Cinco de Mayo is this week.
And while it’s fun to celebrate with Mexican food and drinks, my hope is that more of us take a day to actually plan on going off to spend time in Mexico. I averaged about three times a year before Covid, and for Americans looking for a great vacation or a fun weekend getaway, there is no place on earth like Mexico. More on that in a moment.
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By the way, Cinco de Mayo is not Mexican Independence Day.
That day is September 16.
May 5 marks the day of the vastly outnumbered and outgunned Mexican army’s victory over France at the Battle of Puebla during the Franco-Mexican War in 1862. I can practically guarantee you that all those folks drinking two-for-one margaritas on Cinco de Mayo are ignorant of the fact that May 5 was/is about celebrating the military victory that symbolizes the bravery and resilience of the Mexican people. In the latter third of the 19th century, Mexicans in America celebrating May 5 were making a statement, calling attention to the political climate of the time which had already turned against them as a people.
No one knows when the “holiday” became a commercialized taco and cerveza sales day for American bars and chain restaurants, but experts nod to the early 1980s when American beer companies spent tens of millions of dollars in advertising that targeted the Hispanic community.
It’s heartbreaking that a day of remembrance and resistance has been watered down to the point that its essentially only known for sombreros and cerveza sales. And that’s a worrisome American tradition, isn’t it?
So, what to do about that.
Let’s all get to know Mexico and Mexicans.
Let’s prioritize the people over the PR. That’s a tall order because the culprit is our ethnocentrism, our culture’s inherent racist mindset, but it is a pattern that can be broken. If we don’t, then holidays like Passover, or Martin Luther King Day will only be remembered as a day off from school rather than for the sobering and important lessons of how and why they are holidays in the first place.
I have been quoted a thousand times on this one, but here it goes again:
As Americans, we inhale other cultures first and foremost through our mouths.
We love the food of another place long before we even consider their other cultural totems, like music or art. And we get into the music, for example, way before we accept and honor the people. The food of countries that are predominantly made up of people of color fare the worst. That’s in part why I started doing what you know me best for, which is showing you other people, places and cultures along with food in the hopes that it would help everyone realize we all have more in common than we imagine, that our commonalities far outweigh our differences, and if we focused on each other, rather than on our skin color, religion, sexuality, language, etc., the world would be a better place.
Let’s make May 5 the “international make your reservations for Mexico” day!
That’s a winning recipe. In fact, I don’t have a food or drink recipe for you today. I have a recipe designed to teach you something about Mexico when you go.
Here is something I want you to do in Mexico City, one of my favorite cities in the world, because the people there are kind and generous and loving…and have built some incredible places for you to visit. I love Mexico and its people. Sometime soon I will throw you some restaurant recommendations, a few day trip ideas that could turn into overnights, (Tepoztlan!) street food suggestions and entertainment venues, but for right now, think markets, places that will teach you more about the city than a museum will. Or anything else for that matter.
Visit these Mexico City Markets
If you ask most folks, or look online, you will see these markets below, listed in no particular order. They are all fine. Some are superb.
· La Merced
· Dulces y Piñatas
· El Bazaar Sábado
· Mercado de Sonora
· La Ciudadela
· Mercado de Medellín
· Central de Abasto
· Mercado de Jamaica
My two faves are not on that list!!!
I like Mercado Xochimilco, on the south side of the city for the incredible food halls there, the local produce much of which comes from the chinampas in the waterways on the far side of the market. These are small “island farms” built by hand and harken back to a time when all of Mexico City was navigable by canoe or an ancient skiff. It’s an ancient canal system designed and built by the Aztecs. Get out on the water for a few hours: boats can be rented with drivers who can teach you the history of these people, pre-contact and post!
Tepito is the exact opposite, but like Xochimilco the food is phenomenal. It’s 72 blocks of controlled chaos. It has a reputation for danger, but like Bazurto in Cartagena and a dozen other places I can think of that are worth the visit, you simply leave your spendy watch and jewelry at the hotel, and stay out of people’s business. You will be fine.
The little mini restaurants and alley vendors make superb food from almost every state in Mexico. The market is in a neighborhood that has grown and survived on the backs of people with nowhere else to go, the poorest of the poor, con men, grifters, and yes, worse .… But it’s cheap to live there, so newcomers to the city can all find work or food here, making it a magnet for awesomeness.
From candies to dried fruit, soups to street fare, or a sit down over some whole fried fish, there is something for everyone. Going early in the morning for some breakfast and watching the market come alive remains one of my favorite things to do in all of the DF. Is it a black market? Yes. Do the police go there? Famously no, it’s an ungoverned piece of the city. Can you buy anything there? Yes, but don’t. Asking for “anything” in Tepito means you are new to the place and that’s a dead give away that you don’t belong. Go with friends and enjoy the food and trinkets, the spices and the gifts you can buy for those back home. It really is a thrill.
What’s your favorite place to visit in Mexico? Share with the rest of us!
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