Archive for the ‘Mexico City’ Category

Eagle and Sun

August 5, 2007

“Bueno.”

“Bueno, hi, I have reservations but we went to your old location and we are running late. Where is your restaurant located?”

“Mumble-mumble Louis Vuitton store.”

“Uh, what is the name of the street? At the corner of what?”

It wasn’t a very auspicious beginning to our dinner at the imposingly named Aguila y Sol, meaning Eagle and Sun. Neither Erin nor I are big on white tablecloth restaurants—A) we don’t have the money, and B) we’re too busy slurping saucy foods in places with plastic tablecloths. But Erin suggested we check out one of the nueva cocina mexicana restaurants in Mexico City that are all the rage, and Aguila y Sol had gotten rave reviews. It also turned out she was plotting to treat me to dinner.

Nueva cocina mexicana refers to the trend of young chefs in Mexico City taking Mexican dishes and playing with them, perhaps adding a non-Mexican ingredient or two, but ultimately celebrating the existing complexity of Mexican food traditions, or at least it seemed that way at Aguila y Sol. It reminded me a bit of trendy dim sum in Hong Kong, where the chefs keep the cuisine dynamic and alive, but without creating a gross fusion mess.

For those of you who know Seoul, Polanco reminded me exactly of Apkujongdong. Unlike Rodeo Drive or Fifth Avenue, Polanco isn’t filled with gawking tourists, just very wealthy Mexico City residents who have the option of shopping at Louis Vuitton one moment, and then going upstairs to eat at Aguila y Sol the next. Everything was new and glassy.

The dining room at Aguila y Sol felt a little chilly, with slate-blue velvet high-backed chairs and cube-shaped vases that looked they were going to tip over. Erin reflexively tried to right it as soon as we sat down. The vase glowed with a mysterious, lime-green light, and when it was removed, the mystery was solved—each table was lit from underneath. It wasn’t a hip young place, despite the cutting-edge reputation of nueva cocina, and I felt out of place in my sundress and espradrilles. Everyone else seemed to be hosting American business partners. I eavesdropped on the American catty-corner from me and felt sorry for the waiter, as the American clearly just wanted an Omaha steak.

But then the food started to come, and it stopped feeling quite so removed from the Mexico I knew. The busboy grinned at us, conspiring with us in staging photos of the food, and the margaritas started to relax me. Rimmed in pink sugar with a carnation just sitting on top, they were presented with thought but with more happy festivity than the cool modern design of New York.

Similarly, our cebiche came in a bright red pail with a jaunty chile stuck in it, perfectly crispy and non-greasy potato chips, and a little anthill of red salt. Tender, delicious, slightly picante.

Our other appetizer would have tasted just like high-end broccoli-cheese casserole, but for the mind-altering salsa de chile pasilla. They were little buttery turnovers made of huauzontle, a long stalky green vegetable with broccoli-like florets. It made Erin nostalgic for the food of her Midwestern youth. It made me realize how much chile pasilla could improve broccoli-cheese casserole.

And we ate too much of the bread basket, but how could we resist trying each of the six different rolls? One was filled with mole negro, another the softest, most comforting white bread with pink sugar on top, another spicy, another cheesy.

The entrees were, surprisingly, the most impressive, though sadly we were too full to give them due respect. We had a filet of huachinango or red snapper in the spicy Veracruz-style, with peppers, onions, and slivered almonds. Perfectly cooked, every grain of rice in place in its pyramid.

But the best was the “pollito en leche” rubbed and served in an achiote sauce. It was a small little bird, probably squab, that may have been marinated in milk, giving it an almost creamy tenderness. Achiote paste, according to Rick Bayless, is “spicy-complex without chile,” and “not spicy-hot,” being made only of achiote seeds, allspice, black pepper, oregano, cider vinegar, garlic and salt. I can’t compare it to anything, because it was unlike anything I’d had before. It was a crime that we could eat so little.

The tortillas, though, almost outshone the entrees. They came multi-colored and multi-flavored, with the perfect balance between toothsome chewiness and toasty crust. The tortilla basket included the only flour tortilla I have ever truly loved.

Erin was leaning against dessert, but I persisted. The special was a mousse of cajeta, the goat’s milk dulce de leche, and the waiter assured us it was “pequeno.” Ha! It came in a freakin’ glass mug nestled in a spray-painted gold cornhusk. I loved how over the top the plating was, and even more how light and fluffy, and yet rich the mousse tasted.

