Plan a post-COVID escape to Mexico for food and culture

| April 1, 2021 | 0 Comments

FRIDA KAHLO AND DIEGO RIVERA exhibition at Dolores Olmeda Museum.

Although the coronavirus is still in our midst, progress of the vaccination campaign inspires thoughts of future travel. In 2019, 32 million Americans visited our southern neighbor; why not look ahead and plan a trip to our sister city in Mexico to explore the cultural riches and pure deliciousness offered by Mexico City?

Here are highlights from my own experience eating and “arting” my way from one end of Mexico City to the other when my sister and I visited just prior to the lockdown. Prices are in U.S. dollars. As of this writing, the places mentioned have survived the pandemic, but check before you go.

Must-try tastes

For a landlocked city, there’s a lot of excellent fish and seafood in this town, and Contramar has some of the best.  Executive Chef Gabriela Cámara’s bright and airy restaurant specializes in extremely fresh ingredients simply prepared with herbs, vinegars or light sauces, enabling the individual ingredients to sing. A standout dish is fish Contramar, a butterflied whole grilled white fish sold by weight and sauced with the colors of the Mexican flag: one side swathed in red adobo; the other in a green parsley pesto. Delectable! Ours cost $18.

A charming restaurant with political inclinations (the wait staff’s shirts have silk-screened power fists and the menu declares, “White Supremacy is Terrorism”), Masala y Maiz sits on a boutique-lined side street off Glorietta Insurgentes (Rotary of Insurgents). Chefs Norma Listman and Saqib Keval mash up Mexican, Indian and East African flavors to create mouth-watering and beautifully presented dishes.  Our wonderful brunch included $8 giant prawns coated in spicy berbere, an Ethiopian chili blend, and $7 beets mixed with yogurt, fried chickpeas, cucumber and roasted coconut.

Expendio de Maiz is a tiny storefront with a unique concept: sit at one of two communal sidewalk tables and eat whatever you’re given until you say, “Stop!” Owner and original Chef Jesús Salas Tornés’ ode to heirloom corn, now helmed by Ana Gonzalez, serves a succession of mainly blue corn tortillas topped with such delights as sardines and nasturtiums or avocado, crema and chorizo. We stopped after five plates each and the whole brunch set us back $20 total.

In a rating of the 50 best restaurants in Latin America, Quintonil was awarded a well-deserved 11. Named for a green Mexican herb, this high-end restaurant in the “Beverly Hills” area of the city is known for their $120 ten course prix fixe, but we ordered four dishes à la carte totaling $72. Chef Jorge Vallejo‘s inventive and beautiful plates included charred avocado atop insect dust and fish in grasshopper adobo sauce. A show-stopper was pork showered in gossamer petals of roasted plums and figs, basking in contrasting puddles of deep red sweet chili sauce and pale gold pureed potatoes. If you can forget about all the edible bugs, you’ll be in food heaven.


Cultural riches

Of course, we do not live by food alone; we also must feed our souls with Mexico City’s abundant heritage of art and culture. Diego Rivera and Frida Kahlo are essentially the modern patron saints of the city, and one of the best places to enjoy their art is Museo Dolores Olmeda. It’s well-worth the 45-minute Uber ride to the city outskirts to visit the hacienda of Rivera and Kahlo’s former patron. The interior is packed with their paintings and domestic artifacts, and peacocks and lush greenery adorn the beautiful grounds.

Head back into the city proper to visit the Frida Kahlo Museum, the bright blue home where she was born and died. Rooms surrounding a plant-filled courtyard remain decorated as they were when Kahlo and Diego Rivera were in residence.

The extraordinary Diego Rivera Mexican history mural adorning the walls at the National Palace in the city center depicts the struggles for freedom against the French, the Spanish and assorted dictators. In a “where’s Waldo” move, Rivera hid an image of his wife amid the throngs of characters displayed.

Head to the sprawling Chapultepec Park to visit what is generally regarded as the most important museum in Mexico City. The Museo Nacional de Anthropologia (National Museum of Anthropology) recounts the history of ancient Mexico through artifacts and dioramas. Other worthwhile museums in the park are Museo de Arte Moderno (Modern Art Museum), which features paintings by muralists including David Alfaro Siqueiros, who has a mural on Olvera Street, and the Museo Rufino Tamayo (Rufino Tamayo Museum), founded by the artist himself and featuring his work.

Museos Soumaya and Jumex share a plaza in a tony neighborhood filled with sidewalk cafes and ritzy shopping. The visually striking Soumaya is clad in 16,000 reflective hexagonal aluminum tiles. This most visited art museum in Mexico contains notable 15th to 20th century European art and paintings by Mexican muralists. Museo Jumex, a beautiful white concrete building with signature sawtooth roof-line, has one of Latin America’s largest collections of contemporary art.

Those interested in architecture must visit the last residence designed by Pritzker Prize-winning Mexican architect Luis Barragán, Casa Gilardi. Here the architect’s fascination with light and color is epitomized by yellow-filtered light in a corridor leading to a turquoise indoor / outdoor room containing both a dining table and a swimming pool. Also of interest is the nearby Casa Luis Barragán, the architect’s former home and studio, where he experimented with his design concepts.

Do consider a visit to the magnificent art nouveau Palace of Fine Arts. The building’s opulent interior includes fine murals, a Marotti crystal roof and the world’s only Tiffany stained glass stage curtain. It’s worth catching a colorful Ballet Folklórico performance there.

Off the beaten path

A lesser-known activity is the street art walking tour of murals commissioned to address violence against women, honor indigenous communities and commemorate the devastation of the 1985 and 2017 earthquakes. To book a tour, message mural project creator Aida Mulato through Instagram @jóvenesartesanos. 

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Category: Entertainment

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