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Only in Mexico City
can you go from this…
to this.
This is so essentially Mexico
to me.
Our food from the past
is the food for the future.
I’m Andrew Zimmern,
and this is “Bizarre Foods.”
Captions by VITAC —
Closed Captions provided by
Scripps Networks, LLC.
Mexico’s capital is one
of the world’s alpha cities.
Its greatness began
more than 700 years ago,
when the Aztec people
built a floating city
on the lake
that once filled this valley.
Today, greater metropolitan
Mexico City
has a population
of over 20 million,
the largest
in the western hemisphere.
For a thousand years,
the city has reinvented itself
many times over,
but its past
is never fully buried.
Modern, Spanish colonial,
including even pre-Aztec,
all coexist here in the present.
The best way to experience
Mexico City’s history
and culture
is by eating the street food.
Tepito is known
as Mexico City’s barrio bravo —
the fierce neighborhood.
They take pride in the name
and in the reputation
for aggressive hustling.
The heart of the district is
an immense, sprawling market,
unregulated, across 25 streets,
selling most anything you can
think of —
stolen goods,
black-market knock-offs,
and some of the best food
in town.
So, does the food exist
for the commerce,
or does the commerce
exist for the food?
Oh! That’s the central question
that we’re dealing with.
[ Laughs ]
To catch all the nuances
of this place,
Daniel Hernandez
is excellent company.
He’s a modern-day explorer,
searching out the soul
of his city and the subcultures
of its most colorful
Daniel works as a journalist
and authored
the expressionistic memoir
“Down & Delirious
in Mexico City.”
Right, well, the food really
in Tepito is the gasoline,
the engine that you get
in order to shop.
Tepito is about shopping.
Right. Mm-hmm.
Best not to ask
too many questions
about where the goods are coming
from or who gets them here.
70% of the black-market commerce
in Mexico City
passes through
this neighborhood.
Much of what goes on here is
controlled by criminal gangs,
but the people
doing the selling
are mostly just hardworking
families making a living.
For a lot of people, it’s either
here in Tepito,
sell some
knock-off tennis shoes,
or try to make it across the
border to the U.S., you know?
Right, because this
is a neighborhood
that is almost like a city
within a city.
It’s controlled.
It’s controlled
by an independent group
of businessmen.
[ Laughs ]
Let’s put it that way.
Police tend to stay clear
of Tepito.
That’s why,
coming here with our crew,
we were advised to hire
some security guards
from neighborhood bosses.
Their presence signals
to the vendors and the customers
that the right people
have signed off
on our cameras rolling here.
This has got to be
the most popular place
that we’ve seen so far.
So what’s
the specialty here?
Here they have the migas —
it’s called migas chuchas —
right in the heart
of Tepito.
Hello, everyone.
Migas is a soup made from pork
knuckles and other bits —
hearty food
that people look forward to
for family meals
after a blowout Saturday night
or before a long day
of work.
Yeah, this is the Tepito dish,
the Sunday-morning cure-all.
[ Speaking Spanish ]
Oh, sí, sí, sí.
You know, you see this,
the white, sort of fatty stuff?
That’s not fat.
That’s tendon.
The fat is just floating
in the broth.
Salt and lime.
By the way, the chilies
have been scorched in oil,
fried, and then you
crumble them.
ZIMMERN: Around here, they say,
if you come to Tepito
and don’t eat the migas,
you didn’t come at all.
Dig in. Let’s do it.
Thank you.
Oh, my God.
The fat, the skin,
the onions — delicious.
It is so savory.
I mean, look at that.
It’s heaven.
Fatty tendon
and knuckle meat.
Knuckle meat.
The essence of all things
[ Laughs ]
This is rich with fat,
but it’s not greasy.
The knuckles are rinsed
in boiling water,
then simmered all day long,
kept separate from the soup,
then served in a rich brew
of skin, tendon,
and bits of meat
from the pork leg,
onions, and vegetables.
The hidden treasure in this dish
is the bone marrow.
Use the straw
for the marrow.
Straight out of the bone.
[ Speaks Spanish ]
[ Slurping ]
It’s nice, isn’t it?
