Author Archives: jeffreymeyer81

“Tacos don’t look like tacos”

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Soon after we returned from our Oaxaca trip my mom came to visit! We’ve been excited about her visit for a while now, especially because ever since I was a child my mom and I have always wanted to visit México! I think that 15 (or so) years ago when we were realistically discussing this trip, we thought more of crossing the border by car or public transportation and spending time in the north of the country, but now for many obvious reasons Mexico City is the logical destination.

My mom’s visit was very relaxing. We took our time and really enjoyed the sight-seeing, shopping, eating, traveling via public transportation, visiting some museums (Anthropology), etc.

In front of Bellas Artes

Of course we spent some time in the historical center of the city, and as a bonus we got to see some parts of the Cathedral that are usually not open (Mary E took photo documentation):

Guadalupe’s Chapel

My mom and I walked around Chapultepec Forest and visited the Anthropology Museum, which never ceases to impress.

Mom and the moon temple

We did a lot of shopping, visiting 2 markets: Coyoacán and San Angel. All-in-all we traveled on the metro, metrobús, and in paseros, but above all, I am proud of my mom for tasting lots of the local cuisine. We had mangos, papayas, and pan dulce for breakfast, arrachera, chorizo, enchiladas, tacos, etc.

Also, while dining and overlooking the Zócalo, for the first time we saw the military take down the large Mexican flag that overlooks the centro.

Rally round the flag

From a conversation on my mom’s first night when we visited a local taquería:

[Our order arrives: alambre de bistec and some assorted tacos al pastor and chorizo, to taste]

Mom: These don’t look like tacos! (referring to the small corn tortillas and above meat options, with chopped, grilled onions, bell peppers, pineapple (on the pastor), and assorted salsas and lime.)

Yepts: No, actually TACOS (in the USA) don’t look like tacos!

***

We had a great time and hope that my mom did too. We were sad to see her go, but glad that she got to experience some of our Mexico City adventure with us!

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WOW-xaca, pt. 2

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Our first full day in Oaxaca was a long one, and we slept well that night.

The next day, first we decided to walk around the centro for a good place to get desayuno (breakfast). We found a clean little restaurant that is also a tour place and a bike store! We had tacos de canasta (basket tacos).

This restaurant is also a bike store

Since we had a generally good time with our tour, we decided to use the same people again to go to one more attraction out of the city: the ruins at Monte Albán!

Monte Albán grounds

It was nice to see both the grounds at Mitla and Monte Albán in the same trip. Mitla is a small ruin with lots of detail because it is about 95% original. Monte Albán is vast with many edifices and groups of buildings, danzantes, tombs, and even a ball-game field,

A stadium for the game of "ball"

but the ruins at Monte Albán are only about 10-15% original. By that I mean that archeologists and scholars know that the site was there, actually there are even more ruins of the perimeters of houses and buildings being excavated as I write this, but earthquakes, colonization, and other phenomena required the buildings to be almost completely rebuilt. Also the only vendors that they let inside the site grounds are indigenous and actual descendents of the civilization that once thrived there.

Geographic explorer!

For the rest of the trip we decided to ditch the tours because we wanted to take our time at some of the other places, and the tours often rush you along at certain stops. We knew that there was some good mole to be tasted, and tamales to be devoured at the Mercado 20 de Noviembre.

According to this source, “Mole more or less translates to “concoction”, and is derived from the Nahuatl word Molli.” Mole is made primarily from using dried chiles. You can buy the chiles to make your own, or buy it in paste or powder form. For some dishes you dilute it with cooked veggies and other things, other times you just cook the meat and veggies in it. Virtually every restaurant serving traditional Mexican food has a Mole Negro (black mole) dish, which includes cocoa with the chiles, but there are also other kinds of mole native to Oaxaca, and harder to find outside of the area including: verde (green), rojo (red), amarillo (yellow), almondrado (almond), coloradito, and many other varieties to be sure. Oh, and it’s delicious. Well, I have yet to encounter a mole that I did not enjoy.

We also had some authentic Oaxaqueñan Tamales, which are kind of steamed corn meal and pulled chicken, pork, or beef in a mole sauce, encased in either a corn husk or banana leaf. They are hearty and delicious. I don’t know if the concept of “comfort food” exists here, but they automatically skyrocketed into my top 5 comfort foods. It’s too bad that they’re difficult and time consuming to make, and even hard to find good ones in the city, although there is a man who rides a bicycle by our apartment daily who would beg to differ. This is the recording he plays over and over again!

