Districo Federal

Eating abroad is naturally more stimulating because of the undeniable appeal of the unknown. Yelp-researched domestic eating cannot contend. Back home you may try a new flavor of ice cream one day or get pizza with a new topping the next- but for the most part you have a healthy idea of what you're about to experience. In foreign countries it's a new ballgame each and every time you wander up to a new street vendor. It's this which keeps me curious. Order up.

The catch is once you've experienced really, really excellent fresh food you become aware of that level. And if that level is incredible high like ramen in Japan or Mi Quang in Viet Nam then you're just not going to be satisfied eating said meal anywhere else. It can be a very good plate of pad siew or an expertly charred slab of naan- but the very best of the best is something that can't be shaken easily from your memory. I'm still haunted by the Cam Ranh Banh Mi- and that was almost 5 years ago. I can now add tortillas to the list of foods I no longer view the same. This recent 5 day jaunt to Mexico has me re-evaluating the humble corn patty and it's ability to inspire awe. Sure I've had fresh tortillas many times before- and I'm blessed to live in an area full of Mexican eating options but...just tasting how they do it south of the border changed me. I'm born again. In the form of maĆ­z.

The average Mexican eats around 170 pounds of tortillas a year. And when you're feeding 123 million every day they have to be done right. There's no other option. And they are. Boy, they fu*king are. Before I wax on about the beauties of griddled tortillas or deep fried quesadillas or bean-stuffed tlacoyos let's talk about the building block of one of the world's most dynamic and diverse cuisines.


The cement. The foundation. Like rice in Japan or Tomatoes in Italy you simply can't produce quality comestibles without the proper base. Please stop it with the store-bought tortillas or even dried maseca. Just stop. Real food deserves more respect than that. A Mexican eating an industrial, preservative laden tortilla is like an American eating a frozen hamburger or farmed fish from Thailand. Wait...we do that. Damnit. Well in other countries they actually like to eat fresh food that is made from..food (that is until McDonalds arrives). It's quite the fascinating concept.

Masa is traditionally made from corn kernals soaked in calcium hydroxide. This diluted solution is highly alkaline (opposite of acidic) and breaks down the structure of the corn, making it maleable. After the corn has been soaked and rinsed thoroughly it's ground into a dough (masa) and off it goes to feed the country. Stuffed with meats, steamed inside banana leaves or flattened and puffed up on a screaming hot comal. 

Let's see what they do with it.

Tacos Campechanos. A Districo Federal street-side favorite. Essentially combination tacos- above we have suadero (a braised beef cut from the underside of the cow similar to brisket) and longaniza (pork and beef sausage with a touch of heat) nestled in between tortillas. 

Mexico city wakes up late. Food stands and restaurants generally didn't open until 10, and Mexicans eat their lunch in the afternoon. It's kind of odd. In Asia you generally have different foods for different times of the day- but Mexico City has tacos around the clock. 

A taquero with his bubbling vat of pork and beef. Chicken breast and tofu didn't quite make the cut.

So first off some distinct differences between eating tacos in the states vs. eating tacos in Mexico City. In D.F. the tortillas are not only fresher, but thinner and smaller. This makes a 5 tacos sampler snack just that..a snack. The tortillas are delicate, light and provide just the right amount of starch to cradle the ounce or so of meat tucked inside. These aren't massive meat mountains like many stateside tacos. 

This isn't to say Mexicans don't eat large portions. They haven't become the most obese nation on earth from copious cabbage salad consumption. If we weren't walking 12-15 miles a day during our trip the never-ending onslaught of cheesy, deep-fried, stoner-approved delights would have taken a toll. I can see how the locals acquire that shape. And no, we ain't talking hourglass.

Taqueros either rock the vat (as seen above) or comal de bola (round pan with a raised, bulbous interior for griddling tortillas) for cooking meat. The outside of the comal de bola becomes a meat juice moat where sausage and intestine drippings coexist harmoniously. Many of these stands have their own specialty. For the most part, Tacos de Carnitas taco stands sell carnitas exclusively. The same goes for Tacos de Birria, or Barbacoa or Al Pastor. The master focuses on his meat and does it well. You reap the benefits for a handful of pesos. Everybody wins.

Tacos De Canasta. The tortillas are first lightly fried in a chorizo-infused oil, filled with pork, potatoes or beans and left to steam inside of a towel-lined basket. Soft, gooey and greasy. It has that microwaved pizza chewy texture- and that is absolutely a compliment. Blue collar, pocket change eating at it's finest.

Barbacoa Taco. Slow-cooked lamb (or goat) atop a griddled blue corn tortilla. Tough to imagine three better bites than this.

Pambazo. Check this one out: They dip the bread in chili sauce before griddling it, then stuff it with potatoes, chorizo, lettuce and queso fresco. The bread is light and slighly crisp from the frying- with a touch of char. Note the piggy bank tip jar in the background- nearly every vendor in the city has one. Tip your waitress! We couldn't finish the mammoth bottle of cokeFortunately.

Quesadilla De Flor de Calabaza (squash blossom).

Mexico City doesn't have the night markets of Taiwan or the sheer density of street food served from 7AM thru midnight like Ho Chi Minh City, so if you'd like to put together an impromptu food crawl your best bet is to comb the streets surrounding markets. We decided upon this quesadilla stand outside of the Mercado de la Merced- although there were easily 50 different edible options to choose from. Packed stall + melted cheese + plastic tub of masa.

Tostada de Pulpo. Sometimes you just need a little bit of octopus to wash down all that pork.

Better yet, how about a Michelada.

Most D.F. rendition of this beer cocktail were simply lime juice and salt added to your cerveza. This michelada at Mercado De La Merced was full of piss and vinegar- in the form of chili powder and hot sauce.

Stay Picante.


mina said...

good post. i'm so jealous of your invincible gut.

DLB said...

the pambazo looks very interesting. our masa moment is yet to come

joe said...

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Joe Pinzone
Casting Producer
P: 212-231-7716
Skype: Joefromnyc


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