Day 37: Comida Corrida

Overland miles: 3386 Tacocount: 53 Days without Tea: 0

We could not leave Mexico without featuring one of its most attractive – and cheap – dining experiences, Comida Corrida. Literally this means something like ‘food of a bullfight’, which conjures up a classically loco impression of what it actually is: fast food, or food on the go. It’s essentially a set lunch menu (el menú del día) at a very reasonable price, served all afternoon by lot of cheap family restaurants, known as comedors. Lunch in many Latin American countries is the essential meal of the day. More relaxed than our greasy spoon equivalent, and more substantial than the lighter Mexican cena (dinner), it’s a perfect option for an office worker’s pit-stop, a family meet-up or a spot of gossip between well-coiffured señoras who lunch. And the higgledy-piggledy southern city of San Cristobal de las Casas, with its many coffee shops and boutiques, is the perfect place to do it.

Time for lunch

The place we had chosen, La Cueva Tigre, was a lovely little bolt-hole just off one of the city’s busy, narrow thoroughfares. Jazz music wafted through the red and green fabric strips entwining the rafters above us, and wooden-tabled booths adorned with vintage radio sets and stove irons lined both walls; a little bar at the back offered a small selection of beers and wines. We selected a booth and ordered our choices of main dish from a surprisingly wide range of options on the set menu. The first items that arrived at our table were the regulation bowl of totopos (tortilla chips), limes and chilli salsa:

Totopos con chilli y limon

The tortilla chips they give you at the start of a meal in cheaper eateries can often be dry, flavourless affairs, but these were the real deal: still warm from the fryer, with a fine oily sheen and a crisp, tangy bite. We were pretty ravenous from climbing the endless steep steps to the various churches the architects of San Cris had seem fit to perch on the top of its hills, so we slathered the spicy sauce on top and wolfed down the lot. Next out was a simple broth a bit like a consome, containing wholewheat pasta and vegetables:

Sopa de pasta y tortillas

The soup was light and refreshing with an intriguing hint of mace or a similar seasoning: a decent warm up for the main event. The bowl to the right held the steaming tortillas, always presented with a colourful napkin like this one, either to keep them warm or the flies off. Thankfully this was an insect-free chow down. In the background stands yet another Brucy bonus of the Comida Corrida: a free glass of agua fresca (a refreshing fresh fruit squash in different flavours – in this case, guava). The soup was quickly followed by Clare’s choice of mole, and something I had been keen to try for a while: pozole:

Mole verde con arroz

Pozole con pollo

Clare’s mole was a fantastic lunchtime choice: a moreish combination of meltingly tender chicken with the mild but perfectly spiced, almost creamy herb sauce. I prefer the hotter, steamier mole negro at might but this meal is all about the crucial balance of harmonious flavours, dry with sweet, spicy with mild, earthy with piquant. And my dish the pozole, managed to perform a stunning display of all these culinary acrobatics. It contained radishes, lettuce and of course corn, as well as the succulent hunks of chicken; in essence its peppery, vinegar-laced broth was closer to a Szechuan hot and sour soup than any other I’ve tasted. It was an endlessly pleasurable medley of simplicity and complexity in a bowl.

All of this, prawnettes, for a mere 45 pesos (£2.20) a person: cheaper than chips. Pudding wasn’t included, fairly enough, but – pigs that we are – we felt the need for a sweet treat on top, and headed for a crêpe. San Cristobal’s European influence shows through in the abundance of coffee, wines and other French delicacies, so we couldn’t resist a cheeky crêpe (or two). So by way of a gastronomic postscript, here’s Clare, bearing down like a woman possessed on an unsuspecting Melba:

Run, crêpe, run!

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