March 21, 2016: Let’s call this the eating and drinking edition, two of our favorite things.
Of course there is a huge market in San Cristobal where you can buy all kinds of food and household staples. Like…
Produce is amazing. We’ve never seen so many types of bananas in one place and these berries are perfectly ripe and delicious.
But we haven’t eaten much meat recently. We’re sure this is all perfectly safe and delicious, but we just haven’t grown accustomed to unrefrigerated meat or dried fish.
So we have largely skipped the meat and enjoyed the vegetables. We’ve been surprised to find a good selection of green vegetables, including swiss chard.
And of course the market is a great place to observe people.
There’s a lot of local cheese (those are stacks of cheese to the right). This is somewhat confusing as we’ve also been told that most of the local indigenous people are lactose intolerant. But regardless, there’s a lot of good cheese.
And of course if you don’t like the traditional market, there are giant grocery stores where you can find most anything that you’d find in a U.S. grocery.
And then there’s always the option of just buying food from street vendors.
In addition to the excellent market, there are an endless supply of restaurants to check out. We found this little place by accident. La Rubicunda looks like someone’s living room as you walk by, but they serve cafe de olla, coffee with cinnamon and sugar served in these beautiful ceramic cups, and a really delicious pozole. That’s a pork stew with hominy that comes to the table with lots of add-ins to choose from like avocado, radishes, lettuce, onions and cilantro. They also play old Mexican music on vinyl.
This place seemed a little expensive at first, but we’ve been there twice and each time they served us a drink with the meal at no extra charge, gave us a free dessert and some house made candy came with the check. The first time we ate there at an off peak hour, maybe 3:30, and we were the only customers. Toward the end of our meal, we noticed that the entire staff was gathered in the kitchen, watching one of the cooks work on something. Laura asked what they were working on. We were instructed to wait a moment (which was more like 20 minutes. Mexico.) and they brought out another sweet for us to try, an experimental item for menu consideration. These were super nice people, with 3 generations in the kitchen.
On a different stroll down one of the 2 pedestrian streets we came across a large complex of restaurants around a covered central courtyard that seemed like it could be found in Edina (MN) or maybe the Galleria area (Houston). There we found, among other things, Italian with wood-fired pizza, a Thai restaurant with actual spring rolls, a Peruvian restaurant, and yes, craft beer.
Bars and Bar Food
San Cris also has a healthy selection of bars and nightclubs. Many of these feature live music almost every night of the week. You can find everything from norteño to jazz to rockabilly. These guys were really good:
One of our favorite bars is La Viña de Bacco. This wine bar doesn’t have live music often, but has a great selection of inexpensive glasses of wine, including several Mexican wines. Every time you order a drink here, you get a small plate of tapas – we’ve always found this to be a piece of bread topped with something tasty.
In addition, they have more substantial food that includes this delicious meat and cheese plate, and they are located in one of these great colonial buildings with patios on both the street and on the beautiful interior courtyard.
It’s not just the wine bar that serves snacks with drinks. We found that practice to be the norm in San Cristóbal. Virtually every bar serves some snack with drinks, and it’s often popcorn that’s been freshly popped in a giant kettle. If it’s not popcorn, then some kind of peanut mix is a likely second choice.
Or if you get lucky, you might get a pot of garlicky potatoes served with your mezcal.
Speaking of mezcal, one thing we’ve learned on this adventure, made totally clear in hip San Cris, is that tequila is out and mezcal is very much in. Mezcal and tequila are both made from agave plants, though tequila only comes from one type, blue agave (agave tequilana) while mezcal can be made from any of a variety of agave types.
Tequila is also an appellation. It can only come from the Tequila region, northwest of Mexico City) Mezcal, on the other hand, can come from anywhere. It is produced all over the county (though the best is said to come from Oaxaca) and is made in a wide variety of styles, yielding lots of different flavors. While mezcal had previously developed a reputation as the cheaper, harsher cousin of refined tequila, today artisanal mezcals are the finest, most delicious spirits in the land.
Consistently we’ve found it to be served with orange wedges and a seasoned, spicy salt. That salt traditionally contains ground up worms that live in agave plants. The is an alternative to putting the worm in the bottle, which is also sometimes done. You probably have some association of a worm and tequila, but that’s not tequila, that’s mezcal.
And as we said before, happily there is a developing craft beer scene in this lovely city with a lot of very enthusiastic young people at the helm. We found Dos Amores Boutique, a tiny bar with beer and mezcal (the two loves).
There’s also La Internacional, which looks like a tiny startup, but is actually a chain.
And the place looks really cool, including another setting on a beautiful colonial courtyard.
But here’s the interesting thing. See this beer menu?
It’s more aspirational than instructive. It reminds us of something we recently read about menus in Mexico; they represent what the proprietor would like to serve you, not what he has. It’s always important to ask.
And then there’s Selvatica, which is actually a brew pub. Their beers are great on tap, somewhat mixed when bottled. Such is the life of a young brewer. One night we encountered a Londoner there who told us he had spent the past 2 years living in the nearby Guatemalan jungle. He looked and smelled as if this were a plausible story. We found these guys playing there another night. They weren’t there for money, just jamming:
We also tried pulque while in San Cris. It’s a traditional pre-hispanic beverage made from fermented agave juice (as opposed to mezcal and tequila which are distilled). Apparently pulque is all the rage, especially in Mexico City. Laura found it to be kind of gross with a mucous-like consistency. At least it was cheap.
We’ll leave the pulque to the hipsters.
We also found a lot of good, affordable wine in liquor stores.
Mexico is producing some really good red wines, and they are very good value.
Well, that’s our look at the food and beverage side of San Cristobal de las Casas. Next time, we’ll take a look at some of the sights.