Saturday, December 26, 2015

Lost in Mexico City? Not any more!

I returned last night from five weeks of travel abroad. Santa gave me a Christmas present on the return flight from Madrid--a whole empty row all to myself!

But I got another great present this year from a fellow traveller I met in Bangkok. He told me about an app that will change the way I travel. It certainly did in Bangkok.

It's called an off-line navigation system that you can download free on your iPhone. Here's what it looks like on your phone:

Press the dot on the lower left and a little blue arrow shows you where you are.
The next icon maps out a route in blue between your location and another you choose.
The search icon  has categories like hotels, food, transport, ATM, hospitals, police and even toilet, if you don't have a specific address.
You can mark your own places and share your location by email using the fourth icon.
Use the icon on the far right to download the map of the country you are in. For this you will need internet, but after that it's all off-line, so you don't need to worry about expensive roaming charges.
I was able to maneuver through the most labyrinthine parts of Bangkok using this app and rarely had a problem. It took me through some amazing places I never could have found on my own. That's how I came upon a free performance of Peking opera on a secluded street in Chinatown one night--no other westerners in sight. An additional advantage in Bangkok was that street names came in both Thai and English, making in a valuable tool for taking taxis.


This is the area in Chinatown, Bangkok I was able to get around, fairly easily, at night on dimly lit streets, using the app.

I've downloaded the Mexico map and it seems to work exactly the same as in Bangkok. So if you have a smart phone, you'll never have to unfold a map or worry about getting lost in Mexico City--or anywhere where works (which seems to be most of the world).

Update: Now it seems google maps is adding off-line service as well. Check it out here:

Monday, October 12, 2015


Benjamin Franklin had never been to Mexico when he wrote, “In this world nothing is certain except death and taxes”. With big business tax loopholes, and an estimated 59% of the workforce in the non-taxpaying ‘informal economy’, the only certainty here is death.

Each year on Dia de Muertos, Mexicans face that inevitability head-on. My first experience of Dia de Muertos was years ago in San Miguel de Allende. I waited patiently in a long line of flower-laden visitors to pass through the narrow gateway. Visits to gravesites in the U.S. were dark, sad, and solemn events, with no encouragement to linger. In Mexico, upon entering the vast field of tombstones, it seemed more like a big party, a bit subdued, but festive, colorful, bustling. There were flowers everywhere, candles flickering, guitar players strumming, people eating, talking, praying, laughing, and only a few of them crying. 

With its roots deep in the pre-Christian past, Mexico’s attitude toward death presents one of the strongest contrasts to that of its northern neighbors. Nobel laureate Octavio Paz  wrote, “The word death is not pronounced in New York, in Paris, in London, because it burns the lips. The Mexican, in contrast, is familiar with death, jokes about it, caresses it, sleeps with it, celebrates it; it is one of his favorite toys and his most steadfast love”.

Famed 19th century artist José Guadalupe Posada created a popular image of death,
La Calaca Catrina, that shows up everywhere. With her big feathered hat and wide grin, she looks more like Carol Channing in ‘Hello Dolly’ than any frightening image of the Grim Reaper. The curious phrase “Feliz Dia de los Muertos” shows up on sugar skulls and greeting cards. Death in Mexico, while not exactly a friend, is certainly a member of the family. 

Indigenous peoples believed that the soul did not die, but moved on to a resting place known as Mictlán, from whence it could be summoned home to visit friends and relatives. Before the Spanish conquest, the return of departed souls was celebrated in July and August. The Spaniards changed the date to coincide with All Souls’ Day of the Catholic Church, leaving the newly baptized natives with only two days, November 1 and 2, during which they welcome home the deceased.  The first day is devoted to departed children, the next to adults. 

It’s a long way from Mictlán, so the living must appeal to all the senses of the dearly departed to help them find their way home. Food, flowers, incense, music, even cigarettes and alcohol are used to create altars, known as ofrendas in homes and public spaces all over Mexico. You don’t have to be Mexican to participate in Day of the Dead rituals, however. Visiting a cemetery or preparing an altar at home can be done by anyone.

The best place to stock up on all the necessary items for a home altar is the Mercado Jamaica (Avenida Morelos and Congreso de la Union, metro stop Jamaica on the #9 line). As the city’s wholesale flower market, the quantity of marigolds, coxcombs and other flowers is staggering. Booths set up around the perimeter of the market offer sugar figurines, candles, incense, food, papel picado (die-cut tissue paper), and other items used to create altars.

