Here at Prawns for Breakfast, we like to think that we don’t simply offer you wistful and witty musings on our experiences up and down the Latin American highway: we try to provide honest, practical and completely non-exchangeable advice to help you make a roaring success out of a similar journey. And to this end, our intrepid writers bring you the first instalment of an ongoing series helping you to save £££ on your daily food budget. In fact, by following our hot tips from the mercados, comedors and (of course) taquerias of Mexico, you really can live like Don Mucho for a measly five English pounds a day! !Que aproveche Señor(a)!
Jovian: I’m going to go right out there and cheat wildly on this meal, because it’s too easy. Use one of a plethora of great backpacker-friendly sites like hostelworld.com, hostelbookers.com or booking.com to search for good value accommodation ahead of your arrival. They make it a cinch to book, take the pain out of those tricky post-night bus dialogues at the front counter, and (most importantly), many of the places offer a free breakfast. Of course, their definition of ‘breakfast’ may differ wildly from yours, so check carefully what you’re getting before parting with your hard-saved pesos. One hostel we stayed at met the terms of its offer with a loaf of cheap white bread and a jar of strawberry jam. This is not breakfast people! If you’re staying for any length of time you can, and will, do better. It’s probably not a good idea to trust what your four year old Lonely Planet On A Shoestring says about the quality of a hostel’s food (or anything else for that matter), but a lot of recent user recommendations on the above booking sites will offer hints on whether their breakfast offer is any cop. One of the best breakfasts we found in terms of variety were at the Hostal Pochon in Oaxaca. These are the steaming hot hotcakes we were served at this establishment, and they set us up for the day perfectly. Cost of breakfast: M$ (Mexican pesos) 0.00 (plus accommodation)
Clare: I say go all out and stuff yourself silly with a paquete (set breakfast). It might cost a little more but fuelling up with a late breakfast means you can skip lunch. We had a few of these in Mexico, mostly consisting of eggs al gusto, sausage/ham, salsa, bread/tortillas and unlimited teas or coffees. The best deal we found was in Mexico City’s Cafe el Popular. This place is one of the city’s oldest cafes and is staffed by ruthlessly efficient waitresses who barely crack a smile but will deliver a plate of great value traditional Mexican food in minutes. The paquete we opted for here offered all of the above along with a bowl of fruit and yogurt, giving us an important vitamin shot as well as an ample helping of stodge. Cost of breakfast: M$39.00 Cost of lunch: M$0.00
Jovian: Well, Clare might be happy skipping lunch, but that’s just not my style. So it’s an easy choice for me here as lunch is the main meal of the day in Mexico: just get yourself down to a family-run comedor (local eatery) and order some comida corrida. You’ll get a slap-up feed – including a soft drink, soup, choice of several hearty, traditonal mains and tortillas – in a charming, homely setting – for a fixed (and very reasonable) price. Follow that Clare! Cost of lunch: M$45.00
Clare: Cruise the bars that that give you a free botana (snack) with every glass of wine. San Cristobal is home to numerous of these European-style venues that serve up slices of fresh pan topped with cheese, meats or deliciously salty tapenade. In other bars you often get a big bowl of salted popcorn with each beer or shot of smoky Mezcal. N.B. Only try this if you’ve filled up at lunchtime as all those salty snacks, plus the easy-drinking style of the house wine will cause you to stay out longer than you had originally planned: a recipe for a massive dolor de cabeza (headache) the next day. If you’re still hungry on the way home – as is often the case with Jovian – hunt down a hole in the wall street food vendor for a dirt cheap taco top-up. Just look for the crowds of locals, loud music and follow the smell of burning meat. If you’re lucky you can pick up three tacos for 10 pesos (50p), as we did in a side-street in Ensenada: they won’t be the biggest but they’ll be made right in front of your unsteady, salivating ass, packed with fresh herbs, salsa, and if you’re lucky some melt-in-the mouth pineapple from the rotisserie – and they’ll keep hunger locked up ’till breakfast. Cost of dinner: M$10.00 (plus drinks)
Jovian: I’m impressed. The taco tip is a classic evening manoeuvre, but I wouldn’t want to miss out some of the other wonderful comida rapida you can get in the markets and on street corners from early afternoon to late in the night. One great value option is to push the boat out and go for a crisp, crunchy Tlayuda – the Sencillo we had in Oaxaca for 35 pesos (£1.85) was big enough as a mid-afternoon feed, but for dinner I need something more substantial, so I’d plump for the Mixta with three types of meat – usually beef, pork and chorizo – for 60 pesos (£3.15). But let’s not forget about the mighty Torta (Mexican sandwich)! They’re the real heavy beasts of the street food scene: thick baps bulging with layers of unctuous meat, creamy cheese and chunky salad, doused to taste with limes and chilli sauce. So I’m going to pick a Torta Especial, loaded with slices of pork, ham, avocado and American cheese, and including a side of fries, pickled chillis and a soft drink, which you can get just off the main plaza in Chihuahua. Cost of dinner: M$35.00
(Jovian’s meal suggestions cost M$80.00 (£4.20). Clare’s meal suggestions cost M$49.00 (£2.58). The cost of an average day’s meals based on these suggestions is M$64.05 (£3.39), giving you change for a couple of cervezas. Prices are per person and correct at the time of writing.)