Eating Mexico’s Street Food

By David Simmonds

“You don’t eat at the street stands, do you, genius?” I get this annoying question all the time. I tell them “hell yes, it’s good and it’s cheap.” In many years of traveling Mexico I have been taken ill from bad food a few times, but I can’t think of one time that I could trace the problem back to eating street food. And in recent years I rarely get sick…ever. And it’s not because I have become “used” to it, somehow convincing rogue bacteria that they are powerless attempting to invade my long-battered immune system. Sanitation and proper food preparation have improved immensely in Mexico, and if you use a little common sense and chant a daily prayer to the porcelain god you can fine-dine at the street stands, just like the locals do. I like the street stands in part because you can see the person cooking your food and what they are cooking. It has to be fresh and look safe for consumption. Having been a waiter and bartender just after college graduation I know what goes on in a closed kitchen, and…never mind.

The first thing you should look for when choosing your street food is to discover who is doing all of the business. If a street stand operator is dishing tainted food he’ll be out of business in a week, so go where the locals go. They know who has safe food and just as importantly, who has really good food. You can fill up on three sizzling meat-filled tacos (try to find the stand that is cooking with mesquite wood for the best flavor) for about $3.00. There is usually a small tienda nearby to grab a soda, beer or bottle of water. Generally, you’ll order what you want and they’ll hand over your plate in a minute or so. Load up the tacos with the bowls of salsa, guacamole, onions, cilantro, and whatever else is offered. Find a place on the street or lean against the counter to enjoy your meal, or some stands offer a couple of portable tables and chairs. Then, get this, you pay the person at the cash register AFTER you have finished eating. Try that at Bubba’s Burger Shack takeout back home.

Most stands specialize in one or two signature dishes, usually serving variations of beef, chicken, and near the coast, fish. Some stands serve just fresh fruit or elote – roasted corn on the cob slathered in a mayo-type sauce with lime and cayenne pepper. Another stand might just serve carnitas, sold in bulk with salsa, cilantro and fresh tortillas, and down the street it might be churros, the long, deep-fried donut-like waist exploders. The list is endless, as are the flavors.

But my personal favorite, the one dish I would order on the way to the gas chamber, is birria, or goat stew. Most commonly found in the state of Jalisco, it is served in a bowl with a side dish of cilantro, onions, chiles and tortillas. I usually have to be dining solo when I’m searching for birria – apparently goat meat doesn’t agree with everyone, even after I explain that we aren’t actually eating someone’s pet. Oh well, birria and a beer is as good as it gets for me.

So on your next Mexico trip take a walk on the wild side (apologies to Lou Reed).You can find open stands all day, but many don’t open until the evening, staying in business late into the night. A couple of street tacos right after a night of cantina-hopping will lessen the hangover symptoms immensely the next morning…or so I have been told.

Disclosure:  I am being compensated for my work in creating and managing content as a Contributor for the México Today Program.  All stories, opinions and passion for all things México shared here are completely my own. Mexico Today is a joint public and private sector initiative designed to help promote Mexico as a global business partner and an unrivaled tourist destination.

Mexico Travel…. Risk and Reward

By: Lisa Coleman

I know this is an ongoing topic on our blog and many others, but since I just returned from Mexico, it seems completely relevant to me. I had lunch with friends today and was talking all about my trip, and, of course, the topic quickly jumped to the violence in Mexico. This subject always puts me on the nearest soapbox. So make room… I’m coming up!

So this is how it went… Someone had read on Facebook that someone had canceled a trip to Puerto Vallarta because of all the “murders” in Mexico. Let’s be real for a moment, and let’s take the time to read our news, understand some geography and put things in perspective. Are you going to skip that trip to L.A. at Christmas because you heard some gangs are killing each other in Oakland? It’s really the same thing, but since most people are geographically challenged when it comes to Mexico, things always have a negative spin. Mexico gets singled out over and over again by press who are determined to make sure you hear every detail so readers can perpetuate the “bad” while the country is fighting so hard to do some good. Okay, I understand the topic of danger in Mexico is once again front page news after the sad news out of Guadalajara last week. I get it. People are getting killed… and we all know how the American public has a morbid obsession with anything having to do with murder.