Although celebrations in rural areas of Oaxaca and Michoacán are often written about, Day of the Dead in Mexico City occurs on a scale befitting one of the planet’s biggest cities. Getting into the main cemeteries in Mexico City can be a daunting proposition, but altars are set up all over town. You’ll see them in markets, shopping malls, metro stops, banks, hotels, school, hospitals, and outside every Delegación office.  Here are some special places known for their elaborate altars:

The Zócalo, the city’s main plaza in the Centro Histórico
Museo Anahuacalli, Coyoacán (   
Claustro of Sor Juana (Izazaga 92,near Isabel la Católica in the Centro)
Museo de las Culturas  (Calle Mondea, Centro)
Plaza Juarez (on the south side of the Alameda)
Museo de la Ciudad (Pino Suarez 30, Centro)
Museo Dolores Olmedo, Xochimilco
Plaza Civica del Museo Panteon de San Fernando (Plaza de San Fernando 17, Colonia Guerrero, near Metro Hidalgo)
UNAM (on the esplanade near the Rectoría)

Altars are set up between October 28 and 30, and dismantled promptly on November 3, when Death is given a holiday until next year.

Tuesday, September 22, 2015

Is Mexico City Safe?

I was recently stopped by someone in the street who recognized me from my blog. "I love what you've written about safety in Mexico and send it to all my worried friends and family back in the states," he told me.

I frankly couldn't recall what or when I had last posted on the subject. Many of us who live here have gotten even more bored with that topic than with Frida Khalo.

So I searched through my old posts and came up with a few things, which I will repost here.

The first is something I wrote back in 2009. I might add that the states of Guerrero and Michoacán have become a bit dicier in spots, but the basic premise remains true…including yet another peso devaluation.

Read here:

The following post  from 2011 got more hits than anything else I've written.

MY MEXICO CITY:  Headline News

Recently, my friend Roberta was viewing the Mexico City marathon from her balcony in Polanco. She watched the runners, the cheering crowds, and a few folks dressed as clowns as they passed by. Wanting to share this simple pleasure of life outside her window, she sent an email with photos to several friends back in the States.

"A few wrote back really surprised," she told me. "Weren't you afraid something would happen, like a stray bullet hitting you or a bomb exploding?" one of them wrote. "They don't expect anything normal like a marathon to be going on in Mexico City."

Hearing this story reminded me, once again, of the skewed impression many people get of life here in Mexico City by reading and watching the news. News media feed on the sensational. A headline that shrieks about eight decapitated bodies found in a cantina makes more compelling copy than one that describes several thousand people running 26 miles with their heads attached.

But the truth for me and Roberta is that life in our big city is much more peaceful, pleasant, and just plain normal than what the media suggests. So I thought to myself, "Hey, I worked for a newspaper once. I'll just go out and find some headlines myself, normal headlines about my Mexico City."

The sun finally made an appearance today, so I set out with my camera (carefully hidden in a plain bag, along with my journalistic license) to see what I could find. I recorded all of what follows within a few blocks of my home in Colonia Condesa. If you see any more good headline news out there, let me know!


"It was quite an ordeal, but we're much better now," said Leticia Burbujas, 32, one of the survivors. "The kids are so young they probably won't remember it."


"They're awful," says ex-New Yorker and long time Mexico City resident, accountant Moishe Pipkin, 53. "Soft and spongy--these people don't know from bagels."...



For more than a year now this clock in Parque Mexico has been giving the right time, and neighbors are not happy about it. "How can I explain that I'm an hour late when I have that thing staring at me," complained dental assistant Marta Pantorrilla, 39...



"It's disgusting," complained Evelyn Wright, 61, formerly of Boston, whose living room window has a view of the statue. "There are naked statues all over Colonia Roma. This one has a penis! Not as big as that David statue in the Plaza Rio de Janiero, but it still isn't right! These Mexicans just don't care!"...



When asked their names the two fled, but Ciro Sanchez, 16, who was squeezing oranges at the time, had the story. "They were very concerned that I not put ice in their drinks," he noted. "But they seemed happy. One of them told me, 'This tastes just like orange juice--only better'"...

Tuesday, September 1, 2015


Continuing with the food theme, I am re-posting something from last year, but with several new additions. 

Although I am neither a vegan nor a vegetarian, I'm always on the lookout for non-meat options at street food stalls. Some tacos de guisados stands offer rajas con crema, calabacitas, or chiles rellenos, but in  general, it's the carnivores who reign in Mexico City. So I was intrigued when I noticed a little white stand at a corner near my house with the sign 'Vegana Taqueria'.  I've been several times now,  and have noticed the crowds growing each time.  Oddy, all their tacos are named after meat (chorizo de soya, trigo al pastor, etc.), and with all the toppings provided, you might have a hard time telling the difference. I did notice they use quite a bit of oil in the preparation, so I'm not sure how healthy these guys are, but they sure taste good.  

