This is a gigantic city of over 20 million people. It was impossible for me to get my arms around it. My orientation was off but my logic had me correctly go right when I thought to go left, etc. so we really didn’t spend a lot of time being lost.
One afternoon, Manuel and I just started walking from our hotel in the colonia Zona Rosa. We ended up in the Mercado San Juan, a very non-touristy market several blocks south of the Zocalo. We enjoy markets for people watching and seeing the various local fruits and vegetables, always finding something new to us.
We both were craving fruit and we saw something that we have not seen before. Since we both speak Spanish, we asked one of the vendors, a short (about 4’10” or 137cm), middle-aged Mexican woman, who appeared to have worked hard all her life and was wearing a way too-big and somewhat soiled white smock, about the fruit. She told us that is called “mamey” and insisted that we purchase one because they are so good.
We asked her to select one for us as we had no idea about ripeness, etc. We also asked her to cut it for us and she handed to the other person at the fruit stand, who turned out to be her bother, who cut it up and put it in a plastic bag in such a way that it would not leak onto our clothes. As we were hungry, we asked the woman if she could recommend a place to eat (there are many food stands in the mercado). She spoke with her brother, who asked us a few questions (yes, we wanted meat; yes, we were hungry; no it wasn’t important if the place did not cater to tourists).
After a lengthy conversation between them, the woman insisted that we follow her. We were kind of surprised that she left the market, and crossed a very busy street, dodging traffic – or more accurately – making traffic dodge her/us. While following her, I had a major deja vu moment: This was just like it was when I was child and following my very short but strong-willed grandmother. Nothing could get ever get in the way of something she wanted to accomplish.
Anyway, back to the story: She had us follow her into a small taqueria that had 4 or 5 seats along the grill and two tables in back. She then instructed the taqueria workers as follows, roughly translated: “My bother sent me here with these two men. You are to prepare good food with lots of vegetables and quality meats. Spare no expense in preparing something good and nutritious for them.”
It was so adorable that with her back to me, I couldn’t help but smile and laugh. So did the taqueria workers and 6 people who were already seated and eating. She then turned around to face us and said that we would have a good meal. I tried to get a photo of her but she was too shy. She left in a hurry, looking back once and waving to us only after she crossed the street.
The taqueria workers invited us in. Both tables were occupied so we sat at the grill, with two other patrons. They were all talking and laughing about our entrance. We were treated like honored guests by all. It was obvious that we were among the first tourists to ever set foot in the place. It seemed like everyone in the taqueria had a hand in deciding what we should order. We finally focused on alambres, a house specialty, and a drink made from the mamey fruit and milk.
Two of the customers left saying “buen provecho” to us, freeing up a table and we were directed to move there.
The alambres were fantastic. The mamey drink was great, but a little too rich for me.
The camaraderie that continued through the meal was fun and touching. The warm feeling I got from this experience continues to bring me joy every time I think about it.