A Taste of San Miguel – Foods & Culture

posted in: Family and Friends, Mexico | 0

Monday’s planned activity was another tour combing walking, history, culture, and food. The four of us would be taking the “Taste of San Miguel” tour. We chose the Downtown San Miguel Tour, “a guided 3½ hour food and city walking tour featuring seven food tasting locations carefully chosen to highlight the best regional flavors San Miguel has to offer. Tasting unique regional foods is one of the best ways to explore and experience the culture and charm of a city. We have wonderful memories of our Charleston culinary tour last year and so thought this would be a memorable day to share with Sam and Kayda.

We meandered down and through the winding streets to reach El Chorro where we would meet our guide, Eric.

Walking through the winding streets over the cobblestones, passing picturesque buildings. Just another day in San Miguel!

Just past El Chorro is the Casa de la Cultura (House of Culture) promotes dance, visual arts, literature, theater and music workshops taught by specialists from each branch. On one of our strolls by this beautiful building we could hear choral singing filling the air. 🙂

Casa de la Cultura (House of Culture) infuses the arts into the community.

Back in the mid-1550s, Fray Bernardo Cossin moved to higher areas of San Miguel, to a spring that provided fresh water. That place is El Chorro, now this charming little park. This little haven is also called Los Lavaderos meaning laundry or washing place. There are still public washing tubs here that fill from a natural spring.

El Chorro, or Los Lavaderos. Those reddish cubes are the washing tubs. Water from the spring would flow into the trough behind the tubs.
Al and Sam investigated the washing tubs in El Chorro. There was never anyone doing laundry when we passed the park. The pic on the right is from the internet, to illustrate the washing in action.
Noon was a busy time in El Chorro. Vendors were displaying their merchandise and musicians performed nearby.
Eric, our guide greets us by the fountain in EL Chorro. Eric has dual citizenship, Mexican and American. Acting as a tour guide for  “Taste of San Miguel” is  just one of his talents.
Off we went, our little group of eight hungry people, trailing after Eric as he led the way.

First stop, La Parada, a Peruvian restaurant.

Al is ready to try La Parada. It is past noon and he is hungry.
La Parada’s interior contemporary decor showcased the outdoors, a fun bar, and a coffee table covered in license plates in the lounge area.
Our tasting was ceviche (typically made from fresh raw fish cured in citrus juices, such as lemon or lime, and spiced with ají or chili peppers)  – sea bass with chunks of mango and corn soaking in a delicious marinade, which was also a drink called “Tigers Milk.” I am not a fan of ceviche, but this was really delicious.

Before reaching our next tasting, Eric took a detour to show us Plaza del Toros Oriente, the “East Bull Ring”. Some sources state that it was built in the 1950s, others say 1856, a discrepancy of 100 years. Hmm?? My thoughts are that there was a bull fighting ring in this location, but that the most recent reincarnation of the structure was in the 1950s. That said, the building looks older than the 1950s to me. The bullfighting tradition of San Miguel has continued since colonial times. In his youth, Ignacio Allende, San Miguel’s favorite son and a horseman of great talent, was a rejoneador, the name given to a bullfighter who fights the bull on horseback.

Although bull fights are still held here, Plaza del Toros is now a venue for weddings, concerts, anniversaries, birthdays, corporate parties and events, expos, and any social gathering.

Entering Plaza del Toros —  In the top photo, there is a covered nook to the left of the entrance. In that nook is a tiled portrait of Esperanza Macarena, Virgin of Hope, shown in the bottom photo. Perhaps the bull fighters prayed to her before entering the arena for their fight? Or now brides pray to her before they enter the arena for their wedding???
Eric speaks with our group inside the arena, which has a capacity of 3,000 spectators.
An impressive overhead view of Plaza del Toros from their FaceBook page.

Back to the food!! That’s why we are here, walking about, right? Next stop was Casa del Diezmo.

The unassuming exterior hides surprises within. The first surprise is a mojigangas standing in the entranceway. Mojigangas are giant dancing paper maché puppets that are part of every parade.

Casa del Diezmo, dates back to the colonial era when it housed the administrative offices of the Catholic Church and the wineries for tithing. Under Spanish rule, before Mexican independence, citizens were required to give the church 10% of their income, which was often paid in kind with crops, livestock and in central Mexico, with silver. These funds supported the maintenance of the clergy and churches of San Miguel. Diezmo = tithe and diez = ten. The restaurant remains connected to its roots by keeping the name.

The interior of Casa del Diezmos is a beautiful courtyard garden setting.
We were served Cochinita Pibil, slow-cooked pork served on a panucho.  The pork is marinated in sour orange juice and then slow cooked in a hole (“pibil”). The panucho is a Mexican food specialty from the Yucatán made with masa, cooked on a dry, hot cast iron skillet until slightly puffy. The Cochinita Pibil was accompanied by 3 sauces, one guacamole, one fresh chopped onions and peppers (hot and spicy), and one darker one (VERY hot).

