The man who operates this cart in Mexico City's Centro Histórico (Historic Center) wheels his baked plátanos y camotes (bananas and sweet potatoes) around during the day. In residential areas, when downtown businesses are closed, you are most likely to hear the steam whistle's raucously loud and high-pitched TWEEEEEEEEEEET during mid-to-late evening hours. Each plateful is either a roasted banana or sweet potato dripping with sweetened condensed milk. Click to enlarge the photo for a better look at the front of the vehicle, where the bananas and sweet potatoes are kept warm over the cart's firebox.
Cena (supper) in Mexico is a mixed bag. For an ordinary cena at home, it's a tiny meal: a cup of hot chocolate or hot milk, a pan dulce (sweet bread), or a quick taco made with what's left over from comida (the main meal of the day). Comida being the large meal that it usually is, cena is meant only to tide you over from just before bedtime till early the next morning.
If you're out partying till the wee hours, a few tacos al pastor (shepherd-style marinated pork tacos) on the street might be just the ticket for your cena. Note the whole pineapple at the top of the trompo (vertical spit). The pineapple cooks along with the meat--see the gas grate behind the cone of meat?--and the taquero (taco cook) tosses a few small sweet slices into your grill-warmed tortilla. Top with red or green salsa, a pinch of sea salt, and a shower of minced onion and cilantro for a taste of heaven.
Buñuelos are another favorite food for cena, either eaten at a cenaduría (supper spot) or purchased from a street vendor. Some people still make them at home--the dough is very similar to that of a wheat flour tortilla, stretched over the round bottom of a clay pot till thin. Traditionally, the dough is stretched over the maker's knee to achieve each buñuelo's large size and round shape! They are usually served either whole and dusted with granulated sugar or broken into pieces in a bowl and drizzled with piloncillo (brown sugar) syrup.
Just as an aside: in addition to cena, some people in Mexico still partake of merienda, a light snack that can come sometime between comida and cena. This 'light snack' can be as simple as a couple of cookies and a cup of té de manzanilla (chamomile tea) or it can be a more complex offering similar to an English tea. Mexico Cooks! will leave the question of how to find stomach room for merienda up to you.
Not all food eaten for cena is sweet. Case in point: this Pátzcuaro, Michoacán specialty is atole de grano, a savory corn soup that's colored and flavored with anise. In the evening, two women sell this heavenly soup on Pátzcuaro's small plaza. Let's go right now!
The 1826 Restaurant at the Rosewood Hotel in San Miguel de Allende, Guanajuato, is an enticing spot for cena whether it's a romantic evening for you and your main squeeze or whether you are supping with a group of friends.
Several years ago, Mexico Cooks! and a group of friends attended a gala Valentine's Day cena at Restaurante Los Danzantes in Coyoacán, Mexico City. The dinner was presented by Cynthia Martínez and a team from Restaurante San Miguelito of Morelia, Michoacán.
If you are invited to a cena baile (dinner dance) or a cena de gala (black tie dinner)at a restaurant, events center, or private home, your hosts will pull out all the stops. Champagne, beautiful entradas (appetizers), a superb multi-course meal, snazzy dessert, alcoholic beverages and music are de rigeur.
Mexico Cooks! researches possibilities for an elegant cena at Restaurante JASO, Colonia Polanco, Mexico City. It's a tough job, but somebody has to do it.
Expect to gussy up in your elegant best when you are out for a special cena. From left to right: (standing) Lucero García, (seated) Mexico Cooks!, fabulous and celebrated chef Aquiles Chávez, and Aliz Reyes at a superb and festive cena in Morelia, in honor of Diana Kennedy.
From street tacos to stilettos and tuxedos, cena in Mexico will keep you going till morning. Provecho!
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