In Mexico, once we've rung in the New Year, the next party is ordinarily for Los Reyes Magos--the Three Kings--on January 6, their feast day. The photo above shows the traditional Mexican Rosca de Reyes (Kings' Bread) that is eaten (accompanied by a cup or two of delicious Mexican hot chocolate) at just about every table in the country on that day. The sweet, rich dough is rolled into an oval or a ring and then decorated with sugar, ates of various flavors (similar to fruit leather), nuts, and then baked. So what's the big deal? Inside the dough, bakers hide a tiny figure of the Niño Dios (Baby Jesus). There's great hilarity as the rosca is sliced: who will get the muñeco (little figure)? The person who finds the baby in his or her slice is required to throw another party on Candelaria (Candlemas Day), February 2: tamales and atole (a thick, sweet corn-based drink) for everyone! February 2 is the official end of the Christmas season in Mexico.
February took Mexico Cooks! to Oaxaca, invited to the wedding of dear friends Diana Miller and Adán Paredes. The wedding festivities lasted three days--we don't do things by half here!--and the guests still sigh and smile when we think or talk about the event's joyous beauty. The civil ceremony was a marvelous cocktail party and opportunity to socialize with everyone; the morning of the spiritual ceremony, Mexico Cooks! gave two Oaxaca market tours to guests from northern Mexico. Later that afternoon, a traditional Zapotec chamán and his wife presided over the spiritual ceremony (followed by all-night dining and dancing!), and the third day we toured with the wedding party to a market south of Oaxaca city and then shared a joyous meal at the ever-marvelous restaurant La Teca. It was only February, but we knew that no other event on the 2015 calendar would come close to matching this thrilling weekend.
March found Mexico Cooks! at Pujol, Enrique Olvera's flagship restaurant in Mexico City. Invited by a serious lover of food in all its aspects, we were not disappointed. In fact, we were overwhelmed by everything about our meal: the room, the service, and most of all, the food. There was no room at all for improvement: everything we experienced was perfect.
In April, we were back at Jing Teng, our favorite Chinese restaurant in all of Mexico. Yes: not just Mexico City, but the entire country. The photo shows perfectly cooked gai lan (Chinese broccoli) with garlic, one of the you-absolutely-gotta-get-it dishes on the menu.
Morelia en Boca, an international food and wine festival, takes place in Morelia, Michoacán on the last weekend of each May, and we were there. This fish is a pejelagarto, an enormous fish found primarily in the Mexican state of Tabasco. Look at its needle-teeth! The pejelagarto has no scales; its skin is like a suit of armor. This section of the fish was about one-third of its length; it measured between three and four feet long. World-acclaimed chef Aquiles Chávez brought this giant animal from Tabasco and cooked it (turning it with a broomstick rammed down its throat, all the way to the other end) over an open fire on the festival stage! The demonstration conference also included Rosalba Morales Bartolo of San Jerónimo Purenchécuaro, Michoacán, who prepared her famously delicious charales (fish as tiny as the pejelagarto is huge) in the style her grandmother taught her. This was without doubt the single best food conference I have ever attended; the skill, knowledge, and sense of humor on the part of both participants combined to receive a standing ovation at conference end.
June (and every other month of the year) took Mexico Cooks! on tour with various groups from the United States, Canada, and other countries from around the world. This pork butcher's sign is always a favorite photo opportunity: unsuspecting little pig mariachis sing for somebody's supper!
An old friend, visiting me in Mexico City, was as interested as I in visiting the church of San Hipólito, in Mexico City's Centro Histórico. The 28th of each month, Masses are offered all day in honor of San Judas Tadeo. My friend and I were there on July 28, among a crowd that numbered in the thousands. On San Judas Tadeo's actual October feast day, the crowds number in the hundreds of thousands.
The Primer Encuentro Nacional de Cocineras Tradicionales (first national reunion of traditional cooks) in Morelia, Michoacán, in August 2015 brought together home cooks from 25 of the 31 Mexican states--plus the Federal District. Many of us who attended are long-time friends who see one another only occasionally. This memorable photo includes (L to R): Celia Florián from Oaxaca, Alma Cervantes Cota from Sinaloa and currently living in Mexico City, Susana Trilling of Seasons of My Heart cooking school in Oaxaca, Mexico Cooks!, and Calletana Nambo from Erongarícuaro, Michoacán. We spent hours around that table, eating, drinking mezcal, and gossiping catching up with one another.
The rainy season in central Mexico begins in mid-May and lasts until the beginning of November. During that time, wild mushrooms spring up in Mexico's oak and pine forests, especially in the more mountainous states. This vendor, who was too busy selling on this September day to tell me her name, brought mushrooms that she and her family foraged to sell in Mexico City's markets. Fresh chanterelles, boletes, and morels make up most of her wares. I bought a pound of fresh morels (approximately 80 pesos, or $4.50USD), gave half to my neighbor, and made a pasta sauce of the rest. Click on the photo to enlarge it and better see the mushrooms.
In late October we were in Quiroga, Michoacán, for carnitas. These, from a street stand under the traffic light downtown, are in my opinion the best carnitas in town. The vendor gave us this taco as a taste--just to see if we'd like what he was selling. Yes, it was exactly as enormous as it looks. And yes, we bought another half-kilo of carnitas to share among our group. The carnitas come with fresh tortillas, limones, and several kinds of salsas. Soft drinks and aguas frescas are available at a booth near your communal-seating outdoor table, and someone will come by your table to ask if you want to buy a cupful of guacamole. Yes, you do.
October gets two mentions! Suzanne Cope and her family came to Mexico City in the early Fall to tour with Mexico Cooks!. This sweet toddler is her son Rocco, who fell in love with a pig head at one of Mexico City's best markets. Who knows, you might fall in love with a pig head too!
A friend from Washington, D.C., ordered this bowl of crema de flor de calabaza at Restaurante Azul/Histórico in Mexico City in mid-November. She graciously let me taste it. This cream soup was without question one of the best I've ever tasted. Our waiter told us that each bowl contains 18 squash flowers plus the one used as decoration. Did you know that only male squash blossoms are harvested for food? The female blossoms are left on the vines to allow squash to form.
Just in case you might think that Mexico Cooks! never cooks at home: a December dish of beautiful shrimp muenìere, served over fettucine.
Where will we travel and what will we eat in 2016? You're welcome to come along, whether to a market, a restaurant, or an exciting festival in Mexico City, Michoacán, or Oaxaca. Mexico City, just named the top travel destination in the world by the New York Times, is waiting for you. When you're ready to visit, Mexico Cooks! will gladly show you all the hot spots.
Looking for a tailored-to-your-interests specialized tour in Mexico? Click here: Tour