Saturday, May 07, 2016

Guanajuato – food, glorious food

OK, time to write about Guanajuato! "About what? Where?" Well, last week we stayed at the beautiful, quaint, superbly preserved city of Guanajuato, in the state of the same name (practical, and confusing).

It's just a 5 and a half hour bus ride north from Mexico City. And despite it being a rather small city and mostly famous for a theatre and performance arts festival (the Festival Cervantino) that draws in thousands and thousands of people – and youngsters interested more in getting drunk in public than in art – we decided it was best to spend 5 days there when there was nothing going on, just enjoying peaceful, placid, unpretentious Guanajuato.

Now, since a friend in Amsterdam sort of made fun about how much I post about food – you know who you are, and I know you're reading this! LOL – I decided to make my first Guanajuato post about... food! So there! But of course there's a lot – unrelated to food – to write about, so expect at least some 3-4 more posts, eh?

Anyhow, the food. Unlike the Yucatán, which has a fantastic, independent and ridiculously refined culinary tradition, Guanajuato seemed to us – at least when it came to Mexican food – rather uninteresting. We went for their most famous and distinct item, enchiladas mineras (miners' enchiladas), which are corn tortillas around a filling of potatoes and carrots, with sauce and cheese. We had them at a fancy place by one of the main squares. And I'm sorry to say we were very unimpressed – and feeling quite a bit ripped off. And yet, that being said, our food experience in the city was still really good! And here's why:


Yeah, by now, there's nary a person in the western world that hasn't tried churros. But try having them from an old man selling them on the street, made in the most artisanal of ways, and munch on them while walking around a beautifully preserved colonial town. Much nicer, right?

Coffee, chocolate, cake and humour

We found this café called Café Tal. Simple, unassuming place, but with two noteworthy things. First, delicious cups of chocolate! Some 20oz of the stuff, delicious, dark, thick. Perfect. Yum! Second, a sense of humour. You see, their double espresso was called El Chapo, like the drug trafficker that escaped twice from a max security prison. In Mexico, espresso is sometimes mistakenly called expresso, which sounds like "expreso", or "former prison-mate", hence "El Chapo". Also, their chocolate cup was called a "beso negro", which literally just means a "black kiss", but which in sexual slang means "rimjob". And their take-away chocolate? A "beso negro público", or a "public rimjob/black kiss".

But my favourite coffee place, by far, was Estación Gelato. And with 5 days to enjoy, we kept coming back to this place over an over. First of all, the entrance was at street level on one street, but Guanajuato being the hilly place it is, the opposite side was a second-floor balcony overlooking a really nice alley. And we sat at that balcony time and time again, for a nice and relaxed reading time, and enjoying their plentiful delicious treats: great iced lattés, delicious espresso, artisanal (and sometimes vegan) ice-cream, and decadent cake. Plus, the staff was really nice. So, a total gem, this place.

Oishii ne!

And since we're talking about the balcony and the view, there was this tiny Japanese eatery on that same alley! Delica Mitsu. With not a very elaborate menu, but with the option of having a bento lunch! They had one of my favourite things, inarizushi (a pouch of fried tofu with a filling of rice and, in this case, a topping of seaweed), a seaweed salad, and a tofu curry salad. Very simple, but very authentic flavour-wise, filling, and at ridiculously good prices! Plus, in a super quaint alley? Loved it.

And on the Asian theme, we even found bubble tea? At Babu, by one of the countless squares of the city. Shame on you, China, for making us so excited about bubble tea!

The vegan, and the not so vegan

Being a very touristy place, we were bound to find a vegan place, called Escarola.  Again, rather simple fare, but very refreshing and tasty, like an avocado, cucumber and mint soup, or some nopal (cactus) and mushroom quesadillas with blue corn tortilla. Jealous much?

But also, and this is the not so vegan treat, tlacoyos! Now, these are very, very different from the Mexico City ones, which are usually made with blue corn and are fully sealed, with beans cooked inside. The Guanajuato ones were open at both sides, which made the beans less dry than the Mexico City ones, and had cheese, which is usually an add-on, when requested, in Mexico City. Still, they looked gorgeous, and the salsa that accompanied them was very good too (though it was ridiculously challenging not having it spill all over my beard!). Oh, and Mexican street food? So much better than food at that fancy place I mentioned at the beginning, ha!

The flood of 1905

I'll tell you more about the city itself later, but in 1905 they had this terrible flood, the worst in their history. And that flood gave name to this bar in yet another super pretty square – Bar la Inundación de 1905. A good place to have local beer (Guanajuato even produces stouts and red ales!) and local mezcal while enjoying the view at night. Really nice. Really chill. Perfect for our last night in the city.

A sweet good-bye

Now, the day we came back to Mexico City, I wanted to buy some traditional sweets for my colleagues back at the office. Now, the state of Guanajuato does produce many very traditional sweets but, because of their fame and because of the city's relative proximity to Mexico City, it's also not so hard to get hold of those treats.

But this very last day, after visiting a museum, we walked past this old house with a sign that read "La casona de la Abuela Chayo, dulces tradicionales" (Grandma Chayo's old house, traditional sweets), and lo and behold, two very traditionally sweets right there ready for me to buy! A guava and cooked sweetened milk (rollo de guayaba), and a block of jamoncillo (same cooked sweetened milk, with nuts). I couldn't resist, right? How unprocessed and traditional could it get!

We also found a very good Middle Eastern place (Habibti) with huge delicious falafel sandwiches, and another nice café on top of a bridge and with more local craft beer (Santo Café). 

So, when it comes to foreign food, it seems enough people from abroad fall in love with the city to open their own very authentic eateries. And charming cafés in charming corners are also the rule. As you see, all in all, despite the enchiladas mineras and other Mexican fare fail, we had a very good time eating and drinking in Guanajuato. Yay!

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