Guess what? It happens. It happens in Mexico… it happens all over the world. Chances are pretty good it happens in your own hometown. The news here in Phoenix isn’t much brighter most of the time, but it sure won’t keep the golfers away. Should we stop promoting our tourism because gang violence in town is at a 20 year high?  I doubt it. The deal is simple… the drug cartels have kicked into gear against Calderon’s efforts and the gangland style murders have soared and jumped into the headlines on an almost daily basis. I know I sound like a broken record, but people, really, let’s be honest about how directly, or indirectly, this will affect your Christmas vacation in Cancun. My personal guess is… not at all.

Unless of course you are an active member of a foreign drug cartel, or you go snooping around in search of large quantities of drugs or weapons, I seriously doubt your vacation, or any tourists in general, will ever be touched by the problem. And I do acknowledge it is a problem, a monumental problem. However, Mexico is in transition in terms of government, democracy and development into a modern nation. Unfortunately, it’s simple economics… supply and demand…. and as long as the Americans are buying, the Mexicans are going to be selling. Throw in a President determined to clean it up, and there is inevitably going to be a clash.

I respect and understand the concern for safety, but let’s not read a story and make a blanket assumption that an entire country is upside down. It simply isn’t fair. If you know Mexico at all, you know that it’s pretty damn safe to travel around to see the sites. The tour operators, hoteliers and tourism boards from city to city fight against the press every day to keep their guests coming and to survive this crisis.  And you should go to Mexico. In fact, you should go more often. You should learn about its history and culture, and you should not be deterred by things that won’t touch you. Enjoy, explore and let the Mexican people embrace you with their warm smiles. That’s what it’s really all about anyway.

 


Disclosure: I am being compensated for my work in creating and managing content as a Community Manager for the Mexico Today Program. All stories, opinions and passion for all things Mexico shared here are completely my own. Mexico Today is a joint public and private sector initiative designed to help promote Mexico as a global business partner and an unrivaled tourist destination

 

Yucatán – The Basics

By: Lisa Coleman

Ahhhh… Yucatán… Where do I begin?  Having just returned from a magical week in what I consider to be one of Mexico’s most beautiful states, I thought I would cover some of the basics. In the weeks to follow I will be delving deeper into the state’s archeology, history and the culture, but in the meantime, here are a few things you need to know. First, Cancun is not in the state of Yucatán and Yucatán is not in Cancun. All too often everything on the Yucatán Peninsula gets lumped together and travelers think (possibly) it’s all one “big place.” Don’t be embarrassed if you secretly thought it too… you’re not alone! Take a look at the map below for some orientation as to what is what and where is where.


A quick overview: The Yucatán Peninsula is located in southeastern Mexico and separates the Caribbean Sea from the Gulf of Mexico and is comprised of the Mexican states of Yucatán, Campeche, and Quintana Roo (as well as the northern parts of  Belize and Guatemala). This is the heart of the “Mundo Maya,” and one of the most culturally rich regions in the world. According to El Instituto Nacional de Antropología e Historia (www.inah.gob.mx), there are 29,000 registered archaeological sites in all of Mexico, of which 180 are open to the public. A significant number of these sites can be found throughout the state of Yucatán and the Yucatán Peninsula.  Merida, Yucatán’s capital city, is surrounded by one of the richest collections of ancient archaeological sites found anywhere in the world thus making it an excellent jumping off place for exploration.


Merida is a true colonial gem… It was once the henequen capital (a plant used to make rope) of the world, spawning an enormous number of grand working haciendas. The exportation of this natural fiber (or “green gold,” as it was called) brought tremendous wealth to Merida throughout the late 1800s and what remains are fascinating remnants of an important time in Mexico’s history.  Merida was essentially “cut off” from mainland Mexico (rail and road links to Mexico City were not completed until the 1950’s),  so it was easier for the city’s wealthy land owners to travel by boat to the US, Cuba, and even Europe rather than trying to go to other parts of Mexico. The result: a very strong European influence and feel throughout the city that is clearly seen in the local architecture.

Unique and spectacular, the state’s geographical features alone are worth the trip. The entire Yucatán Peninsula has a porous limestone surface, so there are no above ground water sources, meaning no lakes or rivers. However, a network of subterranean rivers make a web beneath the peninsula, and fresh water is found in hundreds cenotes (say-no-tays), or sinkholes. These were the wells of the ancient Maya and exploring them is one of the most rewarding adventures you can imagine.