Oh, yeah.
Very, very clean.
Usually, pork marrow tastes
more fatty and more organy.
This is pure flavor.
It’s absolutely gorgeous.
It’s, you know,
pork butter —
pork-fat butter.
Most of the market’s food
and merchandise stalls
are just cloth or vinyl
stretched over makeshift frames,
put up and taken down
every day.
Oh, wow.
So it looks like we’re
right in the mix.
This is fantastic.
Oh, my goodness.
Breakfast dishes.
Are we stopping here?
I think so.
My God. I mean, how do you walk
past this?
This is unbelievable.
This is all pork —
blood, meat, tripe, skin.
You got the whole stem
to stern here.
[ Speaking Spanish ]
Well, like a lot
of vendors here,
they commute for hours
every day almost
to bring all these meats
from their communities
that are up in the mountains,
in snowy regions
that are about two hours
from Mexico City.
ZIMMERN: Incredible,
and they bring with them
the authentic flavor
of their state or their town.
ZIMMERN: These hunks
of pork skin are chicharrones.
Maria simmers hers for hours
in a homemade chili broth
spiked with lime.
The longaniza she serves
is made exclusively with meat
from the pig’s neck
and shoulder,
and they are twice-cooked,
straining out the excess fat
and intensifying the flavor.
The pork blood sausage
is enriched
with bits of brain and liver
and a carefully crafted blend
of spices
reflecting generations
of cooking in her home region.
What do you think?
That’s really amazing.
The style of
the blood sausage here,
there’s a little bit
of sweetness in it.
It’s got that little bit
of nutmeg and cinnamon.
There’s maybe even
a little raisin in there.
I mean, some of those
mole ingredients
kind of find their way
in here.
That’s very characteristic
of that region
in the Toluca Valley
in the state of Mexico.
See, here’s the thing.
A lot of people walk by this
in a market,
and all they see
is street food.
But what they don’t understand
is that the number of steps
that it takes to get those
products to where we see them
would rival any three-star
Michelin restaurant anywhere.
It’s unbelievable.
Before leaving Tepito,
Daniel’s taking me to see
one of the most remarkable
religious icons,
not just in the neighborhood,
but in all of Mexico.
I mean, there’s a lot of people
who are watching this
who aren’t gonna understand
how death brings
hope and faith.
Believe it or not,
this is a source
of love and comfort
for thousands.
And this
is indigenous caviar.
Son of a [bleep]
These things are biting.
And [blows] they hurt.
ZIMMERN: Mexico City’s religion,
like so much else here,
is a mix of Roman Catholicism
with folk beliefs
predating the arrival
of the Spanish
and even predating
the Aztec era.
In the rough-and-tumble district
of Tepito,
people pay homage to the patron
saint of the one thing
that all life has in common —
Our Lady of Holy Death —
Santa Muerta —
is a Mexican-based sect
that counts
an estimated 5 million
One of the first and still
the most famous of her shrines
is here in Tepito.
On special occasions,
like the Day of the Dead,
pilgrims come here
by the thousands.
The shrine was created
by Enriqueta Romero
as a full-size, public version
of what she and thousands
of other believers
keep inside their homes.
So, Santa Muerte is not
a bad thing,
and she wants to express that
and express how for some people,
this belief gives them moral
support and emotional support.
There’s so much symbolism
and so many things
that are important here,
I don’t even know
where to begin.
But, you know, cigarettes,
candy, eggplants, apples.
prayers for help and healing,
and tokens of thanks
for prayers answered.
I mean, there’s a lot of people
who are watching this
who aren’t gonna understand
how death brings
hope and faith.
You already have the death
inside of you.
You already are
the skeleton.
So there’s nothing to be
afraid of.
And when she told me that,
it really hit me in the face,
this realization that death
really is
an essential part of life.
Yeah, we’re all going there.
We’re all going there.
I mean, this is
just borrowed time.
Faith, food, crime, commerce
weave their way seamlessly
through everyday life
in Tepito.
Passing once more through
the market seems like the time
to show some appreciation
for the experience.
