Andy Allen’s Top 5 Must-Try Foods In Mexico
Food + travel + Mexico = bingo!
Masterfchef alumni Andy Allen and Ben Milbourne have remained close buddies since their season wrapped up in 2012. While honing their cooking skills with various ventures, the best friends have spent the time in between travelling the globe, culminating in a successful web show and their debut television series Andy & Ben Eat The World. Having travelled to Mexico together in 2013, Andy Allen sheds some light on his five favourite eating experiences from the country.
Condensing two weeks of eating into a list of Top Five Eats is a pretty tough call. From the moment we stepped off the plane we were assaulted with delicious smells, ingredients, markets, restaurants and street food everywhere we went in Mexico. Having dreamed of visiting the country with Ben for so long, it had a lot to live up to – and it delivered. Here’s my top five food experiences in no particular order.
#1 Eat everything at the flower market (except the flowers)
First things first. If you head to Mercado Jamaica, make sure to go on an empty stomach. One of the best things about this place is its local atmosphere – there are almost no tourists. Established in the ’50s, it’s well known for extensive flower stalls and the pleasant will hit you when you first enter the markets. The sheer quantity and variety of flora is a pretty amazing sight. Flowers are all right, but I’m here for the edible stuff and there’s plenty of produce and street food stalls to keep you busy for hours. I recommend trying a bit of everything, but if you’re looking for some direction wrap your laughing gear around a huarache. The base is a freshly cooked, oblong shaped, soft corn tortilla that can be filled with pretty much anything. Succulent meat, the freshest of the fresh veggies, and a variety of salsas. Need a drink? Try the tepache, a local drink made of fermented pineapple juice – you won’t find it many other places.
#2 A traditional restaurant with a modern touch
We left Mexico City and turned the pace down a notch by taking the four hour drive to the state of Puebla. Here we ate at one of the best restaurants in all of Mexico (so said our guide). El Mural De Los Poblanos is well known for heroing traditional dishes but adding a modern touch. Ben took his time reading the menu – it was a lesson in Mexican cooking in itself. I was tempted by their world-famous Poblano Mole – chicken smothered in a rich mole sauce that contains over 18 ingredients – but I ended up opting for the slightly less traditional Chilli Poblano and to be honest, I had no idea what to expect.
This homely dish was very impressive. A juicy slow-roasted sweet Poblano chilli, stuff with a mild soft goat cheese and served on a bed of rich tomato sauce. This dish was balanced and elegant. The recipe might well be hundreds of years old, but the typical Mexican sexiness is present.
#3 Oaxaca’s slow-cooked meat markets
If you find yourself in Oaxaca on a Sunday, navigate your way outside of its city limits to the Tlacolula Markets. You’ll think you’ve stepped back in time to a much simpler life. These rural market stalls spill out onto the streets and are brimming with slow-cooked meats. We sat right up by the firepit while a local woman served us the most insanely delicious lamb we’ve ever eaten.
The meat was well seasoned with traditional spices, and juicy as it comes. They serve it with a fresh corn tortilla and broth. Shut the gate. This was epic.
#4 Kiss some Mezcal
Mezcal is not strictly a food, but it’s a super important part of any trip to Mexico. We were in Oaxaca and had just tried chapulines (grasshoppers) cooked on a clay surface with garlic, lime juice, salt and the extract of agave worms.
These were interesting to say the least, but we needed something to wash it down with. It was here I had my first experience with mezcal. Mezcal is a smoky, very alcoholic beverage similar to tequila, made from fermenting the heart of the maguey plant. There’s a saying in Oaxaca that goes: “For everything wrong, mezcal; for everything right, too”. We visited a mezcaleria to take a tasting course where we learnt that the trick to enjoying the drink is to ‘kiss’ it. Don’t even sip it, and certainly don’t even think about taking it in a shot – it’s far more romantic than that. Mezcal is most often served with a wedge of orange and sprinkled with cinnamon or a chilli and lime salt mix, but if you find a good one then you’ll enjoy the warming taste straight up.
#5 The freshest fish tacos ever
I grew up fishing on NSW’s Central Coast with Dad, so the ocean and everything in it has always been close to my heart (and welcome in my stomach). We were pumped when we arrived at the famous Puerto Escondido on Mexico’s Pacific coast. After an epic day out fishing – mahi mahi anyone? – and some beach volleyball with the locals, we sat right on the beach with a esky full of local beers and watched the sun go down.
It was here that we feasted on tacos, including my favourite, the trusty fish taco. We might as well have caught it ourselves, the fish was so fresh. Tacos – in essence – are so simple, yet they’re packed with the perfect combination of flavours and textures to literally give you a meal in a handful. A perfect fish taco, as experienced on the beach at La Punta in Puerto Escondido, is freshly battered white-flesh fish with pico de gallo sauce, shaved purple cabbage, chipotle mayo and a squeeze of fresh lime. Put a fork in me, I’m done.
Andy & Ben Eat The World follows the guys through Mexico, Spain and Portugal for a five-part food and travel adventure. It debuts on Channel TEN at 4pm on Saturday July 18.