Carne de calle – street meat – is not an adventure that should be undertaken lightly. There are very real risks associated with it but there area also ways to mitigate those risks and make a pretty good guess as to potential exposure. Vendors that have a means to ensure the cleanliness of the plates they serve food on are a much safer bet, for example. In Mexico City most use disposable plastic sleeves over the plates. High volume is also a good sign as it means the food is fresher and spends less time sitting out waiting to be cooked or cooked and waiting to be served, the two times that food is likely to have the bacteria that will get you sick growing in it. Finally, I go for places that have a lot of locals there. Not a guarantee of food safety, but generally a pretty good vote on quality.
Enough of the lesson on spotting good street meat. Let’s get to the good stuff. On the trip to Mexico City six weeks ago I ended up going for the guy operating a small cart just in front of my hotel. But that was a Monday morning. This trip had us in town on a Sunday and a Holy Day at that. Not much of a chance of that working out (and I was right – he wasn’t there). Instead we ended up about a mile up Paseo de La Reforma, at one the main square near the Hidalgo Metro station. There were a few dozen folks set up cooking in the plaza giving us a wide variety of choices. Tacos or quesadillas? Pork or beef or chicken? Each vendor had their own specialty and picking one to eat at was no easy task. One vendor made sure to point out the options he had available – both pork and pig – while others simply called to us inviting us to sit down.
We finally settled on one of the vendors and ordered up sampler platters – three tacos of chorizo, pork and chicken. Add on a soda (the Coke is still made with real sugar in Mexico) and some chipotle salsa that they had out on the tables and we were in heaven, all for about 40 pesos (~$5) each.
Between inhaling the food and enjoying the local flavor we found ourselves in a discussion of just how much fun it is to find little dining places like that. We were surrounded mostly by locals out enjoying their day and fully absorbed in their bit of life. It was essentially full immersion, without anyone really minding that a couple of crazy tourists happended to be plopped in the middle of their life. Phenomenal.
We actually were going to hang out for a second round, this time at one of the quesadilla shops, but we were out of time and already late getting back to the hotel to gather our bags and head to the airport. Truly a shame, though it does give me something more to look forward to for the next trip.
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