You cannot make everybody happy, you are not a taco.Everyone
Again with the tour!
Like I said in a previous post, I am not a big fan of the tour. It isn’t because I hate learning about different cultures and history; it isn’t because I feel like I know it all. It is because I feel like you don’t get to know the culture of a place. But like any wandering soul, you sometimes have to be open to the possibilities of tours that aren’t bad, and sometimes you find one that pushes you out of your comfort zone and allows you to get on street level with the people.
That is why I travel…to experience things I don’t experience at home.
The last night I was in Mexico, I willingly signed us up for a tour. But it was the promise of tacos that became a beacon for me. Try three types of tacos and a Mezcal tasting. So I couldn’t say no.
Viator runs the tour. This tour had us exploring the neighborhood of Colonia Narvarte. Our tour guide was a chef, born and raised in the area we were going to be exploring, and the whole thing was to introduce us to the wonderful food culture of Mexico.
We arrived to meet our tour guide at the first stop. La Costilla, a local taqueria (a Mexican restaurant specializing in tacos), reminded me of something out of Dinners, Dives, and Drive-in. Basically mind-blowing food, not so much on the decor.
The tour was small; there were seven of us all together. Two couples (other than Aimee and I) and one loner who had a layover in Mexico City and thought, why not.
All the food and drinks are paid for, and each stop showcases its local treats and drinks. After we met our tour guide (I think his name was Victor, but I could be wrong), we sat down for the first course. Fried Tacos, meat, and salsa.
Part of the tour’s magic is that you get a background on what you are eating, and our first stop was as basic as tacos get. This is the real deal, what tacos were before they blew up in popularity and everyone started having their version. The place has been serving food since the 1970s, and the same family owns it.
We also got to try the local juice, a mixture of passion fruit, mangos, oranges, and something else I couldn’t pronounce.
While we snacked down, Adrian told us about himself on the tour. The tour was five stops and a tour of the Narvarte neighborhood. Three of those stops were tacos, one was a cantina, and the last was going to be Mezcal.
Adrain is a chef. If you ever want to know if the person you are sitting next to is chef, look for a tattoo of some cooking utensils. It is usually a knife of some sort, but I have also seen whisks and spoons. Unless for religious purposes, most chefs have their favorite cooking gadgets or food tattooed somewhere on their bodies. Victor had a cleaver on his forearm. I shocked him when I asked, what style of chef are you? It turns out Mexican and Italian are his specialties, and he is married to a baker.
His life story was he traveled a lot as a chef…including in the Middle East and Europe. He came home because he missed the food, was somewhat retired, and now either led people around Mexico on food tours or helped his wife.
He also warned us to pace ourselves; we had a lot to eat.
The next stop was Los Cuates Saloon, a cantina – which is like a local bar. Most Cantinas have a special food or drink. The food isn’t what draws people; it’s the drink. The more you drink, the more food you get (and sometimes the better). Cantinas are part of the culture. Most Mexicans have their Cantina that they frequent, and most celebrations include a trip to their Cantina. Getting married – stop by for a drink. You turn the drinking age; your parents take you to theirs to introduce you and get you drunk.
We had a beer cocktail (it was refreshing) and some beef broth soup that was good. I would have liked to have more, but the night was young and had more to concur.
Our third stop was Mecauto, a mechanic shop by day and a tacos al pastor shop by night. This style of tacos was first introduced by the Lebanese immigrants who realized that spit cook meat is just as good on a taco as it was on a pitta.
The spit master (I am not sure how to pronounce it in Spanish) spends years training to rotate the meat just right, and Mexican foodies follow different Spit Masters.
The Spit Master is responsible for packing, seasoning, and spinning (cooking) the meat. He spends years as an apprentice before it’s his/her turn on the meat. Long hours and poor pay, but it is considered a very respectable job.
The ones we got to try had a slice of pineapple to give them some sweetness. The Spit Master would crave the meat and cut off a slice of the pineapple on top of the spit.
A mark of a good taco place was standing room only, and this place was packed.
We were allowed to have as many tacos as we wanted before it was time to journey to our next place, which was in the middle of the street. Because of this, no alcohol was served in the middle of the street in Mexico, just water and coke.
Tacos Tony sat in the medium of the street and was standing room only – they didn’t have chairs.
This place was one of the newer styles of tacos and was open 23/7 – they shut down only for an hour at 7 am to clean the place. The meat is roasted in a massive pan for hours and served with baby onions and fresh greens.
This one was my favorite. The meat was so juicy and tender and just melted in my mouth.
And then it was onto our last top…the Mezcal tasting. Mezcal is much like the outlaw version of tequila.
Where tequila is tamed and regulated, Mezcal, at least good Mezcal, is not. It’s wild for two reasons. First, the agave plant must be at least 6 years old and not be allowed to hit purity (start to flower). The second is that this version of the agave plant is only wild and loses its flavor if it is domesticated.
So as the Mezcal Master, you have your plants growing out in the wild, and you go to them to take care of them.
Afterward, the Mezcal Master cooks the juices, adds his spices, and wala, you have Artisan Mezcal (the good stuff).
Mezcal fans follow the master, not the label, and each time you buy a bottle, you are not exactly sure what you are getting.
So our last stop was a local restaurant that serves artisan Mezcal. And we got to try some different masters, along with snacks, including guacamole-filled chips with grasshoppers (it wasn’t too bad, a little on the salty side).
To be considered good Mezcal and not the shit stuff they sell at the airport.
The label must have the name of the master, the type of plant, when the plant was harvested when it was fermented, and the number of bottles produced.
To buy it, you must know someone who knows someone; basically, this stuff is sold off a truck behind an alley.
A little on the sketchy side, but if you are a fan totally worth losing a kidney over.
And full, patricianly drunk, and now understanding more about tacos, Mezcal, and cantinas.
We also learned you could never trust a Mexican or a Mexican Restaurant regarding salsa and sauces, and they don’t follow any rules either.
The tour I took was called Narvarte at Night; Tacos, Chelas & Mezcal, and Viator runs it.
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