Vegana Taqueria is located on Calle Manzanillo near the corner of Chipas in Colonia Roma (one block from the Sears store, half a block from Insurgentes). Here's a link on google maps: 

Open 6:30PM until midnight daily

More Vegan discoveries:

Next door to the taco stand:

Forever Vegano, at the corner of Merida & Guanajuato, in Colonia Roma, Web-
Teléfono- 55 6726 0975

(food inspired by India): Prema, Guanajuato 202, tel. 6550-4492
Another article:

Wednesday, August 19, 2015


                                      Detail of mural by Diego Rivera in (SEP building, Mexico City)

Since I live with a food writer I usually keep mum (in print, anyway) about my personal food preferences in order to assure  domestic tranquility. But recently I've been asked by several friends for my '10 Best' list of food in Mexico City. I wrote the first version of this post back in 2007 and was surprised that I've made only one change since then (#10--I used to have a favorite dish at Izote, but it closed). Although I include some restaurants, my list is more about specific dishes that I keep returning to, many of them at street stalls. (If it were just about restaurants, I would include Maximo Bistrot Local, but I couldn't think of one single stand-out dish--they all are great). So here's my list of ten things I eat regularly that make me happy to live in Mexico City.

1. Several times a week I stop at the fruit juice stand near Insurgentes and Sonora to get a liter of fresh-squeezed orange or mandarina (tangerine) juice--and wonder why every civilized city doesn’t offer such healthy convenience. Fresh fruit stands are all over the place and often seem to appear magically whenever I get really thirsty. Orange and carrot juices are standards, but my favorite is the vampiro, made of orange, carrot and beet juices (sometimes celery) that is easily recognized by its blood-red color. Jugos Canada (on 5 de Mayo near the Zócalo) offers one of the biggest selections of fresh fruit and vegetable drinks in the city.

2. I’ve never eaten better tamales than those sold by Mexico City street vendors (in my experience always better than what you find in restaurants). Every morning (and in some places late at night) on street corners, markets, and metro stops you will see vendors tending large aluminum pots, often with steam escaping from under the lids. Mexico City’s tamaleros are an essential part of urban life. Most tamales are wrapped in a corn husk, with standard fillings of mole, rajas (strips of green pepper) in red sauce, chicken with green sauce, or tamales dulces, sweetened and dyed pink (kids love them). Some vendors also sell tamales oaxaqueños, made from more finely ground corn that is wrapped in a banana leaf.

3. I don’t feel completely human in the morning before my first cup of coffee, and I always feel a bit cheated if I must drink coffee other than what I buy in the Centro at Café Jekemir (Isabel la Católica at the corner of Regina). Their dark roasted beans are the best I have had in Mexico. Sometimes, after a hard yoga class, I treat myself to a café con leche at Bisquets Obregón, a chain of restaurants with locations all over the country (see their website The coffee is served in the two-handed Veracruz style, one urn containing a thick, syrupy coffee infusion (very concentrated--don't try to drink it straight), the other hot milk. Mexicans tend to drink it very milky, and waitresses are usually surprised by my asking for a 50-50 mix, which turns out just right for me.

4. Tlacoyos are found all over the city, usually made by women tending small charcoal fires in metal anafres on the street.  They are frequently found outside markets and metro stops. They are palm-sized ovals of masa (corn dough), formed by hand and filled with frijoles, requesón (mild white cheese), or habas (fava beans—my favorite). Cooked on a greaseless griddle, they are served with nopales (cactus), onion, grated cheese, and a choice of red or green salsa. Healthy, delicious, and cheap, they are one of the most satisfying snacks in town.

5. I am a big fan of mole, and whenever I return from a trip outside Mexico, I order a plate of enchiladas de mole to make me feel at home again. ‘Mas Mexicano que mole’ is the equivalent of ‘As American as apple pie.’ My favorite is found at Fonda Mi Lupita (Buentono 22 in the Centro, near Salto de Agua metro stop), a simple hole-in-the-wall, where they've been serving spicy, chocolatey mole since 1957. The enchiladas are topped with onion rings, sesame seeds and crumbled queso fresco.

6. Mexican cuisine offers many regional specialties that are usually found only in their places of origin—unless you are in Mexico City. The best Yucatecan food I’ve ever had is here in the Centro at Coox Hanal (Isabel la Católica 83, near Mesones, on the 2nd floor). I keep going back for their papadzules, tortillas filled with chopped, hard-boiled eggs, bathed in a thick green sauce of ground pumpkin seeds. The word ‘earthy’ always comes to mind when I eat these subtle, nutty-flavored antojitos--one of the few Mexican specialties that will appeal to non-meat eaters.