Michelada is a local favorite —
flavored beer —
in this case, tamarind,
lime juice, and salsa
for a sweet-and-sour kick.
One for Daniel and one for our
local security detail.
I wouldn’t have been able to
come here and see
everything that I saw today
if it wasn’t
for your inspiration
and your hard work,
so thank you.
Thank you, too.
And thank your friends that made
this possible for us.
If this is possible,
everything is possible.
[ Laughs ]
Well, everything is possible
in Tepito, right?
You just have to know
the right people.
That’s it.
Get on the road heading out
of Mexico City by sunrise,
ahead of the traffic,
and in less than an hour,
you’ll be in the state
of Hidalgo.
This rugged, wide-open country
feels like home
for Jose Carlos Redon.
And is this where your family
has a place?
Yes. My grandparents come
from Hidalgo.
Jose Carlos is a Mexico City
chef and visionary.
He’s in the forefront
of new culinary development
and one of the first to embrace
the food truck revolution
that’s a relatively recent
phenomenon here.
His greatest passion is being
an explorer and evangelist
for genuine Mexican cuisine
rooted in local culture.
And is the idea
of these new sort of sustainable
farms catching on?
We are aiming for that.
Nowadays, there’s a lot
of people that grow
their own vegetables.
I mean, we’re in the desert.
We have insects.
Ants, bugs, grubs, worms —
not the kind of livestock
most ranchers would brag about.
Jose Carlos is on a mission
to raise awareness
of the food treasures hidden
in this harsh landscape.
We’re in a chain of hills a few
miles from his ranch house,
making the last harvesting trip
of the season
to his maguey fields.
Maguey is a type of agave plant,
a vital crop to this region,
and it’s home to Jose Carlos’
most important cash crop.
Underneath some
of these maguey plants
are nests of the black ants,
whose eggs are the escamole
that’s become
culinary gold dust.
Before we get to the nest,
the ranch hands have found
telltale signs
of another edible treasure
that hides in maguey plants,
the maguey worm.
There he is.
It’s a small worm.
It’s a beauty.
Between here and the city,
there are roadside stands
selling red maguey worms
by the bag.
Indigenous people have eaten
them for centuries
as an incredibly rich
protein source
to go along with cheap staples,
like rice.
By going right to the source,
we found one
that’s not really a worm.
It’s a pupa on its way
towards becoming a moth.
And there’s
a little grub poop.
This is how you demonstrate
that I’m at the top
of the food chain.
Look at this, pal. Mmm.
Absolutely no taste
Fantastic shock value,
Now, how do you guys
usually prepare these?
Do you just eat them raw?
Usually, we toast it,
and it’s the best with salt.
And that’s it, because it gives
a crispiness,
and it has, like,
a really creamy, foamy texture
once you cook it,
and it’s amazing.
They really are delicious.
This guy took another crap
in my hand.
Well, he kind of likes you.
No, he does like me.
Yeah, young ones don’t have
a lot in their stomach,
’cause actually, that one’s
very sweet.
It will be sort of sweet,
because remember, this one has
a really sweet flavor.
Well, the worms
aren’t stupid.
They’re small,
but they’re not stupid.
Yeah, yeah. Absolutely.
I mean, this is good food.
The ants’ nest is under
a different maguey plant.
People have been eating the eggs
since prehistoric times,
using the very same tools.
What’s he doing?
He’s checking
for the eggs.
By smelling?
It has a really strong
pheromonic aroma.
There’s a little.
[ Speaks Spanish ]
Ah, yeah.
You can smell it.
Oh, my — sí.
I mean, that’s
almost like lime.
You know what I mean?
It’s very citric,
yeah, yeah.
Okay, so, first thing,
you come.
So, we clean all this dirt
you have to clean up.
And those are rocks that
you guys put there, right?
Yes, rocks so they
are protected.
You have to pull it down.
Oh, my gosh.
And you can see there are
little ant trails in there.
You can smell it.
Oh, yeah, oh, yeah.
You can smell it
from here.
And you can see
these are the workers.
These are the small workers.
So I’ll pass it to you.
Thank you.