It really was too much. And then, good God, we had our petit-fours plate. By then, I was drunk on both the food and the tequila. I think I just mindlessly popped whatever they were, corn cookies and tamarind jellies, in my mouth. We took some gleeful photos with the busboy, who forced the very correct waiter to join in, and then we rode away into the night, feeling like beached whales that had somehow gotten into a taxi in Mexico City.

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Happy small finds in Mexico City

August 5, 2007

Sometimes, it feels like there’s nothing left to discover in New York. I know it’s not true, but given the number of people who care and the number of people nosing around, the odds are nothing really wonderful can stay a secret for very long. So it was a quiet relief to spend my last day in Mexico City just wandering around, relying on some tips, but mainly just eating what I found. Despite or perhaps because of memories of “Introduction to Art History” with Vincent Scully, I’d decided I didn’t need to go with Erin to Teotihuacan to see the Pyramid of the Sun and the Pyramid of the Moon. Erin had the camera, but even that was a relief, too, just to eat.

I decided to go back to Coyoacan, the artsy neighborhood and former home of Frida Kahlo, Diego Rivera, Leon Trotsky, and Octavio Paz (the photos are from our trip there 3 days earlier). Acting on a chowhound tip, I started at the Pasteleria Esperanza right outside the General Anaya metro stop, planning to walk and eat my way west to the Miguel de Aquevedo stop on the other side of Coyoacan.

I ate a sugary dona, or donut, that wasn’t as light as I’d hoped, but it kind of grew on me. It was a Monday morning, around 9:30, but nothing was open and the streets were quiet with people walking their dogs. Coyoacan is what makes Mexico City seem so much like LA to me—a city that is completely oblivious to pedestrian needs (I almost had a car run over my toes at a busy intersection with no pedestrian traffic lights) but with quiet, well-off neighborhoods filled with sidewalk cafes and pink and orange bougainvillea flowing over the walls.

I found a branch of the popular coffee shop, Cafe El Jarocho, and sat on a bench with my café de olla reading Carlos Fuentes’s “The Death of Artemio Cruz” while watching people drive up, just like in LA, for their morning coffee. Coffee isn’t a religion in Mexico, certainly not in Oaxaca, but El Jarocho has good, cheap, strong espressos and cappuchinos.

I wandered on to Plaza Hidalgo with its adjoining smaller plaza and the fountain I love so much, two dogs playing in a spray of water. I saw a man and his grandson buying roast chickens on the northwest corner of the plaza, at a big grocery store called “America,” from a nice young man with a goatee. The sign in the window advertised empanadas de atun, empanadas de bacalao. I don’t know why, but whenever I see the word “bacalao” for salt cod, I have to eat it. This empanada turned out to be a flaky turnover filled with salt cod and onions. Yum.

Then I wended my way back to the Mercado to eat cebiche de jaipa or crab at El Jardin del Pulpo, “The Garden of the Octopus,” in a sundae glass with saltines and fresh wedges of lime. Nothing particularly memorable to report, but I love that name, the Garden of the Octopus.

I had eaten so much, it was clearly time to walk some more. I took the subway back to the center of town to the Mercado Artesanias and bought more souvenirs that I’ll struggle to carry home. As I walked back to our hotel near the Zocalo, through the part of town dedicated to selling bathroom fixtures, I saw a little plaza with some crowded food stalls. All weekend, I’d been seeing street food that I hadn’t seen in Oaxaca, antojitos typical of Verucruz or Michoacan or the Yucatan.

I walked back and forth dragging my tin mirrors behind me, and finally decided to eat a huarache, because the man already standing there looked so happy with his. Besides, they were advertised as “Rico Rico Rico Rico.” I have to take precise note of where it was, on Ayuntamiento near the corner of Aranda, a block from the major street of Lopez, next to the bank on the south side of the street, because the huarache was so good! I’d had huaraches before in Red Hook, Brooklyn, and knew them as long, flat tortilla-like things with taco-like fillings, but this oblong huarache was different, crispier, chewier, with a texture of masa ground more coarsely. The huarache got good and toasty because the cook repeatedly brushed both sides with oil. I ordered one with bisteck, a thin slice of beef he cooked separately on the grill, then added to the huarache already bubbling with red salsa. Topped with crumbled queso fresco, it was heaven. My fingertips burned as I tried to eat the unwieldy thing without getting it all over my face, but it was worth it.

