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Day 211 – By the Book (The Food of San Miguel de Allende)

May 9, 2011

Location: San Miguel de Allende, Mexico

Date: Monday, May 9, 2011

I’ve fled Mexico City for San Miguel de Allende, a small town four hours to the northwest. It’s incredibly clean, picturesque, and full of foreigners. But we’ll get to that tomorrow.

For now let’s focus on the food of San Miguel (de Allende). After hours traveling on a bus (another bus!) it seems like an easy enough topic.

It also gives me a chance to talk about guidebooks. Since Argentina, I’ve traveled without one, surviving off the internet and word of mouth to get by. This worked.

For Mexico I opted to pick one up because I actually have to plan. Most importantly, I needed a place to go to when I got off the plane and a decent map to keep the cab driver honest—you know, keep him from driving me off the grid and murdering me for my satchel of American gold.

With a guidebook safely shoved under my arm (like a crutch), I now remember the joys and the frustrations of traveling by the book. First off, the maps are crap. The little dots are always a little off, they never show all the streets, and even the streets they do show don’t always have names.

Worse, they put you on “the trail.” Every budget traveler uses a guidebook from one of three companies. There’s a lot of crossover. Everyone ends up at the same bars, the same mine tours, and the same dorm rooms.

The upside is that you don’t feel totally disoriented when you arrive somewhere. The map might be of better use as toilet paper, but trying to decipher one is like rubbing a lucky rabbit’s foot, working a rosary, or waving the mouse at a frozen computer screen—it just makes you feel better.

Plus, if you’re too tired to spend three weeks searching for a place that serves a decent torta, that list of restaurants in the back is handy. Which is how I found the following eateries.

LOS BURRITOS burriquesos

Calle Mesones 69A

The guidebook says this place is all about the antojitos and the awesome guisados (stews) that get dumped into the tortillas. I ordered a burrito maxi and three of something called burriquesos which, for you Americans, is basically a soft taco with melted cheese and the guisado of your choice.

The burrito maxi turns out to just be a larger version of the burriqueso with two stews instead of one, so let’s focus on the burriquesos.

I opted for chipotle, pierna (chicken leg), molé, and chorizo. (Astute readers will notice this is four guisados, not three. That is because I went back and ordered more. This last fact is what we in the business call “foreshadowing.”) The mole was a touch too sweet for me. The chicken tasted like chicken. Which makes the overwhelming favorites: chorizo and chipotle. Weighty, earthy, and savory.

The best part of the whole meal, though, was the tortillas. Super fresh. Fresher than a drunk frat boy in Cancun.

Just behind the counter, a girl worked the tortilla equivalent of an automatic waffle iron. Two heated plates rhythmically pressed together then separated. With the coordination of a Double Dutch champion she tossed a ball of masa (dough) between the separated plates, watched it mash into a perfect tortilla, then—as the plates separated—simultaneously pulled out the freshly made tortilla and whipped in another dough ball. Two seconds later, that tortilla was on your plate filled with cheesy, stewy goodness.

This is, a great guidebook find. Any time you have to go to the caja (purchase window) and sheepishly ask for “Tres mas, por favor,” you know they must be doing something right.

SAN AGUSTIN churros y chocolate

Calle San Francisco 21

The guidebook says this is the best place in Mexico for chocolate and churros. The menu offers hot chocolate España (thick, bitter), Mexicano (sweet, creamy), and something else (I left my notebook in the hostel).

Since I’m in Mexico, I opted for the local version which includes a little cinnamon (canela) and is whipped with something called a molinillo. The chocolate comes from little choco disks. It’s heartier than most American versions and the canela (or often chili pepper) gives the chocolate a lift, sort of like the hot chocolate, canela and pisco from Lima. More proof that adding something with some kick to chocolate usually works out well.

Each hot chocolate comes with an order of three churros sencillo (plain/simple). I opted for a bonus churro relleno de chocolate (chocolate filled). All good; every last one.

I can’t say for sure whether it’s the best in Mexico. Only way to find out is to eat more churros and drink more chocolate.

The things I do for the sake of science. . .

La Posadita enchiladas, margaritas, “meat dishes”

Cuna de Allende 13

The guidebook says La Posadita is the place to go for great views, good margaritas, and other Mexican fare. I came for the views and got suckered into sampling an adobo.

Adobo, mind you, has a long tradition in the Philippines. My parents never cooked it because my mother is a vegetarian, which pretty much means she’s discarded values like “flavor” in favor of health. (If you can deny yourself the deliciousness of meat, you’ve obviously not placed it high on your list of eating priorities.) I don’t think I had real adobo until I was in my 20s. I do, however, now know it well.

Every Philippine island has its own recipe. But adobo isn’t confined to the islands. It’s quite prevalent in Latin America. In fact, my beloved city of Arequipa in Peru specializes in a version. Best I’ve ever tasted, in fact.

So let’s just say expectations were high when I ordered the adobo. Too high.

Unfortunately, the meat was a bit dry and the sauce reminded me more of a molé and lacked the bite of vinegar or garlic that I associate with adobo.

On the upside, the agua de Flor de Jamaica (water flavored with roselle) was delicious and the views were as good as advertised. Perhaps I should have done what the guidebook said and just ordered the enchiladas.

So that’s the food. If you were wondering, I didn’t all that in one day. I had that over a couple. I’m a pig, but I learned my lesson from my epic eating day in Lima. I still eat hearty, but I pace myself.

Tomorrow, I’ll talk about San Miguel de Allende the town, the city, the fantasyland. Till then.

GALLERY: No bonus pictures today.

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