The coast doesn’t host the glorious beaches of the Caribbean, but there are still long stretches of uninterrupted sandy beaches, plenty of coconut palms, mangrove-laced estuaries and lagoons filled with enough exotic bird life to keep watchers busy for a lifetime.

There is so much more… so keep tuned in over the next few days and weeks to read more details of my exploration of Yucatán.

 
Disclosure: I am being compensated for my work in creating and managing content as a Community Manager for the Mexico Today Program. All stories, opinions and passion for all things Mexico shared here are completely my own. Mexico Today is a joint public and private sector initiative designed to help promote Mexico as a global business partner and an unrivaled tourist destination

Wisdom Of The Villager

David Simmonds

This story has been around a while, but worth remembering as we enter another year

A boat docked in a tiny Mexican fishing village.

A tourist complimented the local fishermen on the quality of their fish and asked how long it took him to catch them.

“Not very long.” They answered in unison.

“Why didn’t you stay out longer and catch more?”

The fishermen explained that their small catches were sufficient to meet their needs and those of their families.

“But what do you do with the rest of your time?”

“We sleep late, fish a little, play with our children, and take siestas with our wives.  In the evenings, we go into the village to see our friends, have a few drinks, play the guitar, and sing a few songs.  We have a full life.”

The tourist interrupted,  “I have an MBA from Harvard and I can help you! You should start by fishing longer every day. You can then sell the extra fish you catch. With the extra revenue, you can buy a bigger boat.”

“And after that?”

“With the extra money the larger boat will bring, you can buy a second one and a third one and so on until you have an entire fleet of trawlers. Instead of selling your fish to a middle man, you can then negotiate directly with the processing plants and maybe even open your own plant.

You can then leave this little village and move to Mexico City, Los Angeles, or even New York City!

From there you can direct your huge new enterprise.”

“How long would that take?”

“Twenty, perhaps twenty-five years.” replied the tourist.

“And after that?”

“Afterwards? Well my friend, that’s when it gets really interesting,” answered the tourist, laughing. “When your business gets really big, you can start buying and selling stocks and make
millions!”

“Millions? Really? And after that?” asked the fishermen.

“After that you’ll be able to retire, live in a tiny village near the coast, sleep late, play with your children, catch a few fish, take a siesta with your wife and spend your evenings drinking and enjoying your friends.”

“With all due respect sir, but that’s exactly what we are doing now. So what’s the point wasting twenty-five years?” asked the Mexicans.

And the moral of this story is:
Know where you’re going in life … you may already be there!

Mexican Laws and Mordida

By David Simmonds

When I was younger and dumber, in my late teens and early 20′s, Mexican laws, in my mind, were non-existent as long as you had a $20 bill in your pocket. This bribe money is commonly called mordida, or “the bite”. Whether it was failing to stop at an invisible stop sign, public intoxication, or most anything short of murder, a $20 spot would take care of the problem. Working for years on that rule it’s a minor miracle that I’m alive and walking freely today. Fortunately, I wised up as I aged, as most of us do.

In fact, Mexico is a country steeped in law and tradition. The current laws are derived from the Constitution of 1917, after the revolution. What surprises many gringos is that the laws are different than in the United States. Mexico operates under the Napoleonic Code instead of English common law as is practiced in the states. Mexico law is codified as referenced in law books, with unique circumstances having no effect on innocence or guilt. When in court, the judge looks up the law and applies it. For the most part there is no jury of your peers. Sentences tend to be longer with fewer back-room deals being negotiated. The harsh penalties tend to have a direct effect on illegal acts by many Mexicans. They know they’re going to jail if caught, so they for the most part abide by the law. And you should, too.

Another major difference in Mexico and U.S law is that in Mexico you are presumed guilty until proven innocent. Yes, read that again, slowly. You have to prove your innocence. Do you like your chances? I didn’t think so.

The issue is further complicated by all of the state and local laws. There is no way you will be aware of all of these, so use common sense. If in doubt, don’t do it.

