Mexican moles and mid-summer madness

When one visits a big beautiful country like Mexico, it’s quite unlikely that refrigerated warehouses or cabbage farms would feature in your top ten ‘Must See’ list.  Unless you are just weird, being paid to do it, or have a generally warped sense of adventure..(or all three).  Impressed with the stunning Mayan ruins of Chizhenitza? Well, wait till you see the world’s largest refrigerated warehouse belonging to the world’s largest retailer in the scruffy suburbs of Mexico City!  To lovers of Mexican food it may come as little surprise to learn that the country’s top food spends include avocados, chilies, tomatoes, onions and limes, but when do you ever get the chance to see 50 container loads of the stuff  all in one go? Guacamole heaven!

As the Eskimos have 100 different ways to describe do the Mexicans of their chillies..

Tired of the city and longing for an escape to the countryside to see real Mexicans with large hats snoozing under large cacti grasping a bottle of tequila? Why not instead try three days of delightful encounters with real, big, bronzed vegetable farmers..(who do anything but snooze under cacti) You will be surprised how little you knew about growing lettuces in a global warming-challenged climate!

Snoozing Mexican

And if all these rigours prove too much, there is always fried cactus, a cold beer and a Mexican mole to fall back on at the end of the day.  In fact the mole deserves more than a passing mention (and I am not talking about a small dark furry mammal wrapped in a burrito).

More accurately pronounced mo-le, this rich, chili-chocolate sludge allegedly originated from a 16th century nunnery, where, the story goes, a bunch of panicked nuns were compelled to whip up something at short notice in order to impress a visiting Bishop.  They were nuns of slender means, as I imagine most nuns were in those days. All they had at their disposal was a random selection of spices, 10 different types of chili, a bit of dry old bread, a lump of dark chocolate (naughty decadent nuns!) and a mangy old turkey.  There was a distant rustle of important-sounding robes in the dim, dark corridors.. the Bishop was fast approaching! The poor nuns, cobbling together the ingredients they had, including surprised scrawny turkey, were saved in the nick of time by divine intervention: an angel appeared with a recipe. The Bishop thoroughly enjoyed his turkey and chili-chocolate sauce and their souls were saved.

[Note: There is a competing theory that claims it was the Aztecs’, rather than the Archangel’s, recipe.  But apparently this version has very little grounds for credibility because the Aztecs never used chocolate in food,  only for worship. In other words it was akin to using communion wine in your cooking – just not the done thing. Personally, I like to believe the first story, because the mole is, in fact divine..turd-like though it looks in its original form]

Making a mountain out of a mole

Mexico City: not for the faint-hearted.  In fact, even the brave-hearted will probably struggle come the midday sun.  20 million strong, big, hot and hairy, the city is so huge that your average map, when opened out, will wrap around you at least twice.   But fear not, help is at hand. For every Aztec site, colonial palace or meandering market maze, you will find a Starbucks or a sleek air-conditioned mall to match, cleverly located at key ‘wilting points’ around the city.

There can’t be many places that can boast, within such a small space, such a huge span of history: pre-Colombian pots, Aztec ruins, Spanish castles, revolutionary monuments and stock exchanges..all within a square mile or so. A bit like having Stone Henge, Hadrian’s wall, Buckingham Palace and the Gherkin all within spitting distance of each other.

The splendid 24 ton calendar stone - not one for hanging on the wall

Aztecs were overly fond of signs. It was both their making and their undoing. The founding of Mexico City (formerly Tenochtitlan) took place after someone spotted an eagle sitting on a cactus eating a snake in 1325. The arrival of Hernan Cortez 200 years later was another sign. Poor old Moctezuma apparently believed the Spanish scoundrel was the re-incarnation of the god Quetzalcoatl and handed over his gorgeous green feather head-dress as a welcome gift..And thus was one blood-thirsty colonizer replaced by another..

How to turn heads at a party: 400 quetzals died in its making

The locals are a bit miffed that their city is no longer the largest in the world thanks to upstarts in China and India. But with an over-abundance of museums (150) a tendency to sink (over-wrought aquifers) wobble (seriously seismic seizures), and be home to controversial characters in history (Trotsky, Frida Kahlo), it’s still arguably the most interesting mega-city in the world. It also beat Boris to Boris Bikes and host to the Olympics..

And as for the Trotsky-Kahlo affair, well, therein lies a fishy tale..! In my rummaging around on the subject, I discovered that the two may never have met had Russia not threatened to impose a ban on Norwegian herring.  Under Stalin’s baleful eye, and with the prospect of losing a fat fish contract, Norway’s offer to give him asylum was meekly withdrawn. With the rest of Europe similarly fearful of retribution, poor old Trotsky had nowhere to turn.  He turned up in Mexico City with his goatee and tweed jacket (clearly hadn’t checked the weather forecast) and before long he and Frida were exchanging more than communist manifestos. Sadly it didn’t end well – at least for Trotsky – who was later found with a pick-axe in his head.

Trot, his missus, and the lady with the world's most famous eyebrows

On my last day in the city I was wilting in the cool marble shade of this lovely theatre waiting for a friend. Said friend was an hour late (Latin male), and in the course of this hour I was approached by no less than 5 consecutive gaggles of giggling students asking the same 5 consecutive questions in English.  Always the girls that did the talking, the boys too cool for school, lounging at the back, hands in pockets, flicking their Ricky Martin-esque haircuts.

La Bella Artes: Marvellous Marble

Where was I from? What did I like best about Mexico? What was my favourite Mexican food? Would I like to marry a Mexican? Why/Why not? By the third group I was getting bored, the fourth trying to hide behind the pillars, and by the fifth, had decided to turn the questions on them. Best thing about Mexico: The only other United States in the world. (Interesting) Favourite Mexican food:  My mum’s burritos (Sweet) Marry a Mexican: Maybe. Not if he’s fat. Yes if he can sing or cook. (Sassy!) The boys tried to look unimpressed with the girls’ answers but seemed a little edgy. Here was a new generation of confident young Mexican women expecting their men to be slim and accomplished..With a scary 70% of Mexicans aged 15 +  either overweight or obese I didn’t fancy their chances. Better get investing in those singing and cooking classes, boys!

I couldn’t help thinking of the plaintive remark made by one of the farmers a few days earlier.’trouble is with the young these days’ he said ‘they just don’t eat enough lettuce..’  I couldn’t agree more, I said.  Gotta love a farmer’s perspective on life. Simple, crunchy, wholesome. Just like lettuce in fact.

Let us eat lettuce!


One response to this post.

  1. Liza

    Your writing is like a hot salsa (the food). Spicy, interesting and attention grabbing . Love it.

    Thank you for the great stories and for, for a moment, sweeping me away from an overcast London.



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