7. Years ago, while still living in New York City, my Mexican friend Marta came to visit for six weeks. About a month after her arrival, we were sitting around chatting one evening, when suddenly she whined, “Quiero tacos!” There was a deep sense of longing in her voice for her native comfort food. Mexico City must be the taco capital of the world, and the variety is impressive. Those crunchy shells filled with ground beef, shredded orange-colored cheese and lettuce that pass as tacos in the U.S. do not exist here. Tacos in DF are soft corn tortillas with a small amount of filling (usually meat). Tacos al Pastor, those towers of marinated pork roasting on a spit that you will see all over town, are a Mexico City classic. The sliced meat is served with a bit of pineapple and your choice of salsa. In my neighborhood, La Condesa, two places stand out: El Tizoncito (Tamaulipas at Nuevo Leon), which claims to be the originator of tacos al pastor, and La Califa (Alfonso Reyes at Altata). Each taqueria has its followers, both are excellent examples of one of the favorite foods of Mexico City residents. My other top tacos are vegetarian. I go out of my way for the the tacos of torta de broccoli and torta de coliflor at the (nameless?) taco stand at the corner of Tuxpan and Baja California, at the Metro Chilpancingo stop. Thier salsas and 'add-ons' (cole slaw and beans) are first rate.

8. It took me a while to warm up to pozole, that thick soup made with pork and hominy (large corn kernels), but I’ve since become addicted to this most satisfying dish, which has been around in a similar form since Aztec times (reportedly Moctezuma ate it with a bit of human meat leftover from the sacrifices at the Templo Mayor).  Most places offer red pozole, but one of my very favorite things to eat in Mexico City is the pozole verde served at Pozoleria Tizka (Zacatecas 59 in Colonia Roma), which is thickened with ground pumpkin seeds. You can order it with chicken instead of pork to lighten it up a bit. Their tostadas are crisp and fresh (you'll hate the packaged ones after these), and the lemonade excellent.

9. I have a fairly aggressive sweet tooth, but it's often disappointed by desserts in Mexico. After lots of research at the chocolate counter of Sanborns, I 've discovered the prize winners. Look for maronet amargo, avellaneda, hoja cassis, and tortugas--all excellent in the dark chocolate category. Sanborns stores are found all over town, the most famous being the Casa de Azulejos on 5 de Mayo in the Centro Histórico. For a delicious vanilla treat, try the merengues filled with cream at the Pastelería Gran Via (Amsterdam 288 near Sonora in Colonia Condesa)--avoid their other things.

10. Although I've eaten in some of Mexico City's high-end restaurants (Pujol, Quintonil, Biko, e.g.), I think my luck has been bad at those places, as so many others rave about them, and I've left them all impressed only with the size of the bill. But recently I ate at El Puntal, a swanky Spanish restaurant in Las Lomas, whose fideua negra (fine noodles with squid ink) took me back to Madrid at first bite. ( Their croquetas, my test for good quality comida española, were as good as any I've had in Spain.

                                  To order my book on Amazon, click HERE.

Wednesday, August 5, 2015

High E-flat in el DF

Did you know that one of the most famous notes in musical history was recorded right here in Mexico City? It was the night of March 7, 1951 and the singer was Maria Callas, just taking off on her meteoric rise to operatic stardom, was singing Aida at the Palacio de Bellas Artes. 

Callas had been tempted by the opera's director, who told her that 19th century Mexican soprano Angela Peralta was famous for interpolating a high E-flat into the opera's Triumphal Scene.
She was also annyoed by the antics of tenor Kurt Baum who, during rehearsals and on opening night, held his top-notes in show-off fashion, ignoring signals from the conductor to straighten up.
During the first intermission, mezzo-soprano Giulietta Simionato who was singing Amneris, reportedly went to Callas's dressing room and said to the soprano: "Cara, per me...da il re-bemol!" ("Dearest, for me...take the E-flat!") and Callas agreed. Simionato told the other singers and the conductor of Callas's intentions but left the tenor in the dark. When the moment came and Callas latched onto the unwritten note, Baum went ballistic and swore never to sing with her again.
According to one first-person account, at the end of the second act, Bellas Artes 'se convertió en un manicomio' (turned into a madhouse). The audience was hugging and kissing one another, cheering wildly 'like at a bullfight', and waving handkerchiefs in the air.
The Mexicans adored Callas and when she was invited back the following year for more Aidas the public expected her to interpolate the E-flat again--and she didn't disappoint. The 1950 E-flat is remarkable though not as well-captured on tape as the 1951 when she hurled the note into the house like a javelin.
Here, in very primitive sound, is the finale of the Triumphal Scene from the 1951 Mexico City Aida (the famous note is around 4:40); Callas is Aida, Oralia Dominguez sings Amneris, Mario del Monaco is Radames and Giuseppe Taddei is Amonasro.

(I'm not sure if this one's from Mexico City, but it's even more insane:

(Thanks to Oberon's Grove for historical background material)