On The Road: Making a meal of things in Chiapas, Mexico
Saturday 11 April 2009
When it comes to Mexican food I confess to being a complete addict. The cuisine from the south of the country is as far away from your average Tex-Mex fare as you can get. From the wonderful chocolate-chilli concoction known as mole, to the throat-burning, eye-watering habanero chillies, this part of Mexico is full of culinary treats for the brave of palate and adventurous at heart.
Grasshoppers might seem something of an acquired taste, but in the state of Oaxaca, these crunchy critters are a delicacy when toasted with garlic, lemon juice and chillies, so who am I to turn them down without at least nibbling a few? If washed down with the local firewater mezcal, tequila's wicked grandad, even small insects can become a tasty option. At least until I discover the famed worm at the bottom of my glass, nicely pickled. Would I perhaps be safer with another well-known Oaxacan brew – coffee? No, it turns out this is also drunk with a generous dose of mezcal. To spare my liver I head towards Mexico's southernmost state, on the border with Guatemala: Chiapas.
San Cristóbal de las Casas is one of Mexico's quaintest and prettiest cities, as well as one of its coldest, thanks to its highland location. It's a great place to settle down for a while and kick back. Food is nice and simple in Chiapas; corn tortillas, frijol beans, abundant fruit and vegetables, hearty stews and warming tamales – steamed corn dough often stuffed with meat and wrapped in corn husks. In the small village of Zinacantán, a short drive from San Cristóbal, I suddenly find myself invited to share a meal with a Tzotzil family, one of the many indigenous groups in the state. Doña Magdalena is quietly preparing blue corn tortillas on a hotplate over an open fire, passing them to me piping hot, indicating I should help myself to fresh avocado, ground pumpkin seeds, crumbly flakes of white cheese and as much of the spicy red salsa I can muster. It is the simplest, most delicious meal of my entire journey.
Footprint's 'Mexico and Central America Handbook' (£16.99) is out now
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