The sharp, shooting pain —
do they actually have
little mouths?
[ Laughs ]
Yeah, it’s gonna start.
Here. You hold that.
Son of a [bleep]
So, as you know,
the season is
already pretty much,
but these are the queens.
This is the last day
of this season.
This is the queen.
Oh, my goodness.
But are those white things
the eggs?
Those are the eggs.
Yeah, that’s escamole.
But that’s only the workers.
We don’t eat that.
I put the queen
back there.
Are you sure you don’t want
to grab this?
Yeah, no, no.
I’ll take this from you.
There you go.
You can shake it off.
I will say on television,
you look like a bit of a wussy,
complaining about ants,
but these things are biting.
And [blows] they hurt.
Yeah, so, you can see that these
are the different ones.
And they’re actually starting
to move them,
because, you know,
they’re the queens,
and they need
to keep them safe.
So, from — aah!
[ Laughs ]
This is usually the way
it goes.
Look! I know!
And this is nothing.
Sometimes you’re just covered.
They’re all over you.
So, these is what you
would collect and sell.
Yeah, and if you
taste it now,
it’s gonna be
completely different —
Than when it’s toasted
and cooked.
All right, so —
Son of a [bleep]
They taste of the smell
of that stick.
Yes, they do.
I mean, almost indistinguishable
from it.
It’s, you know, milky, white,
citric almonds.
And they get much more nuttier
and toastier when you cook them,
but they’re delicious
in this state.
It’s recommended not
to eat too much.
‘Cause of the toxin.
The toxin, yes.
It will create,
depending on the person,
some type
of allergic reaction.
These ant colonies are
a self-sustaining resource,
and extra care is taken
in preserving them.
So, once you take
what you need,
we cover back the nest
just the way it was
so the ants will continue
to work normally.
So this is an important part of
the sustainability practice,
though, that you’re trying
to work
with the local ranchers
and farmers on, right?
Exactly, so the idea is once
you have a nest that works,
that nest can be there
for generations, you know?
10, 20, 25 years.
Arguably the oldest food
in the world
is also one
of the newest foods.
Our food from the past is
the food for the future, so…
ZIMMERN: There’s more of these
ancient foods for lunch
back at the ranch.
I mean, their nickname
is stinkbugs, right?
There’s no shortage
of various species, either.
It’s like midgets coming
out of the car at the circus.
Just add a little salt.
ZIMMERN: Jose Carlos Redon
and his family
bought land and built a ranch
out here in Hidalgo
to create a personal getaway
and food lab
to explore how to bring
indigenous Mexican food
into the mainstream.
Ants, worms and a yard
full of giant mesquite bugs
are in season.
I mean, their nickname
is stinkbugs, right?
REDON: Chinche pedorra,
because it makes that noise,
and it has the stinkiness.
The smell is just —
I mean, some people think
it’s a little bit rancid,
but to me, it’s just kind of
like tutti-frutti
or a piece of, you know, like
a banana went a little bad,
sat around,
and got too ripe.
Before they’re cooked,
the bugs are cleaned
in saltwater,
which also euthanizes them.
While they’re soaking,
Jose shows me
his nopales cactus cluster
on the side of the house.
And where there’s nopales, you
can usually find nopales worms.
There’s a hole.
There they are.
ZIMMERN: Got them. Wow.
Yeah, yeah, yeah.
No, I got them.
Oh! Hello!
It’s like midgets coming
out of the car at the circus.
[ Chuckles ]
Oh, my God.
REDON: Right. There’s a few
more, but I think that’s it.
Well, all right, then.
That’s a nice catch.
That is a nice haul.
This is zero-kilometer,
indigenous food.
From cactus to stovetop,
nothing in between.
Add a little salt,
a little oil.
And these guys are ready,
so you just —
Great. Throw them on here.
Put them right there.
And they need
a little bit of salt.
Sure. No problem.
There’s nothing to distinguish
how we’re eating right now
from people standing on this
spot a thousand years ago.
It’s a nice bug.
It is a very nice bug.
Oh, my God.
You can’t tell me
that that doesn’t taste
like shrimp or lobster.
