Back in Oaxaca

We left Puebla excited to return to the familiar city of Oaxaca. We were looking forward to dining at the restaurants we had discovered back in January and were also eager to be in one spot for a while. After a four hour bus ride we arrived at Oaxaca’s first class bus station (a much more manageable size than the one in Puebla), and realized we were a bit early to pick up our keys. We were both hungry (what else is new) so we threw our bags on our backs and made the treck to Los Cuiles, a cafe that we had been looking forward to returning to. We love the selection of foods, including organic salads, fruit smoothies, organic coffees and our favourite style of tortas in Mexico (so far), and a nice airy courtyard.

A church a few blocks away from the apartment, a nice place to sit in the shade.

A church a few blocks away from the apartment, a nice place to sit in the shade.

When we finished eating we headed back out to walk the rest of the way to the Al Sol apartments, where we were staying in  studio number 6. Veronica, the owner/manager of the apartment building, arrived just after we did and after introductions she showed us our apartment so we could settle in. The apartment to most would be considered quite small, but after living in a 27 1/2 foot trailer for the past year it felt very comfortable. It had everything we needed, a small kitchen, a bed, a bathroom, wifi and a fantastic rooftop patio. I was ecstatic to have a kitchen again. After a month of not cooking, we were getting pretty tired of restaurant food.

Adrian heard of an organic market that runs on Fridays and Saturdays, and we had found an small organic tienda (store) in January, I was eager to pick up some ingredients and come up with some delicious meals. I will admit, it takes some creativity to cook in a kitchen with limited supplies, but I was up for the challenge.

Rooftop views.

Rooftop views.

Rooftop view of the sunset over the hills.

Rooftop view of the sunset over the hills.

We fell asleep that evening to the sound of the typical mexican banners on the rooftop flapping in the wind. The air was cool and a breeze came in the window we should have known to savour that night as the days quickly grew unbearably hot, with the heat of the day lingering long into the many evenings to come.

A few meals and back to Oaxaca

Our last night in Puebla Adrian and I were each craving different things for supper. I was hungry for the famed tacos árabes, “Arab-style tacos”, while Adrian was craving a healthier more vegetarian meal. Tacos árabes were introduced to mexico in 1933, and to this day there is still great debate on what an authentic taco árabe is. Our first stop was at  La Antigua Taquería La Oriental, which was buzzing with locals all getting their fix of the spit roasted deliciousness. This restaurant, now a chain, began 77 years ago and claims to serve up the authentic tacos, layered pork and onions slow roasted spit.   I ordered two tacos and tried to remember every detail as this was something I wanted to recreate at home. The pork was juicy and flavourful, served up in a soft yet thick and chewy pita-style flatbread. I topped them off with a squeeze of lime and chipotle salsa, definitely a winner in my books.

Antigua Taquería La Oriental (2 Oriente #8 near 2 Norte). Exceptionally clean and serves up delicious tacos.

Antigua Taquería La Oriental (2 Oriente #8 near 2 Norte). Exceptionally clean and serves up delicious tacos.

A large spit for tacos árabes.

A large spit for tacos árabes.

Tacos árabes.

Tacos árabes.

After Adrian watched me savour the tacos, we made our way to La Zanahoria, a vegetarian restaurant which aslo sells pre made vegetarian and vegan treats, and has a great to go counter where they whip up hot foods and freshly squeezed juices. I ordered a fresh orange and guava juice while adrian ordered a vegetarian burger to go. We got our food and headed back to the hotel, picking up some freshly fried potato chips along the way. I love how many potato chips there are in Mexico. Nearly every other street has freshly fried, thick cut potato chips served with your choice of toppings, hot sauce, fresh lime juice, salt, yes please!

The to go counter at La Zanahoria (5 Oriente 206), a great vegetarian restaurant in Puebla.

The to go counter at La Zanahoria (5 Oriente 206), a great vegetarian restaurant in Puebla.

A veggie burger from La Zanahoria.

A veggie burger from La Zanahoria.

Adrian thoroughly enjoyed the burger, let me tell you it is hard to find good vegetarian options in mexico, so this was a much welcomed meal. We packed our bags, in preparation to leave the following morning. We woke up early and while we were checking out of the hotel we asked them to call us a taxi. To our surprise they told us, “no taxi needed today”, as they were going to drive us to the bus station in their Audi. It was a shiny, fancy, futuristic car. We arrived at the gigantic airport like bys station and after a few wrong turns we found our gate and waited for the bus to Oaxaca.

Cholula

Back in Coatepec some people we met mentioned that we must go to Cholula, a city west of Puebla. Cholula became an important religious center between 1 and 600 AD, making it one of the longest inhabited cities in the Americas.

From Puebla, we found the bus station and boarded the next bus leaving for Cholula. It was a short ride, only 20 minutes or so, before we arrived near the city center. A government designated “pueblo mágico” much of the zócalo was under construction, trees dug up, bricks being laid and backhoes moving soil. We found an intact grassy spot (one of the only places in Mexico where you could actually sit and walk on the grass) and sat in the shade enjoying some amazing vegan cookies that we picked up from el Zanahoria (a vegetarian restaurant in Puebla) earlier that day.

Yummy vegan cookies from La Zanahoria.

Yummy vegan cookies from La Zanahoria.

After orienting ourselves we decided to make our way to the archeological zone while stopping to check out some churches along the way. It is often said that there are 365 churches in the city of Cholula, legend has it Cortes ordered one church for each day of the year to match the number of Aztec temples that the spaniards destroyed. There are in fact only 37 churches, along with 122 small chapels, with varying architectural styles.

The church of San Gabriel was built in 1549, and sits across from the zócalo behind a large yellow stone wall. We were completely captivated by the decorative banners strung from the church steeple down to the wall of the complex. Fluttering in the wind the pink and white flags cast shadows on the ground and I’m not quite sure what it was about them that captured our gaze, but we couldn’t take our eyes off them. Beside the church is the Capilla Real (royal chapel), constructed in Arabic style which 49 domes, dating back to 1540.

The long strings of flags fluttering above.

The long strings of flags fluttering above.

Adrian standing in front of the church of San Gabriel.

Adrian standing in front of the church of San Gabriel.

Capilla Real, royal chapel, with its 49 domes it was a stunning piece of architecture.

Capilla Real, royal chapel, with its 49 domes it was a stunning piece of architecture.

We continued on to the archeological zone where the Great Pyramid of Cholula, Pirámide Tepanapa, is located. Now covered with grasses, trees and shrubs the pyramid can easily be mistaken for a large hill, but underneath the overgrown vegetation sits the largest pyramid by volume and the largest monument in the world. Around the pyramid is a massive complex made up of stairways, platforms and altars. The Iglesia de Nuestra Señora de los Remedios (Church of Our Lady of Remedies) was built atop the pyramid by the spanish in 1574 and is now a major catholic pilgrimage destination. Between the 1930s-50s and the late 1960s-70s the pyramid was excavated by architects and archeologists from around the world.  Today there are over 8km of tunnels dug within the pyramid, with 800 meters of tunnels open to the public.

The Great Pyramid of Cholula, easily overlooked as simply a large hill, with a church sitting atop.

The Great Pyramid of Cholula, easily overlooked as simply a large hill, with a church sitting atop.

The staircase leading to the front of the brightly painted Santuario de Nuestra Señora de los Remedios.

The staircase leading to the front of the brightly painted Santuario de Nuestra Señora de los Remedios.

We started off in the museum across the street from the pyramid to gain some knowledge of the history and significance of both the city of Cholula and the pyramid itself. We then continued to the tunnels within the pyramid.  With our first step inside  the tunnels we instantly felt relief from the hot sun and embraced the silence that surrounded us. The air was cool with only dim lights showing us the way. There was an eerie feel being inside the largest monument in the world, I suppose it’s a good thing neither of us are claustrophobic.

Many tunnels branched off from the main tunnel, but they were all blocked off. We would stop and stare into the darkness wishing we could go further in, but then again it would be rather frightening to find oneself lost within 8 km of tunnels. Nearing the exit we could feel the hot air surround us like a warm blanket and the bright sunlight greeted us as we emerged from the tunnel. We followed a path and climbed the steep staircase to the top of the pyramid to check out the view and see the church.

P1090653

Wishing we could explore more of the tunnels, with only 800 meters of 8 km of tunnels accessible to the public.

Wishing we could explore more of the tunnels, with only 800 meters of 8 km of tunnels accessible to the public.

After spending some time around the archeological zone we made our way to Cholula’s hipster hangout, Container City. Catering to the many students from the nearby university, this complex with its laid back atmosphere is made up of 50 brightly painted shipping containers stacked on top of one another, and houses trendy boutiques, restaurants, bars and cafes. We came across a restaurant called Mongo’s and were excited about the asian inspired menu (a cuisine that we were definitely missing.) With the great pyramid in the background we enjoyed a late afternoon meal. An asian soup with a spicy broth filled with vegetables, delicious shrimp dumplings and a large noodle stir fry, left us feeling satisfied. We wandered around the complex a bit more, but got the feeling that it was more of an evening hang out as there were not many people around and many of the business (likely bars) were closed.

Container City, the hipster hangout in Cholula (12 Oriente and 2 Norte in San Andrés Cholula)

Container City, the hipster hangout in Cholula (12 Oriente and 2 Norte in San Andrés Cholula)

Spicy asian soup with mushrooms and zucchini.

Spicy asian soup with mushrooms and zucchini.

Shrimp dumplings served in true asian style.

Shrimp dumplings served in true asian style.

Super yummy noodle stir fry with lots of vegetables dressed with soy sauce and lime.

Super yummy noodle stir fry with lots of vegetables dressed with soy sauce and lime.

The brightly painted shipping containers that make up Container City.

The brightly painted shipping containers that make up Container City.

Whimsical and youthful this place was fun to walk around.

Whimsical and youthful this place was fun to walk around.

A Super Mario Brothers inspired garbage can in Container City.

A Super Mario Brothers inspired garbage can in Container City.

Goodbye Cholula.

Goodbye Cholula.

We made our way back to the main road and hopped on a bus that said Puebla. We were not really sure where exactly this bus was heading as we realized it was taking a different route than the one that had led us to Cholula. We nervously stayed in our seats and with every turn of the bus looked for signs saying “centro histórico” or any landmarks we recognized. Eventually we were able to figure out where we were, we rung the bell, hopped off the bus and made our way back to the hotel. We were thrilled that we had the opportunity to visit Cholula as it was definitely a highlight of our time in Puebla.

Turibus

We only had three full days in Puebla so we decided to take a tour via open air double decker bus. They didn’t have any english information, but we hopped on anyways knowing we would see more than we otherwise could. We made our way to the top deck along with the other toursits and took our seats as the tour began.

With the breeze in our hair we did our best to understand pre recorded tourguide. It was a great way to see the city, the bus stopped for a few minutes at the important sights giving enough time for an explanation and photo opportunities. Being on the top deck, the sun was hot and intense, so Adrian hid out under a shirt.

The touribus that took us around the city, we caught it at the south end of the zócalo.

The touribus that took us around the city, we caught it at the south end of the zócalo.

A view of the beautifully treed zócalo from the top of the touribus.

A view of the beautifully treed zócalo from the top of the touribus.

The arcade lining the zócalo with its many restaurants and shops.

The arcade lining the zócalo with its many restaurants and shops.

The hilltop fort Loreto, one of two forts in Puebla, where the the battle against the french took place on the 5th of May 1862.

The hilltop fort Loreto, one of two forts in Puebla, where the the battle against the french took place on the 5th of May 1862.

A view of the city from the hilltop.

A view of the city from the hilltop.

One of the colourful and animated streets of Puebla.

One of the colourful and animated streets of Puebla.

After the tour we walked around the city and explored the streets and artisan shops. Puebla is home to many indigenous handicrafts including some amazing ceramics. Talavera pottery is only made in Puebla and a few its surrounding pueblitos characterized by its milky white base glaze. This craft originated four centuries ago and pieces were originally decorated with blue and white paint. Today several colours are used (blue, yellow, black, green orange and mauve) all made from natural pigments.  It was easy to separate the shops carrying the more touristy generic poorer quality crafts and  it was fascinating to come across those shops carrying pieces of quite obviously higher quality craftsmanship. We enjoyed our time watching artists paint canvases propped on easels in the streets and exploring the many shops and stalls.

El Parian, handicraft market, displaying a large variety of goods from embroidered clothing and pottery to hand made dream catchers and post cards.

El Parian, handicraft market, displaying a large variety of goods from embroidered clothing and pottery to hand made dream catchers and post cards.

After a bit of shopping we made our way to the Callejón de los Sapos (frog alley), where we found the restaurant  Mesón Sacristía de la Compañía. Housed within a beautiful colonial-style hotel, the main dining room is painted bright pink and is filled with natural light. We enjoyed a quiet and  satisfying meal, starting with Perejil Frito, a salad of flash-fried parsley seasoned with lime juice and salt, topped with shrimps and bacon. A little on the greasy side, but very delicious, I think the quick frying of the parsley removes any harshness, resulting in a light parsley flavour complemented by the juicy shrimp, making for a very savoury dish.

The bright pink interior of the M

The bright pink interior of el Mesón Sacristía de la Compañía (Callejón de los Sapos, Calle 6 Sur #304).

Fried parsley

Perejil Frit, fried parsley salad.

Soup for the sick.

Consomé de enfermo, a delicious salty brothy soup that helped bring Adrian back to life.

Adrian was still getting over his illness, so he opted to try el consomé de enfermo (broth for the sick), very appropriately named, the salty broth full of chicken, chickpeas, rice and peas was quite comforting. I ordered the Pipían verde, pork simmered in a green pumpkin seed sauce. I will admit it was rather salty, but still flavourful none the less.

Murals and a cemita

Adrian was feeling a bit under the weather, so he decided to stay in the comfort of our, oh so comfortable we never want to leave king size bed, while I spent the afternoon exploring. I set off to find a part of the city, known for its many murals. As their website states, the Puebla Ciudad Mural project is an attempt to “generate favourable conditions in forgotten and devaluated communities in Puebla.” I marked it on my map and set off to find this place linking artists and residents.

I wandered the streets and after nervously and somewhat frantically dashing across a large main road I found what I was looking for. Camera in hand I did my best to capture this creative space. It was quite spectacular to see the diversity of murals, the colours and drastically different pieces of art came to life in the streets and in the alleys. Every corner I turned, every alley I looked down there was something new, something brilliant, something that told a story.

P1090355 P1090342 P1090344 P1090366 P1090363 P1090361 P1090358 P1090360 P1090357 P1090374 P1090376 P1090378 P1090383

After photographing and wandering for quite some time I decided to head back to the city center to find el Callejon de los Sapos (alley of frogs). This alley is known for its eclectic collection of shops and antiques. The colourful buildings were stunning, I couldn’t get over the aesthetically pleasing nature of this city. I browsed the shops and wandered some more before heading back to the hotel.

Calleron de los Sapos, an eclectic collection of shops, antique stores and restaurants.

Calleron de los Sapos, an eclectic collection of shops, antique stores and restaurants.

Some antiques on display out front of the shops.

Some antiques on display out front of the shops.

I was fairly hungry so I stopped to grab a cemita on my way back. Now a cemita is Puebla’s version of a torta (a mexican sandwich.) I had seen photos and read blog posts and was very curious to try one. There are a few different versions of the cemita, so I chose milanesa, a thin fried pork cutlet, a piece of ham, avocado, tomato, stringy quesillo (mozarella like cheese), onion and hot peppers all sandwiched within a sesame topped bun.

P1090437

I got back to the hotel and devoured the cemita. I was a bit intimidated at first but it was rather tasty and not as heavy as one might think. Overall I prefer the tortas of Oaxaca (future post to come) but was happy that I had the opportunity to try the cemita.

Lucha Libre

While waiting in the zócalo before checking in to our hotel we struck up a conversation with a friendly mexican english teacher. He was very helpful and so eager to share his knowledge of his home town Puebla. He gave us great advice on what we should see and where we should eat and one thing he mentioned really jumped out at me, Lucha Libre. He said Monday nights at the local arena people of all ages and classes come together to watch Lucha Libre (literally translates to “free fighting”), consisting of professional wrestlers wearing colourful masks. We had always heard of this and couldn’t pass up the opportunity to experience it in the flesh.

Before heading to the arena we checked out the Museo Amparo. Free on Mondays, this museum housed a temporary photography exhibit as well as permanent collections of pre-Hispanic, colonial and modern art. After making our way through the exhibits from the bottom floor to the top we were astonished by the breath taking rooftop views. The exhibits left us feeling slightly underwhelmed, but what they lacked in appeal, the views definitely made up for. We took some photos and headed out to grab a meal before making our way to the arena.

A distorted view through the glass walls of the top floor of el Museo Amparo.

A distorted view through the glass walls of the top floor of el Museo Amparo.

Views from the rooftop of the Museo Amparo.

Views from the rooftop of the Museo Amparo.

More rooftop views from the Museo Amparo.

More rooftop views from the Museo Amparo.

The Arena sign marking the location where the Lucha Libre matches take place.

The Arena sign marking the location where the Lucha Libre matches take place.

From the rooftop of the Museo Amparo.

From the rooftop of the Museo Amparo.

We arrived at the arena where food vendors, stationed end to end, were assembling cemitas (over the top large sandwiches) and stalls with the typical lucha libre masks were overflowing with people lining the roads. After asking around we finally found the box office and purchased our tickets having no idea of what to expect. We entered the arena where we were ushered to our seats and we sat in anticipation of what would come next.

As fans filled the stands we soon came to realize that the arena was divided in half, each side representing either the rudos (tough guys/bad guys) or the ténicos (good guys). The lights dimmed as a smoke machine began the excitement in the stands began to rise.

Waiting for the lucha libre match to begin.

Waiting for the lucha libre match to begin.

The empty ring before the craziness all began.

The empty ring before the craziness all began.

The masked lucha libre wrestlers, luchardoes, were introduced one by one as they took to their corners of the ring. The fans cheered, old and young alike, for their favourites as the luchadores stood on the ropes with arms in the air. The tag team wrestling began, with rapid successions of holds and maneuvers. Jumping off ropes, slamming one another onto the mat, the match is not over until an opponent  is pinned for the count of three. It was so obviously fake and yet so entertaining. We couldn’t help but be completely captivated, cheering along with the many fans.

The rounds, best of three, occurred in succession as new teams of threes and twos were introduced each time. The rules were often broken as up to six wrestlers would fight in the ring all at once. The energy was high, and as the matches continued the teams grew more entertaining. Near the end a duo of a man and child luchadores entered the ring dancing to gangnam style.

A man and child luchadores enter the ring to gangnam style, so ridiculously amusing.

A man and child luchadores enter the ring to gangnam style, so ridiculously amusing.

A wrestler stands on the ropes as his fans go wild.

A wrestler stands on the ropes as his fans go wild.

Each wrestler is introduced over the loud speakers as he enters the ring via the walkway. Fans gather to take photos of their favourite luchadores.

Each wrestler is introduced over the loud speakers as he enters the ring via the walkway. Fans gather to take photos of their favourite luchadores.

Sometimes all six tag team wrestlers would end up in the ring at the same time, no one seemed to stop them.

Sometimes all six tag team wrestlers would end up in the ring at the same time, no one seemed to stop them.

When all was done we couldn’t help but laugh. The whole lucha libre thing was rather comical and although we are glad we went, we both decided that once was enough.

On to Puebla

Our time in Coatepec had come to an end. It was just after 5am when our alarms went off, a new day, a new adventure. We put our bags on our backs, left the key by the door and walked the short 20 minute walk to the bus station. It was still dark out, the moon was low in the sky and the hot dog and hamburger vendors near the zócalo were closing up after a long night’s work. We arrived at the station and sat on the sidewalk for a while waiting to board the east bound bus to Puebla.

Our kind and generous host in Coatepec. We said goodbye to Julia the night before as we had to be up before sunrise.

Our kind and generous host in Coatepec. We said goodbye to Julia the night before as we had to be up before sunrise.

Waiting to board the bus to Puebla before the sun even came up.

Waiting to board the bus to Puebla before the sun even came up.

We tucked our bags in the cargo area under the bus and staggered sleepily to our seats. The bus ride was short, only 3 hours, but it was still enough time to take a siesta. I closed my eyes and the next time I opened them the bus was pulling into the terminal in Puebla. As I rubbed my sleepy eyes and gazed out the window I was shocked at the sheer magnitude of the station. It was as though we had arrived at an airport, with terminals and buses criss crossing in all directions.

We grabbed our bags following the steady stream of travelers to the exit and jumped in a taxi to the zócalo, located in the historic center. Our check in time was 3pm, so we passed a few hours grabbing some food and sitting under the large trees of the main square. We were able to find a tourist office across from the zócalo where we grabbed a map and went over the various attractions to see over our short three day stay in Puebla.

A balloon vendor wanders through the zócalo.

A balloon vendor wanders through the zócalo.

The impressive Cathedral, across from the zócalo, was constructed from 1575-1690. It's two towers are the tallest in Mexico at 226ft.

The impressive Cathedral, across from the zócalo, was constructed from 1575-1690. It’s two towers are the tallest in Mexico at 226ft.

A street lining the zócalo with its ornate stone Palacio Municipal (town hall.)

A street lining the zócalo with its ornate stone Palacio Municipal (town hall.)

Cinco de Mayo, a street made for walking, named after the day on which the victorious battle of independence against the french in Puebla took place.

Cinco de Mayo, a street made for walking, named after the day on which the victorious battle of independence against the french in Puebla took place.

When it was nearly 3pm we made our way to our hotel, Casa Reyna, a gorgeous boutique hotel. We decided to treat ourselves to a nice place for a few days and were we ever happy with our decision. The spacious rooms, with handmade wood furniture and egyptian cotton sheets was above and beyond what we hoping for. The location was also fantastic, only a short walk from the zócalo, which made for easy access to all that Puebla has to offer.

One of the many beautifully tiled buildings in Puebla, that we passed on our way to the hotel.

One of the many beautifully tiled buildings in Puebla, that we passed on our way to the hotel.

Our hotel in Puebla, Casa Reyna.

Our hotel in Puebla, Casa Reyna.

Our luxurious hotel room.

Our luxurious hotel room.

Puebla, the capital of the state of Puebla, is the largest city we would visit on our trip with a population of nearly 2 million (Vancouver’s population is about 600,000 for perspective). To be honest we were a bit nervous going to Puebla with our aversion of cities, but based on our first impressions we were pleasantly surprised. The city had a very relaxed feel and a great layout making it easy to get around. The electrical wires were all underground, there was no garbage to be seen, the parks were lush and green and the architecture was stunning. We were looking forward to exploring the streets of Puebla before heading back to Oaxaca.

A home in the hills of Coatepec

Throughout our time in Coatepec we had enjoyed the company of Paulina, the young artist who was house sitting the for our host our first weekend in Coatepec. Since our host Julia had returned we had seen Paulina a few times and her mother, Mercedes had come to the house a few times to have coffee with Julia. They insisted that we should make the treck into the hillside to visit their home.