We hear this ad nauseum http://youtu.be/AhhM2F2S8tk

According to our friend Diego, we should not try their tamales, and so we have not (though we’ve tasted a few tamales in the city.)

The other main food items that we investigated is pan de yema (literally “yolk bread,” or an egg bread, which is delicious) and cocoa –> chocolate!

Pan's Labyrinth

cocoa in the raw

Which turns into this yumminess!

After we ate and shopped a bit we went back to visit some of the amazing churches where we could see them in better, natural lighting (since we had only really previously seen them at dusk.)

the cathedral

the Spanish didn't do anything on a small scale

We also visited the ex-convent-turned-hotel CAMINO REAL

It's a really lovely place

And we spent a good bit of time in Mary E’s favorite church (and I think that it’s lovely too), the Sto. Domingo.

Sto. Domingo

It really is impressive on the inside

The last things that we did was shop at a really amazing craft market that sells only authentic handmade items by women of Oaxaca and its surrounding pueblos. Then we had a nice late dinner on the rooftop at a funky restaurant. The food and drinks were good. We didn’t get back to the hotel too late because we had yet another day in Oaxaca before we headed back home.

Authentic, handmade crafts

Cool lights/decorations made from colored plastic salad spinners

Until next time, tune in again Mexifriends…same oaxaqueñan time, same oaxaqueñan channel!

Be our guest, be our guest

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Back in February we had our second round of guests visit us here in Mexico City: my brother Brian and his fiancé Niki. Because we had such a great time when Mary E’s parents came to visit in December, we were anticipating a repeat performance. They did not disappoint; the whole four days were a lot of fun!

This time, however, instead of being strictly tour guides in taking Mary E’s parents to places that we were mostly familiar with (except for our first visit to the Anthropology Museum in Mexico City. Previously, we visited the one in Xalapa), we were able to go to some places that were new to us like the nearby ruins in Teotihuacan and a Lucha Libre match! Overall, we had a great time being with them and showing them around our new city for this year. We wish that it could have been a longer stay, but we tried to jam-pack the days with as many activities as possible, probably to the chagrin of our travel-weary, yet extremely adventurous family. Here are some photographic highlights:

We visited the market, of course. Niki found a piece of pottery to buy and I got to show Brian the different versions of Homer Simpson in action figure/doll form (e.g. Spiderman Homer!). We also got bebidas calientitos at El Café Jarrocho! (por supuesto!)

We went to our first Lucha Libre match. It was fun and quite some culture shock, but it wasn't really to any of our taste. Still, it was definitely a cool experience to see all the street vendors around the Arena México.

We visited the ruins at Teotihuacan, which involved a very adventurous bus ride followed by lots of climbing. The view from the top was amazing!

Feb. 4 was Brian's birthday so we got him a pastel de tres leches from our favorite bakery!

Adventurous bus riders. All-in-all we had a great time, we hope that they did too, and we can't to see them again this summer. And also we can't wait to have more guests! so what are you waiting for??

Mexican Center for Music and Sound Arts

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Mary E. already blogged about our days together in Morelia, Michoacán here. I completely echo her sentiments about Morelia, but I wanted to expand upon that discussion to briefly describe  the rest of my week there. Because we took some time to visit the historical center of Morelia in the first few days once Mary E left, I really dedicated myself to my residency in exploring electronic music production and composition at the Centro Mexicano para la Música y las Artes Sonoras (the Mexican Center for Music and Sound Arts, or CMMAS, pronounced see-mas.)

In actuality, there is only so much work that can be done in a week, but I did some reading and preparation ahead of time; that, combined with my tech savvy and the guidance of the amazing CMMAS staff, allowed me to create 3 small, basic electronic compositions. I’ve decided that I am going to compose acoustic instrumental parts to be combined live with the fixed, electronic music that I wrote, creating music that is called electro-acoustic. When I actually do finish the piece, I will end up coming out of the residency with much more music than I originally anticipated would be possible.

Each morning thereafter, I woke up in time to get to my private studio by the time that CMMAS opened. I grabbed some pastries at a local bakery to eat for breakfast and boiled some instant coffee before heading out. Instant coffee is a staple here in Mexico. It makes a terrible cup of coffee when put in water (I was trying to keep to a very small budget), but a delicious café con leche in milk, which I’ve learned is not at all like a latte, but more like a coffee version of a hot cocoa.) I learned quite a few programs for manipulating sounds, and endeavored to compose and learn/explore simultaneously. Thus, the process was very much exploratory with much trial-and-error, but I set some basic parameters in that I had some previously recorded sounds that I composed (or had the rights to use) that I manipulated in different ways.

