OK , I have to admit it – my memories of a recent foodie trip to Mexico are just the tiniest bit blurry. Don't get me wrong: it wasn't that the warmth and vibrancy of the country didn't make an impression on me, but more that after a few glasses of tequila, things got a bit hazy, to say the least. The purpose of the trip, in theory, was to taste authentic Mexican cuisine and street-food alongside two new varieties of tequila, and we certainly gave it our best shot.
Mexican cuisine, thankfully, is nothing like the plasticky food dished out at UK Mexican eateries. My first taste of the real stuff came in the country-club surroundings of the Hotel Camino Real in Guadalajara, which is the second most populous city in Mexico, after Mexico City. The hotel's breakfast was certainly worth getting out of bed for – they served everything from griddled tortillas with cheese to an insanely rich and delicious tripe stew.
Then we headed straight into town to the Mercado de Abastos, Guadalajara's amazing food market, which has stalls piled high with weird-looking fruit and vegetables as well as high-quality restaurants and stalls selling a fabulous selection of stews and tacos with every filling imaginable, including, bizarrely, shredded cactus.
One thing I quickly discovered is that every single meal is accompanied by tequila. The traditional reason for this is that Mexicans "condition" their stomachs with a quick shot before starting on the spicy, rich cooking; so who was I to argue?
The next day we headed off to the nearby town of Arandas, about an hour east of Guadalajara, which is one of the main centres for tequila production in Mexico. We decided to stop off for what I imagined would be a light lunch at the Carnitas Jaime restaurant. How wrong could I be? The first thing I saw as I walked through the door were several huge cauldrons full of simmering pork, and what was extraodinary was that every part of the animal had been used and was cooking gently in its own fat, like an enormous confit, to be served up in slices on huge plates with a selection of salsas. I've never seen, or tasted, anything like it.
This rich feast was certainly enough to see us through most of the day and when we arrived in the town of Tequila, less than an hour's drive away, we barely had room for dinner. The tequila-maker Tom Estes, who has just created a new brand called Ocho, let us into a great local secret when he took us to his favourite haunt, a small back-street bar called Cantina La Capilla, with very little space but bags of character. After we had consumed a few local beers and a good few shots of Ocho tequila, we somehow made room for the most delicious dainty tacos. The street food here is among the freshest I've ever eaten, and most of our evenings in Mexico ended with a quick fix – even after a big dinner – of tacos or tortillas from a street vendor.
Although I consider myself a bit of a tequila connoisseur, it was none the less illuminating to find out more information about the production of the liquor. The cactus-like plant blue agave is transformed into a fine clear alcohol with nothing added except mineral water. The volcanic soil near Tequila in particular provides perfect conditions for agave, and every year more than 300 million of the plants are harvested there.
We spent our last day back in Guadalajara and it was my turn to cook at the kitchen of the esteemed Esteban Morales, at his popular new restaurant Gulala. I went straight back to the Mercado de Abastos and picked out whatever looked most appealing to create a feast for Esteban and the rest of our party – see related links for the results.
* Join chef Shane Hughes for a "Wild Food Experience" at the finest country house hotel in Wales. forage for wild ingredients such as garlic and samphire – and then eat them for dinner, combined with seafood, salt marsh lamb and locally shot game. Ynyshirhall.co.uk; 01654 781209
* Record numbers of foodies, including our own Mark Hix, attended the Speciality & Fine Food Fair (specialityandfinefoodfairs.co.uk) at Earls' Court last autumn. Book now for this year's international feast (6-8 September) to sample everything from award-winning cheese to chocolate.
* Le Case del Borgo a, 13th-century converted farm estate, is one of Chianti's latest foodie boltholes. Expect gourmet excursions, a cavernous wine cellar, open for tastings, a spa with wine therapies and dinner as mama makes it. 0039 055 991 871; lecasedelborgo.comReuse content