It’s like a soft-shell crab
that’s cooked over the fire.
Yes. Similar.
Very, very sweet,
and with the salt,
oh, it’s unbelievable.
The worms have
an earthy character,
sweetened by the plant that
both feeds and shelters it.
And these are really easy
to find.
They’re really clean-tasting.
I mean, obviously, they’re
eating all that nopales,
so these guys are eating
green food, and they taste it.
I mean, I think it really is
the flavor of a green bean.
It’s got the texture
of an old pus bag,
but I think it’s delicious,
’cause you have got char
on the outside.
Sadly, fresh nopales worms
aren’t an option
at most restaurants or markets,
even here in Mexico.
Escamole, on the other hand,
is surging in popularity.
A high-quality batch
like this
can sell in a retail market
for about $60 a pound.
There’s already onions,
mushrooms, and jalapeño
sizzling in the pan,
along with aloe vera blossom,
all harvested on the farm.
Oh, my God.
Look at the flowers.
Just gorgeous.
Cheers, my friend.
Oh, wow.
[ Laughs ]
What a gorgeous combination.
There’s a milky softness
to those eggs.
It almost feels
like I’m eating an omelet.
Mm-hmm, mm-hmm.
Got that gorgeous,
sort of soft-egg flavor to it.
The onions and the chilies
sort of just belong in there
with that
scrambled-egg flavor.
And there’s an herbal, sort of
floral quality, sweetness
that the aloe vera flowers give
that’s extraordinary,
with a little celery crunch.
I mean, that’s it.
This is
the flavor of Mexico.
You know, it’s not, uh,
cilantro and tomato salsa
at the fixings bar.
or nacho-cheese dishes.
[ Laughs ]
Which is one of the other things
we really need to work on,
you know, is knowledge
about Mexican food
that is not
the real Mexican food.
Yeah, yeah. True.
The authentic flavors
of this land
stretch from the hills
of Hidalgo
to this city neighborhood,
where they still travel and eat
like ancient Aztecs.
But there’s restaurants
all over the world
that are trying to do this
and get this kind of flavor
and simplicity in their food.
ZIMMERN: Less than an hour
from Mexico City’s urban hustle
are the hidden remnants
of a vanished world.
This is all that remains of the
system of canals and farms
that brought food to the Aztec
capital more than 500 years ago.
Most people don’t realize
that Mexico City is a city
that’s built on water.
Most of it’s filled in now,
but hundreds and hundreds
of years ago,
the city was an island
in the middle of a lake.
That lake was dotted
with man-made, floating islands
of farmland called chinampas.
the last of those islands
have come to rest here
in the district of Xochimilco.
They’re still home to
a small remnant of families
descended from farmers
who put food on the table
of Aztec kings.
Basilio Rodriguez
can trace his ancestry
back to before the coming
of the conquistadores.
He farms a couple of islands,
each no more
than a stone’s throw across,
doing all the work by hand.
These tomatillos
are beautiful.
Tomatillos, right?
Do you do this all yourself?
[ Both speaking Spanish ]
With his family —
his family help.
From this little bit
of ground,
Basilio raises enough
to feed his family,
along with a small cash crop
they sell at the local market.
It’s incredible,
because Basilio’s life right now
is not that distinguishable
from the lifestyle
of a thousand years ago here —
same thing.
It’s a way of life that,
as they say in Mexico,
requires hands of stone.
Manos de piedra.
Manos de piedra,
like in the old days.
Pretty much.
Yes, you can see.
You can see los manos
de piedra.
Yeah, yeah!
He says that these are the ones
who feed the family.
That’s a tool.
At the end of his workday,
Basilio invites me home
to dinner.
Tourist barges on the canal
use motors.
People who live and work here
travel the way
their ancestors did.
Basilio’s house is down
this little side alley.
I love my life, but the grass
is always greener.
You know what I mean?
We have arrived.
Basilio pulls
into his driveway,
parks his boat,
and the day’s commute is done.
[ Laughs ]
Basilio lives here
with his wife, three sons,
his mother-in-law,
and an edible menagerie.