The staff also kindly set up some microphones so that I could record Mary E’s flute playing. I am most excited about the piece that I am writing for her, which will be for solo flute and CD (consisting of manipulated flute sounds that remind me of our local Metro station.) We collaborated on the recorded sounds in that although I wanted her to improvise, I gave her different styles to use in the creation of the music which I combined in different ways.

Each day I would work straight until lunch, meander out to get a quick and cheap comida corrida (and stuff myself as much as possible), come back and work until closing. Then at night I would cook an inexpensive meal of bean tacos, Skype with Mary E, and watch something on Netflix. (The Latin American iteration of Netflix is frustrating because it has much less content than the US version and rarely anything that we’re dying to see, but just enough so that you can’t really complain. It’s worth the approx. $7.99 (US) per month for the service, but you don’t get more than your money’s worth like you do in the US…but I digress.)

Thanks to the amazing staff and facilities, I really feel like I learned a lot, especially in doing some basic mastering, and I am happy with my first electronic pieces, which I consider as akin to a big paper at the end of a class. I am grateful to the friends that I made there, especially Dr. Rodrigo Sigal, who is an amazing composer and person. He founded the facility and it’s useful, vital, and very successful here in Mexico (and he’s in Japan right now, how cool is that!?). I am so excited to be playing the Mexican premiere of his piece Blood Stream for tuba and electronics in June.

El Dr. Sigal

If you’ll promise to be kind, HERE is a link to the music that I made during my 1 week there. Please keep in mind that I’m not intending for these recordings to be played alone, as I am composing instrumental parts to go along with them. I hope that someday soon I can either go back to study more at CMMAS, or have access to a computer music studio, or a computer at home equipped with some of that software. Again, a million thanks to Dr. Sigal and the CMMAS staff for hosting me, and if anyone is seriously interested in this music, I highly recommend going there to study and work!

Globetrotter

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Virtually every city block of Mexico City contains a tianguis (or some kind of its derivative), an open air market stop that originates with pre-Hispanic culture. Though it is not always convenient or feasible, I do enjoy patronizing these stands and stores because I feel like my pesos are going directly to help someone support themself, and not to a fat cat C.E.O. However, Mexico City also has many chain stores including US and European department stores, car dealerships, fast food joints, and the like. Mexico also possesses their own chain stores; among the most prominent are corner pharmacies,

Pharmacies

convenience stores,

convenience stores

restaurants and department stores,

Restaurants (and department stores!)

and many more.

But the store I wanted to mention this time is one that I avoided patronizing for a long time. Found in malls and on many prominent street corners is the café El Globo.

El Globo

Owned by the Bimbo bread group, El Globo café sells bread, pan dulce (sweet bread a la carte), donuts (donas), cakes, coffee, and a myriad of other delicacies. In our neighborhood, the ambiance is sparse and quiet, like a library, and much different from most independent Mexican pastelerías (pastry shops) that service a bustling clientele.

As I stated above, we try to avoid giving our money to THE MAN as much as possible, but idle hands are the devil’s playthings, and one morning while waiting for our laundry to finish (an aside: we call the gentleman who runs our laundromat, or lavandería, “cuarenta minutos” or “forty minutes” because, no matter when we get there and how little-to-no people are inside his establishment, he frequently tells us that a washer will not be available for 20-40 minutes), I strolled into El Globo to check out the goods.

And oh was I glad that I did!

YUM!

Submitted for your approval, to the left a dona Homero (Homer [Simpson’s] Donut), and to the right, a new favorite, THE GARIBALDI! There is a rich tradition of sweet bread (pan dulce) here in Mexico that arose from both the Spanish and French occupations. Due to this confluence of events, we have the splendid pastry the garibaldi.

Here is a link to a great blog about the garibaldi, and outside of Mexico I will definitely try to make them, but while we’re here I’m hoping to purchase and eat quite a few more. We recently tried El Globo’s chocobaldi, which was good and very cocoa-y, and there are other special flavor and editions to try:

like the Valentine's Day-baldi (literally the Garibaldi Heart)

“Buen provecho otra vez” – Yepts

…and there are many Diegos in Mexico

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Google Mural

You may remember encountering the image above if you hopped on the trusty, old internet on December 8, 2011 2012. Google dedicated their brand for the day to one of Mexico’s most famous artists/historical personalities, Diego Rivera.