And we still had dinner ahead of us at Aguila y Sol.

Neveria, si; pasteleria, no

August 2, 2007

I am not a fan of Mexican bread. It’s often too dry or too sweet or not sweet enough. I’ve had nothing approaching the heft of a hearty, levain-type bread, what MFK Fisher likes to call “honest bread,” or the delicate crackle of a perfect croissant, or even the homey, soothing quality of super-soft Korean white bread. Most Mexican breads improve greatly upon being dipped in hot chocolate, which is almost always served with any sweetish bread, or “pan dulce.” Still, one can only drink so much hot chocolate, and I miss the excellent toast I normally have for breakfast every morning in NY, along with my favorite butter from Sahadi’s. (When I found little diner packets of Lurpak butter, which isn’t even my favorite, at El Cafecito in Puerto Escondido, I emptied the entire basket into my purse.)

Still, I wanted to see the Pasteleria Ideal in Mexico City. Another old-school place in the Centro Historico, it opened in 1927, but with more gilt-edged elegance than the Churreria “El Moro.” You enter into a large room with majestically high ceilings. You could be in a faded ballroom, except there are trays and trays of donuts, muffins, pastries, and rolls lined up in arrays before you. On Sunday morning, there were wheeled racks of breads being rolled around, nearly blocking the grand staircase, but the sign unequivocally declared that the second floor was the exhibition room for cakes.

Nearly every cake was at least 3 tiers tall—wedding cakes, baby cakes, First Communion cakes. Shrek was clearly, peculiarly popular, as were other cartoon characters. Nearly every cake also had icicles of hardened frosting dripping from each tier. One cake was almost twice as tall as Erin. Mona and Leslie, who make hand-made cookies and truffles that look like they came from a machine, must be rubbing off on me, because all I could think was how sloppy they looked. Erin took some fantastic pictures and I’m glad I went, but I can’t even remember what kind of bread I ate. All the chowhounds who are in awe of Ideal should get on a plane to Korea and go to the basement food wonderland of any upscale department store.

But Mexican ice cream, or nieve, that I truly love and respect as something I have never had before and will likely never have outside Mexico. The Roxy Neveria in Condesa is a legend, too, with the look of an American soda shop, with its striped awning and white-lettered list of flavors, except American shops generally don’t have the Virgin Mary hanging behind the counter.

It was clearly beloved by the Mexican families who double-parked to jump in for a cone or a cup. It was so beloved by me, that after eating my first cone of “nuez de macadamia,” I went back and had a second cone of “rompope.” The macadamia was wonderful, so nutty and rich but also pure, like fresh milk. The rompope, which I ordered because I didn’t know the flavor, a Mexican eggnog spiked with rum, I didn’t like as much, but it was surely not regrettable.

I hesitated for a bit before my second cone, but I felt it was the only fair way to treat my body, as I had just had a very bland meal at a health food store/restaurant across the corner. It was the kind of health food that used to plague America—so tasteless, even a vigorous shake of the salt on the table couldn’t save it. When I ordered my second cone, the boy at the counter urged me to go back to my table and sit down, as he would bring it to me directly. People can be so sweet when they realize how much you love to eat.

El Bajio

July 31, 2007

Ferran Adria says El Bajio is the best restaurant of traditional Mexican food in the world. And now, I have a higher opinion of Ferran Adria than I did before.

El Bajio is as far from the carrot-foam of El Bulli as I can imagine. It’s the kind of food I love most, traditional food prepared with love, care, and great pride. It’s the kind of food I seek most when I eat out, because I hope that the more I eat and learn from people who cook in this way, the more I will be able to make and serve this kind of food in my own home.

But I came very close to missing it completely. Erin and I were in Xochilmilco far south of the city, and we knew we could only get to El Bajio by taxi. Despite appearances, I’m quite cheap about food, and I doubted that any restaurant would be worth a $20 cab ride. But lucky for me, Erin quietly insisted.