Yeah, I was gonna say,
chickens and pigs.
[ Dog barking ]
Yeah, fantastic.
You got a nice thing
going on here, buddy.
[ Laughs ]
These are fish
that Basilio catches
out of the canals
farthest from his home,
where the urban pollution
hasn’t quite reached.
They are the ones
he sells in the market.
It’s a beautiful,
little perch.
This backyard system keeps them
fresh and lively.
That’s a nice carp.
Tamales are
what’s for dinner —
whole perch wrapped in each
of these corn husks,
seasoned with onion,
tomatillo, and chili,
or fish eggs prepared
the same way,
both roasted on the fire.
Oh, sí, sí, sí.
You don’t need a translator
to understand that Basilio
is saying this is the food
of their grandparents.
Inside the aluminum foil
is exactly the kind of meal
Basilio’s ancestors were eating
a millennium ago.
Fish was a staple when this
entire valley was a big lake.
But there’s restaurants
all over the world
that are trying to do this
and get this kind of flavor
and simplicity in their food.
But unless you’re in a place
where the same guy
who’s growing the onions and the
chilies and the tomatillos —
He’s also raising the fish,
and his wife is cooking them
on the comal in their house,
just never gonna get it.
[ Chuckles ]
So good, so good.
So, these are the carp eggs?
Every flavor in this tamale
has been coming
out of this same ground
since before the Aztecs —
tomatillo, jalapeño,
and the distinctly Mexican
flavor of epazote.
You know, I was expecting the
carp eggs to be dry and crumbly,
but mixing them
with all of the vegetables
and sort of steam-roasting them
in the corn husks
keeps them really creamy, even
though they’re cooked through.
They’re not fishy.
What you’ve built here
is really beautiful.
You have a lovely family,
and you have a lovely home,
and thank you, and thank your
wife for sharing this with me.
Muchas gracias.
Food raised here still finds
its way into the city,
like it has for centuries.
Basilio and his whole family
bring their crops
to the Xochimilco market.
It’s a treasure house
of iconic Mexican food.
Intestines and stomach
and liver and lungs
never tasted so good.
It’s heaven.
The district of Xochimilco
has been a food portal
linking Mexico City
with the surrounding country
for more than half
the last millennium,
and the heart of that gateway
is the Xochimilco market.
No one knows her way
around this market
better than Ruth Alegria.
She’s a chef
raised in New York,
with ties to Nicaragua
and Panama.
But her passion for this cuisine
brought her to Mexico City
as a writer, teacher,
and culinary tour guide.
Xochimilco market is immense,
with hundreds of vendors selling
everything you can imagine,
from spices to fruit, meat,
vegetables, fish,
and of course
simple street foods
made with superb,
fresh ingredients,
refined to perfection
by centuries of practice.
In a market where there are
so many people
doing so many
similar dishes,
how do you divine
who does what?
By tasting and by looking
and knowing
that she prepares her things
every day.
These tamales are made
with tiny, whole minnows.
You can see right here
the little heads peeking out.
And I have to say,
some people said
those are whitefish
or baitfish.
And I’m going, “Yes,
but they’re good to eat.”
[ Laughs ]
Very, very good.
First of all, the texture,
with all
those little bones in there,
it’s almost like
at the very end,
you’re eating a little bit
of glass,
but in a good way.
Don Lupe’s tamales are the best
in Xochimilco market.
Here’s someone who has
three tamales.
That’s his
complete offering today.
And each one seems like it came
from a different cook,
because they’re so
staggeringly different.
And, I mean, this one is
creamy and meaty,
even with
just those mushrooms
and that beautiful
chili flavor.
It’s no wonder he’s sold out
by 10:00 A.M. every day.
Sitting here today, it’s
the best tamale I’ve ever had.
Every corner of this market has
a unique, handmade specialty.
And is this all from one
tortilleria, or is each —
No. Always at home.
This is all homemade.
This is chicharron prensado,
which is a little bit
of all of the pieces
that come off when you’re doing
the comfit of pork.
My other favorite
is pig head.
Oh, yeah. Look at that.
Lamb, lamb,
and more lamb.
And a fantastic
stuffed stomach
filled with every little bit
of offal that you could imagine.
Intestines and stomach
and liver and lungs
never tasted so good.
It’s heaven.
Outside the market’s
main building
is a makeshift village
of vendors,
bringing food
many have grown themselves
directly from the field
to the city.
Fava beans are
freshly shucked.
They will shuck them
for you.
And, of course, this is when we
get our best mushrooms.
Mushrooms out the wazoo.
Just beautiful.
That’s a mushroom.
This is el cacahuazintle,
which is the very large kernels
of corn.
And this, again, seasonal.
[ Sniffs ]
And what she does —
she steams it.
You can see there are bags
ready for people to take home,
but she also does —
she puts them on a stick,
and then she’ll slather them
with mayonnaise
and some chili salt.
The crowning touches are
a sprinkle of chili powder
and a squeeze of fresh lime.
Look at that.
Isn’t that gorgeous to look at,
first of all?
Oh. [ Laughs ]
That’s a good bite.
Mayonnaise is just a vehicle
to make it stick,
so I need to beat that down
with the citrus,
and then it becomes
corn heaven.
I mean, it really does
bring out every nuance.
All those ingredients
bring out
a different characteristic
in the corn.
You know, the chili really
brings out the nuttiness,
and the lime brings out
the sweetness, you know?
It’s all about contrast.
This same variety of corn
serves as a host
to the corn smut fungus
known as huitlacoche,
one of the most iconic
indigenous Mexican foods.
You see that black, inky stuff
that’s even getting bigger
and richer?
Oh! There we go!
And that’s what happens
as you cook it.
And it transforms.
In a food format, this is, you
know, going to the dark side.
Huitlacoche is a fungus
distantly related to mushrooms,
with a flavor and texture
uniquely Mexican.
Here at Xochimilco market, cooks
can buy their huitlacoche
just hours after the corn
is harvested,
carry it a few hundred yards
to their grill,
mash it, mix it with chopped
onions and jalapeño,
and add a touch of epazote,
the sharp-tasting herb
that’s been flavoring this kind
of food for a thousand years.
In the market’s cavernous
indoor display floor,
there are multiple puestos —
food stands selling
quesadillas and sopes.
I mean, there’s 40 stalls
all serving the same menu,
but this one seems
the most crowded.
As you can tell,
that’s one order to go.
Right. [ Laughs ]
This is always a madhouse,
this particular puesto.
The heart and soul
of this operation
are Josefina and Raquel.
These are two twin sisters.
Yeah, you can tell.
You can tell.
But her sister’s
forever making
the tortillas
for the quesadillas.
This is fast food.
So you would sit here,
and as fast as she
can make them,
they go out, and a great many
of them are to go.
The sisters’
handmade tortillas
make a perfect platform
for huitlacoche.
Look at all that
fungus-y goodness.
with the huitlacoche.
Oh, God, the aroma.
Mmm. Mmm.
Isn’t that delicious?
This is creamy, musty,
sweet with corn.
I mean,
it’s not a big flavor.
It’s a very kind of mild,
earthy, mushroom flavor
that sort of permeates
The epazote and the chili
and the onion,
that little bit
of corn kernel
sort of brings out
all of the funk
in the good huitlacoche.
At a market like this,
you feel yourself standing
on top of the roots
of what makes Mexican
street food truly Mexican.
A newer development
are restaurants
connecting these native flavors
with the ultra-chic, urban
neighborhood of Palancas.
Jose Carlos has a contract
to deliver his escamole
to one of the world’s
greatest restaurants.
I just love conversing
with somebody who says,
“Well, you know, all the flavor
of this ant is in the belly.”
There are very few people that
can have that conversation.
You and I are two of them.
ZIMMERN: After harvesting
escamole from his ant nest,
Jose Carlos sells those ant eggs
to Pujol,
the most celebrated restaurant
in town,
run by Mexico’s
most famous chef.
Enrique Olvera is fired
by a passion
for the indigenous food
rooted in Mexico’s past
and a vision for transforming
the experience of eating them
by applying
avant-garde technique.
The escamole is served
on charred leeks,
split, tied with chives, filled
with bone-marrow emulsion.
And then you want
to add the eggs.
I love how they just melt
on there.
It’s just unreal.
And, also, texturally,
the contrast with the eggs
and the charred leek,
I can taste it already.
It’s just gonna be
This is gorgeous.
[ Chuckles ]
Oh, wow.
Tying the leeks, though,
creates that little bubble
of moisture,
so all that leek juice that’s
in there doesn’t escape,
doesn’t get flattened out
and scorched too much.
It almost holds
all this magic elixir.
And that —
That makes it good, no?
The marrow emulsion?
That is fantastic.
Enrique is inspiring a new
generation of Mexican chefs
to take their inspiration
from the tastes and smells
of their native land.
We have a fascination
in Mexican culture
with burning stuff,
as you know,
so we started to think
about something
that would give you the smell
of burnt corn,
which is when you travel
in Mexico
one of
the most present aromas.
It begins
with charring baby corn
and creating a mayonnaise out
of the earthiest of flavors —
chicatanas, the toasted stomach
sections of large, flying ants.
That’s only the belly, because
that’s where the flavor is.
Those have been toasted, too,
so it’s only — try one.
Oh, no,
here’s the thing.
I just love conversing
with somebody who says,
“Well, you know,
all of the flavor of this ant
is in the belly.”
There are very few people that
can have that conversation.
You and I are two of them.
Yeah. it’s fantastic.
I always try to explain
to people
that it’s chocolate
and then a sour fruit.
But it’s so complex.
It’s so deep and smoky
and toasty.
It’s one of my favorite flavors
on Earth.
The chicatana goes
into the mayo,
along with lime, chilies,
and a dash of espresso.
Enrique dips the corn
in the mayonnaise,
and then it goes into a lek,
a dried pumpkin rind filled
with charred corn husk.
It’s a beautiful smell.
I mean, I think
it is almost —
to me,
it’s like heartwarming.
Maybe it’s
because I’m a Mexican.
So, this is the same husk
of the corn,
and we just cover it up
to smoke it.
It’s very simple.
Oh, look at that.
[ Laughs ]
That nutty sweetness
from the corn
and all
of that aromatic flavor
from all of the toasting
and roasting and scorching
with that coffee,
lime, chili,
bitter, gorgeous,
funky ant mayonnaise
is just gorgeous.
And that with a little mescal
on the side is perfect.
I can’t even imagine.
Olvera is reimagining
the most traditional and
simplest of true Mexican foods.
Home kitchens in Mexico
often keep a pot
simmering on the stove,
cooking down
the week’s leftovers.
Pujol’s kitchen pot holds
what they call mole madre,
the mother of moles.
So we just have an old mole
that we reheat every day,
and then, every time
we make new mole,
we throw it to the old mole,
and then it becomes —
so now it’s like
a big, mysterious,
alive kind of a thing
that I think is very nice.
So, there are parts
of this pot.
There’s mole in there that
some’s been in there a year.
Some’s been in there a week.
Some may have gone in yesterday.
Exactly. This is the beautiful
thing about this one.
This one has more than
a hundred ingredients.
A mole this magical
and deeply flavored
deserves its own curtain call,
so Enrique serves it solo,
with just a splash
of today’s red mole.
And then you just go
like this.
So it’s mellow now.
It’s very soft.
This is so essentially Mexico
to me.
There’s everything in there.
Oh, my God.
Sweet and sour
and salt and acid.
That’s delightful.
That’s crazy.
This is the best —
Do you want to know something?
Do you want to know something?
I am gonna lick the plate.
Thank you, Chef.
That is so good!
Mexico City’s finest restaurants
now take their cues
from the same foods offered in
the humblest of street stalls.
The authentic flavors of Mexico
are there for the tasting,
out in the neighborhoods
and amongst the people.
They have never lost touch
with the food traditions
of ancient ancestors,
and now all is rediscovering
those traditions
with a renewed sense of pride
and a bold spirit
of reinvention.
So just remember, the next time
you’re in Mexico City,
if they look good, eat them.