I know Americans who have spent time in Mexican jails, and believe me, you don’t want to be one of them. (Full disclosure: I did a few hours in an Ensenada jail. The police were indiscriminately arresting young gringos because some drunk doorknob had cracked a beer bottle over a cop’s head). Now, the mordida is essentially illegal. It is also fairly common. You need to make that decision if you want to participate, and the price has increased since the $20 days. Better yet, don’t get in a situation where you have to make that call. The reality is that it may well work and you can be on your way. Or, the cop might be insulted, and your problem just became worse.

Respect the laws of Mexico, and learn about them before you travel. Remember that you are in their country and you need to show proper respect to the institutions that prevail. Here is a good web site to help you learn and understand. http://tijuana.usconsulate.gov/root/pdfs/telegalcriminalguide.pdf

Disclosure:  I am being compensated for my work in creating and managing content as a Contributor for the México Today Program.  All stories, opinions and passion for all things México shared here are completely my own. Mexico Today is a joint public and private sector initiative designed to help promote Mexico as a global business partner and an unrivaled tourist destination.

Mazatlán – Still Thriving and Always a Favorite

By: Lisa Coleman

I just returned from my annual trip to Mazatlán for the Gran Fiesta Amigos de Mazatlán celebration.  Once a year, Mazatlán invites travel partners, tour operators, travel agents, airlines and a plenty of international media to enjoy all that is Mazatlán.  And, once again, it was a fantastic trip.

Like fine wine, some things get better with age…. And so it is with Mazatlán.  It has grown into its own over time to become not only a prosperous resort, but a model of traditional character and personality. I think for most of us, Mazatlán was a frequently heard name as a Mecca for spring breakers, but having had the chance to discover its real treasures, I can tell you the offerings reach far deeper than that.

Mazatlán (and Mexico in general) are undoubtedly battling fierce bad press in the last couple of years, but the Mexico Hotel Association and the Tourism Board for the State of Sinaloa have taken enormous strides to keep things on track. (And I think they have done a great job.) At this year’s event, keynote speaker Peter Yesawich (President of YPartnership, America’s leading marketing, and advertising and public relations agency serving travel, leisure, hospitality and entertainment clients) discussed the future of travel and how emerging trends will impact Mazatlan and Mexico as a whole. It was a very positive (yet realistic) view of what it will take to keep Mexico moving forward during these difficult times.  He targeted the importance of quality websites for the hotels and destinations, as well as keeping focused on the positive aspects of traveling to Mexico, i.e. proximity to the U.S. and the incredible value it represents right now for both families and couples.

We were also treated to wonderful concert, Mozart’s “Requiem,” at the Angela Peralta Theater on Dia de Los Muertos (Day of the Dead) and joined in the local festivities before joining the governor of the state of Sinaloa, Mario López Valdez (Malova), for the Golden Deer Awards Dinner. There were multiple groups of journalists on different schedules and we all managed to enjoy the very best the city has to offer.

Once you have had a taste of the laid back, affordable charm of Mazatlán, you will know why it’s always been an immutable favorite. Mazatlán isn’t a manufactured resort community like some of its counterparts; it is “real” Mexico. The city is steeped in history …The Spanish began to establish settlements after gold and silver were discovered in the nearby Sierra foothills. From there, Colonial-era coastal development began to prosper and the port of Mazatlán served as both an export hub and provision station for the Spanish Galleons returning from Asia with spices, silks and other exotic goods. The result: a cultural and historical gold mine.

Most visitors will spend their time in the Zona Dorada or Golden Zone. Here small hotels and a few chain resorts are neighbors along an extensive stretch of sandy beach with rolling surf very similar to that in Southern California. The layout of the resort zone keeps things simple for tourists and makes almost the entire area accessible by foot. And though you may want to spend your days soaking up the sunshine and frolicking on the beach (keep in mind that Mazatlán is less humid than tropical resorts further south), be sure to experience the real beauty of the destination … the historical downtown.

Often overlooked by tourists, the center of the city has maintained its 19th century splendor and gives the sensation of being taken back in time. I would suggest getting up very early and taking a stroll along the Malecon (the palm-lined waterfront promenade). Almost immediately you will begin to feel a different side of Mexico. This seaside walk will take you by the local fishermen sorting through their morning catch, past quaint restaurants, shops and eventually into the heart of “Old Mazatlán” The renovated city center still has all the style and magic it did centuries ago. Shady trees, iron benches, and beautifully restored buildings surround the Plaza Marchado (old town square). You’ll be surprised and taken by the subtle elegance of the colorful streets and landmarks. Particularly impressive is the remarkable Angela Peralta Theater, restored to its European-style grandeur.  (Yes, first-class theater and fine arts do exist in Mexico!)

For great info on Mazatlan check out the CountdowntoMexico blog. Nancy Dardarian and her husband moved to Mazatlan in 2007 and continue to post on all the Mazatlan happenings and everything you need to know. She recently posted a great article (with awesome photos!) about Mazatlan’s downtown.

Mazatlán is a special place for those who take the time to know it well, to understand its hidden treasures and to enjoy the genuine warmth and kindness of its people. It is indeed still thriving and always among my favorite spots in Mexico.

 

 

Disclosure:  I am being compensated for my work in creating and managing content as a Community Manager for the México Today Program.  All stories, opinions and passion for all things México shared here are completely my own. Mexico Today  is a joint public and private sector initiative designed to help promote Mexico as a global business partner and an unrivaled tourist destination.

 

News From Jimm Budd In D.F.

Volaris adds flights

While Interjet in five years has grown into Mexico’s second-largest airline, Volaris, which started about the same time, is much more international. The carrier now flies to Los Angeles, Fresno and San José in California, also Las Vegas, and has just inaugurated service to Chicago from Mexico City, with plans to add Chicago service from Zacatecas and Morelia. Most of its customers are what management calls ethnic, but anybody is welcome to buy a ticket.

Wyndham expansion

The Wyndham Group expects to open at least five more franchised properties in Mexico next year. Daniel del Olmo, managing director for Latin America, told a press group that Wyndham now has 32 hotels in the country, operating either as franchises or under management contracts. The group itself owns more than a dozen brands, including Ramada, Super 8, Days Inn, Howard Johnson and Travel Lodge. Del Olmo did not specify where the new ventures will be located.

Acapulco Film Festival

Sophia Loren and Alain Delon have promised to be on hand for the opening of the Acapulco Film Festival, which starts this week. The festival is an on and off event, first held in the 1960s. It is being revived in an attempt to revive Acapulco’s reputation as a glamorous hot spot. The resort has been overshadowed by Cancun, Los Cabos and others and been troubled by narcotics cartels battling for control of the area.

Los Cabos convention center

Work is scheduled to begin on a vast convention center that will house the annual G20 gathering next year. The Group of 20 takes in representatives of the top 20 economies in the world and Mexico is one of them. The center will cover 25,000 square meters and have seating for 9,000 people. Controversial, it is expected to change the profile of Los Cabos, a destination that until now has been regarded as exclusive and expensive.

Seeking the sick

Six million Americans spent 100 billion dollars obtaining health care abroad, according to Mexico City Mayor Marcelo Ebrard, who neglected to reveal the source of his statistics. What he did say is that Mexico City would like a bigger share of that market. Medical services, often provided by physicians and surgeons trained in the United States, cost anywhere from 30 to 50 percent less that in the United States.

Flying High

Air traffic grew by 18 percent during the third quarter, led by Interjet (117 %), Viva Aerobus (61 %) and Aeromar (21%), while Aeroméxico traffic was up by 15%.  Perhaps in recognition of its performance, Mexico was designated to coordinate the Tourism Group of the Asia-Pacific Economic Cooperation Forum (APEC). And Aeroméxico showed that it now carries more passengers to and from the United States than any other airline.  In other words, it beat out American and Continental/United for the first time.

Hotel Scene

Next year InterContinental Hotels plans to open Holiday Inns, Holiday Inns Express and Indigo hotels in Mexico City, Nogales, Guaymas, Puerto Vallarta and Acapulco.  These will be franchise operations with the buildings owned by Mexican investors who will operate their hotels according to Holiday Inn standards. At one time the master franchise belonged to Posadas de México, that is to say, Inns of Mexico. Posadas went on to develop its own brands and sold its rights to Holiday Inn. Posadas later bought Mexicana Airlines, which under its management sought bankruptcy protection. Now it is rumored that Posadas is up for sale.