A Taste of the Ciudad

“Be careful,” they say. You listen to one too many warnings about traveling to Mexico City, and you think you’re entering a drug warzone choked by pollution and traffic.

But walk the streets of “el DF” for a day, and the smiles and the sunshine melt your fears away. You travel down one more quaint, beautiful street filled with flowers, vibrant colors and happy couples kissing, and you wonder where all the thugs and drug dealers are hiding. And soon, you start smiling, too.

Welcome to Latin America

Mexico City is our landing pad in Latin America. Despite millions of Canadians visiting sunny Mexico every year, Helene and I had yet to set foot on Mexican soil, for some reason. To tell you frankly, we were a bit scared. We feared Mexico would be too americanized; as America’s northern neighbor, you can definitely say this of Canada, after all. We feared we wouldn’t be able to escape the tourist hordes.

But then my best friend Frank, who traveled on three continents with me, dispelled our apprehensions with his trademark tact and finesse:

“If you don’t like Mexico, it’s ‘cuz you’re dead.”

Bless you, Frank. We must be alive, because we love Mexico already.

The World’s City

Helene and I might be new to Latin America, but there’s a lot that felt familiar the second we walked the streets of Mexico City. Flashes of Shanghai, Kolkata, Bangkok and Damascus all jumped at us, blended in with new smells, new sounds, new faces.

Yes, Mexico City is crowded; but less than Hong Kong or Chennai. Mexicans are generally polite, so it’s always a surprise to hear a con permiso instead of getting elbowed in the gut. It’s polluted, yep; less so than Kolkata or Shanghai, though I feel it in my lungs whenever I go for a run. There’s traffic aplenty, but they do slow down most of the time if you jump in front of them; it’s a refreshing change from the aggressive charge of Arab drivers in Aleppo or Beirut.

Far from the asepticized cities of its northern neighbors, Mexico feels alive and vibrant, crowded with bustling market stalls. Everywhere you go, the smells of tacos al pastor mask the diesel, while the nasal litany of a tamal vendor competes for attention with the wails of police sirens.

Food, Food, Everywhere

The most pleasant surprise about Mexico City is the sheer amount of street food available. In its density and smells, the ciudad shares the enviable company of food cities such as Istanbul and Bangkok.

We followed our backpack foodie instincts, and dove right into the street food, gringo concerns be damned. Agua de alfalfa, a blend of alfalfa greens, pineapple, lime and a bit of sugar, has risen to my top three favorite juices of all time, and I drink it at the drop of a hat from the corner restaurant near our hotel. Once I tried my first taco al pastor, savored its juicy, grilled pork meat and fresh pineapple, drenched in spicy salsa verde, I began to drool every time I walked past the shawarma-like grilled pork meat.

Mexico City is noisy, crowded, polluted, and filled with music, laughter, and the tantalizing smell of food at every corner. No wonder we feel right at home.

Where to Go

Street stalls selling tasty Mexican staples can be found all over the city. Follow your instincts and a few street food principles, and you’ll get a world-class foodie experience. A set meal called comida corrida is available in most sit-down restaurants and even some street stalls; it provides a more complete meal experience, including a soup or consommé, rice or pasta, and a main dish. Some corridas even include dessert and tortillas, most for less than $5 USD.

There’s a reason it’s called “tourista” – you get it by eating tourist food, not local delicacies!

Safety

Is Mexico City dangerous? Mexicans and foreign residents we met all agreed it’s generally very safe. That being said, it is not absurdly safe like some Asian cities such as Tokyo or Damascus: you’ll need a dose of common sense and the ability not to attract negative attention to yourself. Listen to local advice on what is safe and what to avoid, and you’ll learn to adapt to the city’s pace in no time. In general, the tourist areas such as Centro, as well as the more upscale areas such as Coyoacan are safe, even in the evening.

Ignore the tourist drama queens who claim there’s a mugger waiting for you at every corner. Listen to locals, and you’ll soon learn to enjoy the city safely, just like them. No one would claim all of New York City is safe, yet millions of tourists enjoy it every year. The same can be said of Mexico City.

About Daniel Roy

Daniel is a writer, backpack foodie, slow traveler, and endurance runner. He is the author of the upcoming book, "The Way of Slow Travel: A Hands-On Guide to the Best Travel of Your Life."

3 comments

  1. Wow!!

    You have said everything Daniel, thanks for sharing your experience in DF.

    BTW I think Mexico also loves you both!

  2. “Be careful,” they say. You listen to one too many warnings about traveling to Mexico City, and you think you’re entering a drug war-zone…” LOL 🙂 tell me about it! Dude, i’ve heard the same sentence each time i tell a friend or a stranger that i’ll be moving to Mexico City.

    Anyway, thanks for sharing ur experience with us, its really appreciated.

    Regards!

  3. Claudia: Aaw, thank you. 🙂 I’m always particularly happy when someone who lives in a city I write about agrees with what I said. It means I did my job of keeping an open and curious mind!

    Abdel: Haha. I hear you. Glad you enjoyed the post, and thanks for the comment!

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