The third stop on our tasting tour was once again behind a very ordinary looking doorway in a wall, La Cocina, Café del Viajero, which translates to “the kitchen, café for the traveler”. It is most commonly known as “the kitchen.”

La Cocina, another nondescript exterior hiding charming interior spaces.

Like many of the restaurants we have seen, the entrance opens into an interior space that is really “interior” as in floor, ceiling and walls. Then one steps through into a courtyard, semi-outdoor space with light and plants.

Top photo – The first interior space.                                                                                Bottom – Another attractive outdoor courtyard. Our waiter is waiting by the table.
La Cocina’s Oaxacan Black Mole over an emmolada

I’ve always wanted to try a mole sauce, although I really didn’t know what the ingredients are. I learned that mole is a generic term for a variety of Mexican sauces   Traditional moles are labor intensive from the grinding of the ingredients, which usually include fruit, chili pepper and nuts. It was with great anticipation that I tasted La Cocina’s “Oaxacan Black Mole”. This mole recipe’s ingredients included cacao, 5 different chilis, pumpkin seeds, bananas, apples. The mole topped an emmolada (corn tortilla with shredded chicken.) I have to be honest – I was disappointed. Expectations too high?  It just didn’t appeal to my taste buds.

Los Milagros (miracles), our fourth restaurant, was also hiding behind a doorway.  It is said to be a ” local institution” that serves some of the best molcajetes and tortilla soup in town.

Los Milagros, another doorway that leads to ……
I would label Los Milagros as a typical (what I would imagine “typical” to be) Mexican cantina. A bar, a guitar player, with folks sitting around eating and socializing.
The guitar player added an auditory experience to our tasting. Click  here to see and listen to a short video of him.
We sampled tortilla soup with toppings – avocado, crema, farm cheese, pork rinds and dried pepper. I think I will try some recipes for tortilla soup when we get back home.

Stop #5 was not a restaurant, but a street vendor. Nieves Las Monjas is one of the oldest and busiest food stands in San Miguel.  Nieves Las Monjas has been serving homemade Mexican ice cream for 40 years. With no electricity, the ice cream is kept cold using the old-fashioned, low tech method of salt and ice. Nieve means “snow” and Las Monjas means “the nuns.”  I get the snow part for ice cream, but nuns???

Choosing a flavor was not easy. There were traditional flavors such as vanilla, chocolate, strawberry and oreo cookie, but there even more adventurous sounding flavors – yerbabuena, mamey, cajeta, montecado, guayabo, zapote.  I chose almendra, an almond that was deeply flavored like almond paste.
Ice cream! Is there really anything else that needs to be said?
Stop #6  – San Agustín Churros y Cholocate
San Agustin churros are “second to none.” So good we gulped them down before I took a photo. Therefore , this is a standard internet pic of churros.

The tour had taken a decidedly sweeter turn by now. After the ice cream, the next place was San Agustín Churros y Cholocate, a San Miguel landmark. Unfortunately, it was too crowded for the ten of us to enter. Eric brought the churros out to us in the park across the street.  Churros are a fried-dough pastry, sprinkled with sugar, and often dipped in chocolate.

The doorway to El Gato Negro. Note the black cats on the swinging doors.

The final stop was more unusual than any of the others. El Gato Negro, the second-oldest bar in San Miguel de Allende, is a tiny hole-in-the-wall cantina, dating back to 1921. The original owner had a business delivering fuel, and a black cat was its mascot. The business changed (a different kind of fueling?) but the black cat theme stayed.

We were here to taste tequila, served in these sweet itty-bitty pottery “mugs.”

The bar is so tiny  that the 8 of us just barely fit inside. The walls are covered with memorabilia, mostly Marilyn Monroe, with the Beatles and a few others interspersed. Salud, Sam!
My first straight-up tequila ever. Whoa!!! Very different from a marguerite.

For 50 years, El Gato Negro was a men only dive. Here’s the proof in pictures —

Starting at the top: 1) Look at the base of the bar behind the ladies’ dangling feet. 2) Running along the base of the bar is a tiled trough. 3) A close-up of that trough.    Men did not have to leave their bar stool to relieve themselves. Understood?? And no, it is no longer used. That all changed in the 1970s as Mexican women began receiving more legal rights and social customs changed.

I hate to end the tour’s description on that note, but that is where the tour ended. Haha. We all had a great time on our “Taste of San Miguel” adventure and would enthusiastically recommend it. It was fun, it was yummy, it was outside on a beautiful day, and indoors in lovely settings (mostly). We thoroughly and literally enjoyed a taste of Mexican culture. What more could you want?

On second thought, there is a better way to end this “Taste of San Miguel” blog post! Sam introduced us to two Mexican beers (not Corona or Dos XX).

Both are obscura or dark beers – Bohemia Chocolate Stout and Modelo Negra.

Modelo Negra quickly became our favorite. As Brian’s Belly describes it —“A complex beer, redolent with caramel and chocolate flavors from the malt, the beer is perfectly balanced with a bit of spiciness or nuttiness in the hop aspects of its flavor profile.”  Our new favorite cerveza. We shall try to find it in New England!

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *