Beyond Mexican Flavors: Chef Palak Tastes Around Mexico City
If you’ve heard about the allure of Mexico City, I’m here to tell you that it’s absolutely worth all the hype. What I thought I knew about Mexico was just scratching the surface—I was not prepared for the vibrant sights, sounds and smells I would experience and fall in love with.
I was afforded a unique perspective during my visit because I toured the city with one of my good friends, who is Mexican and provided me with insider insight into the beautiful culture there. I knew I wanted to try some of the fine dining restaurants, but I was enamored with eating Mexican street food, like a local. Most of us in the United States think of Mexican food as tacos, enchiladas, nachos and margaritas. Well, you won’t find any of those in Mexico! Instead, you’ll find intricate dishes full of exotic ingredients and layered with flavor and tradition.
Street food in Mexico City is like nothing else. Picture little carts lining the street, doling out just-made delights. One of my new personal favorites: tlacoyo, oval-shaped blue corn cakes, grilled and stuffed with beans, meat or even cactus. Each cart has a rainbow array of fresh and spicy salsas, which you help yourself to out of buckets. The combination of the crispy corn cake against the tangy salsa as you eat under the hot sun is unmatchable.
For fine dining, we visited Quintonil, where Jorge Vallejo and Alejandra Flores served up creative and exquisitely delicious twists on signature Mexican dishes. I found it helped to have my friend with me to help me understand their interpretations of the classics. We enjoyed shrimp flautas with squash blossom, a gourmet twist on a very traditional dish. I would recommend starting with traditional street food in Mexico City, then to go and try a gourmet adaptation. What you prefer is all a matter of perspective.
After spending a week in Mexico City, we traveled to Puebla, the birthplace of mole. The mole we’re all familiar with is mole poblano, made from dried chilies, chocolate, seeds and spices, but there are many more variations to try. I experienced seven different types of mole during my time in Puebla, each unique and bursting with complex flavor. I loved the mole pipián verde, with pumpkin seeds, tomatoes, green chiles, herbs and spices, and the mole pipián rojo, with peanuts, tomatoes, dried chiles and spices. I also enjoyed mole adobo, a very traditional recipe of dried chiles and spices that gives the dish a unique texture and toasted, spicy flavor. Finally, mole manchamanteles was a refreshing blend of chile, guajillo chilies, apples, pineapples, bananas, seeds and spices. It was truly mole magic in Puebla.
What I thought I knew about Mexico was just scratching the surface—I was not prepared for the vibrant sights, sounds and smells I would experience and fall in love with.
My next stop was Oaxaca, which is famous for its buttery, almost mozzarella-like cheese, and of course, mezcal. The cuisine in Oaxaca is quite different than that of Mexico City, but you can be sure it’s just as delicious. You’ll find chocolate, tamales and even grasshoppers in many dishes—and the locals are very proud of the flavors they have been bringing to their cooking for generations. I was lucky enough to meet with local mezcal makers to see the intricacy of the craft. Drinking mezcal straight, not mixed in a fruity cocktail, allowed me to truly appreciate the product, tasting the tierra from the smoking and fermentation process. Salud!
Hungry for more? Book your trip to Mexico City (and beyond) and get ready for the flavor ride of your life.
Born in India and raised in Atlanta, Chef Palak Patel grew up surrounded by traditional Indian cuisine. As her love of all things culinary expanded, she experimented with food, marrying the flavors of her native country with those of her adopted one. Her zest for travel further broadened her flavor palate as she globe-trotted, feasting on everything from local street food to la haute gastronomie. Palak shares these experiences as a TV personality, writer and one of the food industry’s newest and sassiest rising stars, gaining critical acclaim from victories in shows like Chopped and Beat Bobby Flay on Food Network. Palak also battled it out against 24 other seasoned chefs in the Sears Chef’s Challenge, winning $20,000 for the Los Angeles Food Bank. Palak has been a guest on multiple Food Network shows, Marie Claire’s The Fix and Bravo’s Blood, Sweat and Heels. She has been featured in Chicago Tribune, Los Angeles Times and India Abroad, and is a regular food and travel contributor to Table Magazine. Palak also has partnered with high-profile brands such as BMW and Barclays to curate menus for large events, HelloFresh as a guest chef and Mashable about creating a personal brand. Learn more, and contact us to book Chef Palak Patel.