We made the arrangements for Paulina to pick us up in the afternoon of our last day in Coatepec and she would drive us to her family home where would be treated to a feast of home made sushi. Although Mercedes likes mexican food, she has a passion for international cooking, and we were excited to have a taste of sushi in Mexico.

We picked up a few other friends along the way and squished six of us into a car smaller than my mini cooper. We drove into the hills, and eventually Paulina asked the four of us sitting in the back seat to walk the rest of the way, as the little car would likely give out if it had to carry all six of us on the last steep leg of the journey. It was a steep but short walk on a little dirt road. We passed a man milking a cow, walked through a coffee plantation, and passed a large field of potatoes (unfortunately covered in pesticides and herbicides) before we arrived at their gorgeous hillside home.

Adrian and one of the large dogs at the entrance of the house.

Adrian and one of the large dogs at the entrance of the house.

So happy to be in the hills.

So happy to be in the hills.

We were greeted by their three large dogs that nearly knocked us down with their excitement. The home was open and airy, a beautiful setting for a feast. Mercedes and a friend were preparing the sushi, filled with imitation crab, avocado and cream cheese (Adrian’s without the cheese of course).  The sushi was uniquely Mercedes, it was rich and flavourful, a welcomed vegetarian meal. A large group of us, a mix of family and friends, sat around the large dining room table chatting laughing and eating together. We devoured the sushi and a large salad of spinach like greens, with sliced apples and a sweet yet tangy dressing.

The kitchen and large table around which we all came together to feast with friends.

The kitchen and large table around which we all came together to feast with friends.

The living room of Mercede's home.

The living room of Mercede’s home.

A bright green church in the distance. The lush hills surrounding the home.

A bright green church in the distance. The lush hills surrounding the home.

After the meal we went outside to take in the view and Paulina showed us around. Their yard was home to many edible treasures, peach trees, macadamia nut trees, coffee plants, papaya trees, to name a few. After the tour we all gathered once again around the large table to indulge in a rich, moist chocolate cake and hot Coatepec coffee.

A ripe coffee bean squeezed out from its bright red pulpy exterior. The gooey pulp cover the bean was very sweet.

A ripe coffee bean squeezed out from its bright red pulpy exterior. The gooey pulp cover the bean was very sweet.

Their sleepy cat yawning, looks rather diabolical.

Their sleepy cat yawning, looks rather diabolical.

Paulina with machetes chopping wood for a fire, which we could not stay for due to our early morning departure the next day.

Paulina with machetes chopping wood for a fire, which we could not stay for due to our early morning departure the next day.

We had a bus to catch at 6:30am the following morning so Mercedes kindly drove us back to Julia’s house just before dark so we could pack and get a good night’s rest. We are so grateful to have met such wonderful people in Coatepec. They graciously welcomed us into their homes and treated us like family. We will forever have fond memories of their friendship and kindness.

El Menú: Comida corrida

In Mexico there are many small hole in the wall, out of the living room, type restaurants which offer comida corrida, mid day economical hot lunches. The set menus are generally scribbled on a paper or verbally listed off at the table, as they change daily. These meals usually include soup, main dish, desert and a pitcher of agua fresca (fresh fruit flavoured water), usually for around 30-60 pesos (ie. under $5). We had eaten at many places offering comida corridas and have found they were some of our favourite meals. Not only are they super affordable but they are what I would refer to as good homestyle cooking, no fancy plating, no waiters standing in corners waiting to take your plate away, just simple food done right served by the women who actually prepare the food.

In Coatepec El Menú was recommended to us as a great spot to grab a comida corrida. We saw the sign hanging in a doorway and entered into a courtyard. We were slightly confused at first, with no signs of a restaurant, but we glanced to the right where an oversized fork and spoon hung above a staircase. We took that as a sign and walked up the stairs. At the top, we found the typical set up of plastic tables and chairs and a group of chattering women chopping vegetables and stirring large hot pots waiting for the lunch rush. It was slightly earlier than the typical lunch time (usually between 2-4pm) so the restaurant was empty but the ladies happily welcomed us in and told us to sit wherever we liked. We choose a table with an amazing view and placed our order of two comida corridas.