Owned by chef Carmen “Titita” Ramirez, the restaurant now has three branches, including one in super-posh Polanco, which chowhounds have described as glassy and very-Polanco, at least in decor. But the original, the one we went to in Azcapotzalco, is decorated in warm, rich colors, with high-quality Mexican folk art. The restaurant is acclaimed by such foodie luminaries as Rick Bayless and Diane Kennedy, in addition to Ferran Adria, but it wasn’t filled with tourists, just happy Mexican families enjoying a big Sunday meal. The presence of multiple flat-screen TVs didn’t even bother me, it seemed somehow appropriate, or perhaps I was just happy I could watch the Argentina-Brazil final of the Copa America while we ate.

We ordered a hodge-podge, one platano empanada stuffed with beans; one quesdilla with huitlacoche, that prized corn fungus; a quarter of a kilo of carnitas in the Michoacan style; a clean and simple salad of jicama, nopales, tomatoes, and chayote; and a bowl of mole de Xico which we practically slurped up.

A quarter-kilo is a lot of meat—I forgot that one kilo is 2.2 pounds, and not the other way around—but we still ate almost all of it, fat, gristle, and all. It was almost too much to slather the pork with the mole, somewhat richer than Oaxacan mole negro but otherwise equally complex, but it was a meal of happy excess, and the pork was an excellent vehicle.

When faced with the prospect of dessert, Erin chose a refreshing nieve sorbet, while I, glutton that I am, chose the requeson with honey. Requeson is a ricotta-like fresh, rich wonder cheese, and when I added it to Erin’s nieve order, our waiter Raul definitely wasn’t expecting it, and so he gave an almost imperceptible but definite nod of approval and respect.

The entire restaurant seemed to be curious and pleased at the amount of food we ate and documented with Erin’s digital camera. As we left, Pablo, the manager, came forward with a smile to ask how we had heard about the restaurant. We chatted about how we had read that it was Rick Bayless’s favorite Mexican restaurant in the world, and then he gave us laminated brochures for “recuerdos” or souvenirs. When I asked if they had the cookbook for sale, Alquimias y Atmosferas del Sabor, he said I could find it at Sanborn’s, a Mexican department store, and then proudly showed me the restaurant’s own dog-eared copy. (I then spent the next day going to 4 different Sanborns looking for the damn book.)

Despite all the fuss I made about the $20 cab ride, I considered going back the next day, while Erin went to Teotihuacan. Who needs ancient Aztec pyramids when you can eat a fabulous Mexican breakfast at El Bajio? In the end, I decided to save my stomach for the dinner Erin and I had planned at Aguila y Sol, but the next time I’m in Mexico City, the first thing I’m going to do is jump in a taxi to El Bajio.

Churros y chocolate

July 31, 2007

People are so kind. I’ve met so many warm Mexicans since I got here—Soledad my cooking teacher at ICO, Hector the architect professor at the Museo de Anthropologia who invited me to tour the city with the Pratt professors he was showing around, Eduardo our guide in the mountains of the Sierra Norte in Ixtlan de Juarez—but one of my favorite memories will always involve the waitress at the Churreria “El Moro” who wanted to make sure that we knew what kind of hot chocolate we were ordering.

“El Moro” at Eje Central Lázaro Cardenas 4 in the Centro Historico is open 24 hours, so that you can satisfy your churros and chocolate craving any time of day. Open since 1935, it has a sense of worn, well-loved history, from the faded old-school menus to the stained glass window and old Mexican tiles to the baby-blue diner uniforms the waitresses wear. The menu consists of churros, slim tubes of fried dough dusted in sugar, and hot chocolate or coffee, nothing more, nothing less.

Erin and I are never perturbed by not knowing what something is, and we blithely ordered one “espanol y 4 churros” and one “frances y 4 churros.” Five minutes later, the waitress came back, anxious.

“Do you know the espanol is very sweet?”

“Uh, no. How sweet are the others?”

“Especial is a little bitter, espanol is very sweet, frances is sweeter and mexicano is normal sweet.”

“Especial is a little bitter?”

“Yes.”

“I’ll have the ‘especial,’ please.”

She smiled, glad that we understood.

Later, we realized “espanol” must be the Spanish style of very thick, almost sludgy hot chocolate, which can be very good, but I was happy with my “especial” which was made of strong, delicious bittersweet chocolate, especially since I’ve been craving
dark chocolate since I got here. Bracing and fortifying, it almost made me forget that I hadn’t had my morning coffee yet.

