisily, by whistling or bleeping for instance. A man got on one stop after with a miniature nightclub attached to his back pumping out music, and proceeded to sell CDs of 60s/70s/80s hits. People bought them gladly, perhaps hoping it would stop the cacophony. This continued on every single carriage we rode in during our stay in Mexico.

And that’s just underground noise covered. In retrospect, and this is a gold-plated ‘traveller’s tip’ for those intending to visit, the fact that your hotel is “just off the Zócalo” is not a brilliant plus. Mexico City may be as noisy and chaotic as Tokyo or Shanghai for instance, but there the resemblance ends. The historic centre, which you will mainly be concerned with on your visit, is architecturally and structurally closer to Venice or Madrid. So give yourself a break and stay further out, at least as far as Condesa or Roma ‘cos you won’t be getting any peace anywhere near the Plaza de la Constitucion. As soon as we got to street level, we were accosted by the sounds of more pedlars demanding that we stop and buy their plastic toys, religious paraphernalia or bags of crisps – or in many cases things that we could not see and were possibly not legally tradable. If there were any gaps in the soundscape, these were more than adequately filled by the sounds of the rallying cries of anti-government protestors permanently camped out in the square, and the dissonant strains of badly detuned barrel organs being dementedly turned by what looked like a troop of war-crazed veterans. Ear plugs were freely available at the second hostel we checked into (more later on that), but not at this one.

A war-crazed veteran at work

So, as I say, we urgently needed respite, comfort and food (remember?!). And so we nimbly side-stepped the street vendors lining the entrance to the gaily sinking Metropolitan Cathedral and skirted old women wreathed in swirls of incense, carrying out intriguing pre-Hispanic cleansing rituals on the tourists. Eventually we came to a place on nearby 5 de Mayo doing enchiladas. These babies are just great as an instant pick-me-up in moments of utter exhaustion or the ennui of travelling from city to city. I’d tried the version with a bechemal sauce (enchiladas suize) back in Creel, and they were tasty and filling if not the prettiest thing to grace a plate. This is how it looked:

Enchiladas suize, La Cabana Creel

The pink puddle is the ever-present Frijoles – I prefer them when you can actually still see the beans and stick a tortilla chip in them. Bit the rest of the dish was very creamy and moreish. So this time round Clare ordered probably the most popular style, with a green salsa (enchiladas verdes) and I went for the mole poblano version. I’ll talk about mole in a later post, ‘cos that’s a subject to itself, but this is the one that originates in Puebla, and is pretty darn chocolatey. They probably weren’t the greatest examples of this dish, but they did bring a smile to our face for the first time in many hours. Unfortunately my camera phone was completely dead by this point, so I can only show you some approximations of what they looked like:

Enchiladas verdes

Enchiladas mole poblano

See what I mean about the tortilla chip? Much better texture. Anyway, both the sauces were a great accompaniment to the enchiladas, which were stuffed with chicken and some veggies. On balance, I think I preferred the green version, as it had a fresh, hearty zing that pepped up the dish perfectly, whereas the mole sauce was quite viscous and powerfully spicy, and the chocolate flavour threatened to overwhelm the wraps completely at times, so perhaps moles just work better with a chicken leg or sim. But overall, a great little filler when you’re dead beat and need a satisfying feed. I’m still on the hunt for red enchiladas though, which I hear are a breakfast classic…