El Menú "food for health conscious people"

El Menú: Alimentos para Personas que cuidan su salud “food for health conscious people”

Adrian standing beneath the oversized cutlery hanging in the stairwell which led to the restaurant.

Adrian standing beneath the oversized cutlery hanging in the stairwell which led to the restaurant.

The view from our table.

The view from our table.

A pitcher of agua de naranja (water flavoured with orange juice) was brought to our table soon after followed by hot steaming bowls of vegetables in a consomme broth. Vegetables were something we had be longing for. After the soup, came a salad of shredded cabbage and carrots with a wonderfully simple tangy, peppery dressing. For the main dish we had chicken cutlet in a curry sauce. We were not expecting much from a curry in mexico, but were pleasantly surprised as the yellow aromatic sauce was a welcomed change to the typical mexican fair. We were both rather full when our desert arrived, large pieces of pineapple embedded in gelatine, it was cold and refreshing (and dairy free – unusual for a mexican desert and good news for Adrian).

Vegetables in a flavourful broth.

Vegetables in a flavourful broth.

The chicken curry, a deceivingly unappealing photo, but we insist that the flavours were wonderful.

The chicken curry, a deceivingly unappealing photo, but we insist that the flavours were wonderful.

Throughout our meal we had been snapping photos and the lady who was serving us took notice. She told us that if we wanted she would let us up onto the rooftop as the views were spectacular. We were so delighted by her hospitality and kindness as we followed her up the narrow staircase where she unlocked the door which led to the rooftop. She stuck around for a few minutes pointing out some landmarks and other interesting sights and then left us to take photos giving a quick explanation of how to lock the door on our way down.

Photo op on the rooftop.

Photo op on the rooftop.

A church on the corner.

A church on the corner.

The terra cotta tiled roofs hanging over the street below.

The terra cotta tiled roofs hanging over the street below.

The colours and hillside of Coatepec.

The colours and hillside of Coatepec.

When we got back to the house we explained to our host, Julia, how wonderful we thought El Menú was and how kind the ladies were for letting us out onto the rooftop. She was glad to hear we had enjoyed ourselves, as it is a place that her and her friends frequent, and she was surprised to hear about our great photo opportunity as she had never received such an invite. This was one of our best eating experiences, the delicious food, prepared with love in a setting that felt almost like a grandmother’s kitchen, we highly recommend El Menú.

The best cazuela

Making our way back from the coffee museum, we could smell the blissful aroma of garlic and seafood. We literally followed our noses to a small comedor (eatery) where we didn’t hesitate to sit down. It was a simple hole in the wall type of place (perhaps even a living room of a home) where a few plastic tables were set up, all but one occupied

Once seated, the lady working the hot comal came over and listed they days offerings. She spoke quickly with words we did not recognize, except for camarón (shrimp), so we just said yes to that dish not knowing what we had ordered. She asked us a few other things that went right over our heads and we replied “sí” to all of them (that is my motto, when in doubt just say yes – what’s the worst that could happen).

A few minutes later we had a pitcher of agua de jamaica, and two large bowls of steamy soup sitting in front of us. The caldo (broth) of spicy, smokey tomatoes with remnants of chilis and huge shrimp floating around was among the best we have ever had.

Cazuela de camarones. The wonderfully aromatic and spicy shrimp soup that filled our bellies and made us sweat.

Caldo de camarones. The wonderfully aromatic and spicy shrimp soup that filled our bellies and made us sweat.

A constant flow of hand-made, hot off-the-comal tortillas were brought to our table as we were rendered blissfully overjoyed by the perfectly balanced cazuela. When we were done we thanked the lady and told her how much we loved her food in the best spanish we could muster up. She seemed to understand, possibly telling us that the recipe was her own. She smiled and thanked us as we walked away.