THE man

Over the past months we’ve had the pleasure of viewing many of Rivera’s famous murals throughout locations in the city’s center, but in January we finally made the trek south to a very special site, the Diego Rivera Museum – Anahuacalli.

El Museo Anahuacalli

The site was breathtaking. In typical form, I hadn’t done any research on the museum before we went, and so I was extremely surprised (but also delighted) to find out that this was not just another art museum, but the entire edifice is a work of art in itself. From its picaresque (well, also picturesque) locale in a more wooded area of the city, accompanied by nopales (cacti, shown above), the museum houses Rivera’s significantly large collection of pre-Hispanic art and artifacts.

E.g.

But what is most impressive is the structure: a gift to the Mexican people (and fortunately, by extension, to the tourists) that incorporates design elements and materials of the collected works, an antimimetic masterpiece.  We loved it.

Art

Thus for good reason, there are many people named Diego here in Mexico.

N.B. I believe that the apostrophe in my title is correct. Even though “Diego” is not possessive, the apostrophe differentiates the proper name “Diego” from a fictional proper name “Diegos.” Hey, if one can name their kids Orangejello and Lemonjello (pronounced o-ránje-lo and le-mónje-lo), then “Diegos” isn’t too farfetched, or “Yepts,” for that matter.

According to the powers that be (Neil Oatsvall), the use of the word “many” makes the apostrophe unnecessary. – Yepts

Eat the Street

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So we’ve frequently mentioned how many places (and ways) that there are to eat here. From restaurants and pubs-like we have in the U.S.-to the many open-air comida corrida kitchens, taco stands, and food carts, you do not need to look far to find a satisfying meal or snack. Often where there’s a recognizable establishment, there’s also an antojito place of some kind nearby and food carts surrounding it.

Like a Starbucks, for example.

The longer we stay here, the more adventurous that we get (with limits, of course) in trying different eating establishments, open-air markets (we recently had barbacoa, much different than BBQ), and street vendors. As a general rule of thumb, if a place looks clean, it usually is. If an open-air establishment has a hand washing station with soap, then you’re good-to-go. If a cart or stand that serves meat has a small refrigerator or ice-packed cooler, that is also a good sign. You can never be sure, but if you trust all of your senses, then you’ll typically make out just fine. Usually you can watch the food being prepared, and although some carts are small and simple, others are large and intricate operations with fryers, griddles, etc. Even smaller people cooking food on the street cook on simple grills. You can argue about the food quality or the freshness of the raw materials, but the preparation is hot and fresh off the grill. Juice is fresh-squeezed, fruits and vegetables: fresh-sliced, etc.

Although this cart looks small and rinky-dink, these Churro carts are satellites of open-air snack places that make many different delicacies (e.g. elotes and esquites).

 There are also lots of places to pick up rotisserie cooked chicken on the street, either to take home or to enjoy right there, with fresh tortillas and salsa. One of our favorite chains to get rotisserie pollo and cebollitas (onions) is Pollos Ray, which I’m sure is some evil conglomerate, because they’re all over the city.

Pollos Ray

You can get all kinds of fruits and vegetables on the street from corn in the form of elotes (on the cob) or esquites (cooked corn, different from creamed corn or chowder), fruits or veggies prepared with chili powder and lime juice, even Beets!!!

Street Beets!

We also enjoy browsing all kinds of dulces (sweets, both traditional and processed), nuts (spiced or plain), paletas/nieves/helados (ice pops, ices, and ice cream), flan and gelatinas, and papas fritas (fresh potato chips) that are often covered with this gooey, mysterious substance called Chamoy! There is also a traditional Mexican food called chicharrón, which is kind of like a pork rind, and fairly ubiquitous in Mexican cuisine. Although we do not enjoy it, there is a processed brand of chips called Pake-Taxo, made by Sabritas (aka Frito-Lay) which is basically a mixture that contains fake chicharrón, made with like popped corn or rice or something similar fried, fattening, and delicious. The chips and dulces are interesting because you can buy them from vendors that are essentially homemade, from various food carts (made on the premises), from supermarkets or chain convenience stores, or from various alternative convenience stores called tianguis, which apparently evolved from Pre-Hispanic markets that were prevalent in the area. A lot of the snacks are drinks here are more savory than sweet, including fruit of the Tamarind.

You can't eat just uno.

This is the face that I make when I taste chamoy.

Tamarind Soda

Tamarind Candy

So we’re keeping our eyes open at markets, events, areas surrounding big, busy buildings or public transportation stations, and so forth for great places to EAT THE STREET!