When you think of national parks, what comes first to your mind? Smokey the Bear? That cute forest ranger in khaki shorts who showed you how to pitch your tent? Hungry campers 'round the fire, waiting for hotdogs? Next time you think "national park", think La Marquesa in the State of Mexico (affectionately known as Edomex). And forget about forest rangers, tents, bears, and hotdogs. Instead, think about homey fonda-style restaurants lining both sides of the highway.
Watch for the sign on the south side of the cuota--you'll love the place.
For more than 30 years, Mexico Cooks! has bused to and from Mexico City, first on the old two-lane highways and then on the super-duper toll highway called the autopista. Either way, the road meanders between the city of Toluca and the Distrito Federal, passing through Parque Nacional Miguel Hidalgo y Costilla. The park is affectionately known as La Marquesa, and its natural wonders are an enormous tourist attraction.
Guisado de chicharrón prensado (a stew-like dish made of the compressed crunchy bits left after frying pork skins), ready to be served at Cabaña Carmelita. It was truly hard to choose among all of the wonderful offerings. We wanted one of everything.
Mountains, waterfalls, and green pine forests are one thing: what called my attention every single time the bus passed through the park were the colorful restaurants framing two sides of the roadway. But sadly enough, the bus hurtling along never stopped for food. Think thirty years of unsatisfied craving!
About a year ago, it suddenly occurred to me that I was familiar enough with getting around in Mexico City that I could drive to and--oh, the daring thought!--in this city of nearly 25,000,000 people. And if I played my cards right, I could time the trip to arrive at La Marquesa just in time for comida, Mexico's main meal of the day. My compañera, our two little dogs, and I left Morelia at eleven o'clock in the morning with happy plans for our lunch break at one of the La Marquesa fondas.
But which one! The little restaurants line up one after another like tempting booths at a state fair, colorful and filled with promise. Look, this one advertises rabbit! And that one has delicate escamoles (ant eggs)! And then we noticed La Cabaña Carmelita, with pambazos (iconic Mexico City-style sandwiches) blazened prominently on its placards. The thought of pambazos enticed us in, but even though we found out that there were no pambazos that day, the rest of the menu made us stay.
Sopa de hongos (mushroom soup), served with a piece of crunchy chicharrón and a lime to squeeze into the broth. Steaming hot, loaded with big pieces and strips of setas (a kind of mushroom), and deliciously spicy, this mushroom soup is a far cry from your Mom's can of Campbell's.
A quesadilla con pollo (quesadilla with shredded chicken). The serving was enormous: it consisted of a huge blue corn tortilla covered with shredded chicken, melted soft cheese, shredded hard cheese, and a salsa picante, plus a salad of sliced ripe tomatoes and cucumbers.
A tlacoyo con frijolitos y queso (an oval tortilla, in this case made of blue corn, stuffed to bursting with refried beans and cheese), accompanied by a big clay mug of café de olla (cinnamon-spiced coffee).
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