The churros, sadly, weren’t on par with the hot chocolate, since they were too greasy. But I did love seeing them piled up in giant coils in the window, next to an equally giant pan of sugar. And at least we had been guided towards impressive chocolate!

The riches of the Yucatan at Coox Hanal in Mexico City

July 30, 2007

Oaxaca is a culinary wonderland, but other than an Italian place or two, it has too much hometown pride to move beyond Oaxacan specialities and favorites. So Mexico City was my chance to eat food from Veracruz or the Yucatan or Puebla. And Erin being a big Yucatecan food fan, off we marched to find Coox Hanal, at Isabel la Catolica 83, in Centro Historico. We walked by it almost twice, since it’s on the 3rd floor, above a billiards hall. But once you’re at the door, you know you’re there because Coox and Hanal are there to greet you.

All the words on the menu were so foreign to me! Sablutes, sopa de lima? My heart beat with anticipation. We ordered 3 plates of antojitos and sopa de lima, despite our chicken soup breakfast, and I had a Montejo, a light Yucatecan lager, nothing more or less than a middle-of-the-road lager.

But I was happy to have my beer, as the food turned out to be greasy bar food, and I mean that as a compliment. The panchutos, tortillas stuffed with beans and then fried and topped with pork and cabbage, were better at Seasons of My Heart, but I still ate more than my fair share.

The sablutes turned out to be fried tortillas, a little thicker than usual, with pavo or turkey, and they cut their grease with shredded lettuce, chopped tomato and avocado. I thought the tacos of cochinita pibil were smooth with fat, though Erin with her experience of cooking cochinita pibil herself thought they were a tad too dry. (Erin, care to comment on what goes into pibil?) All of it was accompanied tartly and brilliantly by the pickled red onions that seem to be to the Yucatan as kimchi is to Korea.

But the most impresionate, para mi, was the sopa de lima. I wish I had the kind of sensitive palate to sniff the soup and say in a tone of authority and only polite doubt, “Ah! Is it cardamom?”, but I don’t. The recipes I’ve found online vary greatly, some requiring just a bit of dried oregano to add some mystery—which I find hard to believe would recreate what I had, despite the particular strengths of Mexican oregano—while others call for a battery of spices. Clearly, something unusual is going on with the “limas agrias” or bitter limes. The soup also had the look of coconut milk, if not the taste, and with its complex tartness, it reminded me of the careful balance of great Thai soups. You could also find shredded chicken and some dark green bits that were bitter when I bit down. Could they have been bits of lime rind? Like a fine wine, the flavors kept shifting in my mouth, from smooth to tart, bitter to warm.

It’s good for me, with my lack of religion, to have some sense of mystery in my life.

Beer and posole, to the accompaniment of the mariachis

July 29, 2007

Mexico City at night, like so many colonial Latin American cities, is particularly beautiful at night. The grey stone of the buildings and monuments gleams golden around you, and when mariachi bands in tight spangled uniforms walk around asking if you want a serenade, it actually feels like magic. It’s not a quiet, romantic magic at the Plaza Garibaldi, where every taxi seems to be unloading yet another mariachi band with even more elaborate costumes. It’s the kind of magic that’s buoyed by the loud cantinas around the plaza, the men hawking stacks of sombreros twice as tall as themselves, the laughing Mexican and non-Mexican tourists carrying Giant Gulp cups of booze. I saw a teenage girl being bullied by her mother and aunt into standing in the middle of a serenading band, with a sombrero plunked on her head; I saw a woman holding a bouquet of roses and a mylar balloon with tears in her eyes as her personal mariachi band sang to her under her husband’s instructions.

We found the same kind of magical, uncomplicated happiness at Xochimilco two days later, as we floated down the river in a painted barge. Mexico City used to be next to these enormous lakes, now drained. Because there wasn’t enough land to grow food, the Xochimilca people planted arificial islands rooted by trees in the lakes, creating a system of canals. Xochimilco means “garden of flowers” in the Aztec language, and is the only part of the city that remains to remind us of the canals that existed before the Spanish came.

