The food feels like blessings on your plate. The folklore will make you appreciate traditions and heritage and ancestors. I wish all countries were as connected to their roots as Mexico is…
From Tacos to Comida Corrida
Everybody speaks about Mexican cuisine, right? Black beans, tortillas, avocados, tomatoes and chillies! Oh, they like it hot!
Street food is something that you are bound to enjoy in Mexico and if you have not tried a single taco bought at a street stall seller then you have basically never been to Mexico!
Oaxaca, Veracruz and the Yucatán Peninsula are especially popular for their traditional cuisine.
You can eat for 70 pesos in the local canteens called comida corrida (running food) – where you choose from a list of approximately six already prepared dishes (most of them served with a side of rice, black beans and tortillas) and where the meal usually comes with a home-made fruit juice (typically horchata – originally Spanish plant milk beverage – or tamarind juice).
In taco canteens you get a tacos, sopes, tostadas, pescadillas, salbutes, panuchos etc. for approximately 12 pesos per piece! Street stall orange (and other) juices are a huge thing and you can get a half litre for 15 pesos or even less!
The locals love their corn (and corn-cobs) and meat too! You need to try out pozol – fermented corn dough and the drink made from it, which has its origins in Pre-Columbian Mexico and which often contains other ingredients such as cocoa and coconut – and esquites (Mexican street corn slathered with creamy, cheesy, lime-scented, chili-flecked sauce)!
If you love it sweet, then marquesita is the thing for you! This traditional Yucatecan dessert was invented by an ice cream vendor, Vicente Mena, who first rolled a wafer stuffed with Edam cheese and sprinkled it with cajeta (caramel sauce) as his ice cream sales were lower during the cold months and he needed to come out with something warm. They were named after the daughter of a marquis, who loved these wafers greatly.
If you stay on the Yucatan peninsula around local people you might be lucky enough to get invited to a very traditional Mayan rooted “pib” which consists in cooking in a hole in the ground. To get a better idea of what I am talking about, you can watch the video on my youtube channel (here) which also shows some footage of home-making of tortillas.
Some of the local dishes that I would definitely recommend you to try in restaurants or comida corridas would be: poc chuc (dish of meat, pork or beef, which is prepared in citrus marinade and cooked over a grill) and ceviche mixto (authentic Mexican – though considered a national dish in Peru – dish for a hot day in the sun, which commonly contains shrimps, octopus, and fresh raw fish cured in citrus juices, such as lemon or lime, and spiced with ají, chili peppers or other seasonings including chopped onions).
And then, obviously, there is always the chocolate and tequila! I mean, seriously, this country has it all!
Mexican Folklore and Valladolid
Yes! This is another thing you are bound to love about this country – legends, mythology, ghosts, regional costumes (esp. Veracruz and Yucatan will impress you greatly with the beautiful flowery decorations) and other clothing, music and the Day of the Dead – you have surely heard about this one: better than American Halloween or European All Souls Day in so many respects! All the promenades in the streets, masks, costumes and traditions, including – in some families – bringing food to the cemeteries and sometimes even dining there “with the dead”… how amazing!
In Mexico, Death is regarded with great respect. She is considered a being who brings transformation and relief from illness and pain. There is a figure connected with Death, which is especially important on the Day of the Dead – La Catrina. She was originally created by a Mexican illustrator José Guadalupe Posada at the beginning of the 20th century. His image appeared in the press and quickly became “domesticated”. You can find the print today on T-shirts (probably the second most popular image after Frida Khalo), you can buy statues of her, and other goods with her image.
Another famous folklore figure is La Llorona, Crying Woman. According to a famous legend it is a ghost of a woman who drowned her children in the river and now laments for them. She cries and seeks them along the rivers and often brings complications and problems to those who encounter her.
Speaking of folklore – one of the most beautiful, traditional towns in Yucatan where folklore is visible in architecture, interior decorations as well as the beautiful dresses of the local women I Valladolid.
No wonder Valladolid has been a UNESCO World Heritage Site since 1998: It’s a place where art, quaint pastel-coloured buildings, old historic churches and traditional cuisine meet in perfect combination. The town centre is picturesque and photogenic as much as the local people themselves, especially the women in their flowery, hand-crafted dresses.
The town is a perfect start for a trip to Chichen Itzá or Ekʼ Balam (another beautiful Mayan site) and there are many cenotes nearby (including Ik Kil), even right in the town – like cenote Zaki. Don’t give a miss to the local markets and try out some local chocolate!
From Valladolid, you can easily make your way to The Yellow City of Izamal (with its notoriously well-known monastery and Kinich Kakmo pyramid), the graphic town of Mérida, or the pink lakes of Las Coloradas as well as the former Mayan salt harbor, today a small fishing village, Rio Lagartos with its amazing biosphere. Flocks of flamingos, ibis and inconspicuous crocodiles living in this protected area can be watched closely on a boat ride through mangrove forests and lush vegetation islets.
Artwork of Indigenous People
Mexico is connected with the tribal ancestor spirit of Aztecs and Mayas. There are still tribal communities in certain parts of the country, in fact creating about 21% of Mexican population, like the Huichol people who live in the states of Jalisco, Durango, Zacatecas and Nayarit or the Chiapanecas who live in Chiapas, and many other tribes (around 50 perhaps) such as Nahuatl tribe, Yucatec, Tyotyil, Mixtec, Yapotec, Otomi, Totonac etc.
The tribes are known for the folk art and handcrafts they produce and that are sold all around the country. The unifying factor of these works is the colourful decoration using symbols and designs which date back centuries. The most common and commercially successful products are “yarn paintings” (created by the Huichol people) and beaded jewellery and objects (such as masks and wood sculptures) decorated with small commercially produced beads and fastened with wax and resin. Some beads are still being made of natural materials, such as clay, shells, and corals.
While the purpose of many of the items have changed from religious to commercial purposes, the designs have changed little, and many retain their symbolic significance.
If you make your way to Mexico, make sure to get some of the jewellery created by the indigenous people. Not only it carries some great vibes but also it might be the most stunning piece(s) of jewellery in your collection – after all, it is not really true that “diamonds are a girl´s best friends”.