Travelers to Mexico are digging into something different. While Mexico will always and forever be a favorite getaway for slathering on the sunscreen and soaking up the rays, there has been a significant spike in travel to Mexico for food travel.
Mexican food is one of the most popular cuisines in America, but most Americans are ordering Tex-Mex favorites like quesadillas, burritos and the ubiquitous chips and guac. While these certainly are favorites for a reason, cuisine in Mexico goes so much deeper.
Mexico is one of the top gastronomy destinations in the world; in fact, three restaurants in Mexico were recognized this year at the World's 50 Best Restaurants awards held in London. Mexico ranked fourth on the global list of most awarded countries, tied with Italy and Peru and behind only the U.S., Spain and France. The three restaurants, all in Mexico City, were Pujol, Quintonil and Biko.
This recognition is only a recent reflection of a culinary scene that has been exploding over the last few years as chefs take the kaleidoscopic landscape of Mexican cuisine and elevate it to the next level.
In August 2014, President Enrique Pena Nieto launched a policy to promote national gastronomy in order to draw attention to the importance of Mexican cuisine in the culture and as an element of travel. As part of that effort, he noted the creation of the “Ven a Comer” brand, which highlights the areas of regional Mexican cuisine, threads together each level of the culinary industry in Mexico and establishes national gastronomy as part of Mexico's cultural heritage (venacomer.com.mx).
“We are absolutely seeing a trend towards culinary travel,” said Zachary Rabinor, director general and CEO of Journey Mexico (www.journeymexico.com). “In fact, while most people don't travel exclusively to Mexico as part of a cooking or foodie tour, our guests are more and more interested in gastronomy and culinary experiences, from street food taco tours to haute cuisine with Michelin Star chefs.”
Each region in Mexico is known for a specific style of cooking way beyond what typical menus at all-inclusive resorts label as “Mexican food.” But there are specific destinations in Mexico that are renowned for “foodie” travel.
Mexico City should be a foodie's first stop when exploring the diversity of Mexico. Known as the Distrito Federal, or DF, to the locals, he capital runs the culinary spectrum from street tacos to fine dining in some of the world's top restaurants. In fact, Mexico City will host the 50 Best Restaurants in Latin America ceremony in 2016, reflecting the diversity and vibrancy of the city and country's cuisine.
More than 50 regional cuisines from all over Mexico can be found in the capital. Begin the day with a street food tour, snacking on local favorites from places like Puebla, Oaxaca and Veracruz. Explore open-air markets and food stalls where you can find tortas, corn equites and traditional tlayudas.
On a recent visit to Mexico City, I arranged for a customized tour of Mexico's street food with Journey Mexico. The half-day walking tour took me through neighborhoods like San Angel, Coyoacan and the bustling Mercado de San Juan. The day started with piping-hot churros dunked in chocolate or dulce de leche. This was followed with street quesadillas, stuffed plump with cheese and huitlacoche (a type of edible corn fungus that is much more delicious than it sounds). We also tucked into street pork tacos and tackled a torta that weighed more than four pounds stuffed with egg, pork, cheese, chicken, chorizo and about a dozen other heart-stopping ingredients.
For something more refined, hit the streets of trendy neighborhoods like Polanco, Roma and Condesa to dine in elegant restaurants with lengthy wine, tequila and mezcal lists. One of the newest and best in Polanco is Chapulin (http://www.chapulin.rest/), found at the InterContinental Presidente. This restaurant prides itself on serving back-to-the-street Mexican food but in a trendy and chic setting. The menu doesn't shy away from real deal Mexican food and includes local items like chicatanas (ants) and, as the name suggests, chapulines (grasshoppers).
For those who want to stick to familiar foods, the menu also has popular items like chochinita pibil, tacos and mole. The beverage list boasts classic Mexican favorites like tequila, mezcal and the now-trendy pulque, which is a fermented drink that dates back to pre-Hispanic times.
Mexico City's Roma neighborhood is up-and-coming among artists, fashionistas, culture vultures and the ubiquitous hipsters. For foodies in Roma, the spot to visit is Mercado Roma (http://mercadoroma.com/), a large indoor market with several vendors selling everything from charcuterie to tacos, sandwiches and gourmet coffee. Free WiFi pulls young professionals in from the neighborhood who sit at the picnic tables in the back. Upstairs you will find a rooftop beer garden, which is a popular spot for happy hour and into the evening.
?If your clients are heading to Mexico City, companies to consider that offer foodie tours are Journey Mexico, Mexican Food Tours (www.mexicanfoodtours.com), Eat Mexico (www.eatmexico.com), and Sabores Mexico Food Tours (saboresmexicofoodtours.com).
To see the other regions of Mexico that are known for their cuisine, visit http://www.visitmexico.com/en/cuisine.