It was a sunny day as bright as our boat. Erin and I ended up rolling around in our enormous boat alone, except for 60-year-old Miguel “de los manos,” our punter who suggested that we take photos with him so that he could strenuously pinch us. But nearly every other boat we saw was filled with Mexican families celebrating, dancing or feasting or chasing each other around. We said hello to everyone, everyone said hello to us. Smaller boats drifted by offering cold beers, grilled corn, whole meals with rice and beans, plastic toys, and of course, mariachi and marimba music. For 70 pesos, a boat full of mariachi musicians pulled up to our boat, attached theirs to ours somehow, and then launched into full song. They barely knew the words or tune to “Como fue,” but it was one of those days where nothing could go wrong.

How happy I was, to be drinking beer on a barge in Xochimilco. How lucky I was, to eat posole and spicy, warm birria, or goat stew, next to the Plaza Garibaldi.

Fortifying ourselves for Mexico City with rooster soup for breakfast

July 26, 2007

Mexico City, in some ways, reminds me of other big cities I know, New York, Seoul, Los Angeles, and yet is unlike them in so many other ways. At 20 million people, it makes New York feel airy. Walking through the Centro Historico was like Times Square times 10, except with graceful old buildings, relatively few tourists, and no flashing lights. You could, however, still buy pornographic DVDs right on the street, next to hair barrettes and tracksuits. And it has the energy of New York, the feeling that anything could happen, and people outside Mexico City talk about “D.F.” or the “Distrito Federal” the way people outside New York talk about NY: “It’s another world.” The inhabitants of Mexico City can’t imagine living anywhere else, while Mexicans elsewhere can’t understand how anyone can live there.

But the biggest difference between Mexico City and New York City, at least to this tourist who was in Mexico City for 4 days, is that New York is a city of people ignoring each other, while everyone in Mexico City is trying to get your attention. People are constantly trying to sell you something, with more vigor than your most vigorous Senegalese seller of fake Rolexes in Chinatown. After living in relative obscurity for a month and a half in Oaxaca City, I was shocked to find how Erin and I were subjected to constant catcalls and whistles, including one man, who said in English with much careful deliberation, and in an accent eerily remniscent of Arnold Schwarzenegger, “Wow-oo, you are so bee-you-ti-fool!” I have to admit, I was proud of myself the next day for understanding the declaration shouted at me in Spanish from a man who had been driving his van at our walking pace in Condesa: “I was just looking at your beautiful legs!” He had such a genial smile, I shouted back, “¡Gracias!” Sadly, the only men who ever compliment me are men in the street and tollbooth operators, but I’ll take my compliments where I can get them. I am also now aware exactly how short my red dress is.

Our first morning in Mexico City was also otherwise overwhelming. I had arrived at 7 am on Friday morning, after an overnight bus ride from Oaxaca, and found Erin almost bouncing off the hotel bed in her excitement to try some of the restaurants she had highlighted on her map. An hour later, we were wandering around La Merced, one of the largest markets in Mexico and possibly the world.

And the Cathedral in the Zocalo is the largest cathedral in the world, right next to Templo Mayor, an archeological site some electricians found right smack in the middle of the city. And of course, there are Diego Rivera murals all over the city, all bigger than life, and most spectacularly in the Palacio Nacional.

You can’t throw a stone without hitting something with Frida Kahlo or Diego Rivera on it in Mexico City. Either they are truly are as emblematic of Mexico as foreigners think they are, or Mexico City has responded to tourist demand with a complete, almost-innocent enthusiasm. I don’t find the work of either artist particularly moving, but in Diego Rivera’s large murals, the triteness I sometimes see in his work gets absorbed into a larger earnestness that appeals to me and my fatigue with NY-cool. And I did love the kitchen in Frida Kahlo’s Casa Azul, with its large, glossy pottery and bright colors inexplicably balancing each other. Her home made Leon Trotsky’s poor little fortification, just blocks from hers, feel even more austere and Soviet.

Thankfully, for all the marching we did around Mexico City that first day, we had had a substantial breakfast of caldo de gallo, or soup made from rooster stock, near La Merced. Being Korean, I think nothing of eating rice and soup for breakfast, but I was impressed by the way Erin tucked into hers. All Mexican soups are essentially the same: simple, happily dependent on the rawness of the last-minute garnishes, and restorative.

Of course, nothing is restorative like caffeine, and I sucked down every drop my first “café de olla. “Olla” means clay pot, and a “café de olla” is made and served traditionally in a little clay pot and sweetened with cinnamon and piloncillo, a Mexican unrefined brown sugar. Strong and sweet, it gave me the strength to enjoy everything Mexico City could throw at me.