No Reservations ~ Mexico

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Anthony Bourdain heads to Mexico with Carlos, who took over Anthony's old job as head chef at Les Halles.  Carlos gives Anthony a tour of his hometown of Puebla and nearby Mexico City.


Mexico City

Mexico City (México, D.F., or simply D.F.) is the capital of Mexico and seat of the federal powers of the Mexican Union.  It is a federal entity within Mexico which is not part of any one of the 31 Mexican states but belongs to the federation as a whole, not unlike Washington, D.C., Mexico City is the country's largest city as well as its most important political, cultural, educational and financial center.  As an "alpha" global city Mexico City is one of the most important financial centers in North America.

Mexico City is located in the Valley of Mexico, a large valley in the high plateaus at the center of Mexico.  The city was originally built on an island of Lake Texcoco by the Aztecs in 1325 as Tenochtitlan, which was almost completely destroyed in the 1521 siege of Tenochtitlan by the Spanish conquistador Hernán Cortés, and subsequently redesigned and rebuilt in accordance with the Spanish urban standards.

In 1585, it became officially known as La Ciudad de México (Mexico City).  Mexico City served as the political, administrative and financial centre of a major part of the Spanish colonial empire.  After independence from Spain was achieved, the Federal District was created in 1824.


The 2009 estimated population for the city proper was around 8.84 million people; the Mexico City metropolitan area population was 21.2 million people, making it the largest metropolitan area in the western hemisphere and the fifth largest agglomeration in the world.  Mexico City is the eighth richest city in the world, after Tokyo, New York, Los Angeles, Chicago, Paris, London and Osaka/Kobe, and the richest in Latin America.

While they represented around 18.7% of the city's population, indigenous peoples from different regions of Mexico have immigrated to the capital in search of better economic opportunities.  Náhuatl, Otomí, Mixteco, Zapoteco, and Mazahua are the indigenous languages with the greatest number of speakers in Mexico City.  On the other hand, Mexico City is home to large communities of expatriates and immigrants, most notably from South America (mainly from Argentina, but also from Chile, Uruguay, Colombia, Brazil and Venezuela), from Europe (mainly from Spain and Germany, but also from France, Italy, Poland and Romania), the Middle East (mainly from Lebanon and Syria), and recently from Asia (mainly from China and South Korea).  While no official figures have been reported, population estimates of each of these communities are quite significant.  Mexico City is home to the largest population of Americans living outside the United States; some estimates are as high as 600,000.



The city is responsible for generating 21% of Mexico's Gross Domestic Product (GDP), with the metropolitan area accounting for 34% of total national GDP.  Tourism in Mexico is a very large industry.  Mexico is the number one destination for foreign tourists within the Latin America region and number two destination in the Americas, ranking worldwide in the tenth place in terms of the international tourist arrivals, with more than 22.6 million visitors in 2008, contributing 13.2% of Mexico's GDP.  Mexico City is popular with tourists as an ancient Meso-American city and the site of many popular tourist attractions such as the Pyramid of the Sun and the Pyramid of the Moon.  Other human-made tourist zones, such as the La Zona Rosa or Shopping District, El Palenque and El Zócalo (one of the largest public plazas in the world) are here.

The city is also home to the Plaza de toros Méxicothe world's largest bullringand to the Mexican National Palace, built on the site of Montezuma's palace, and the huge Metropolitan Cathedral, the largest in the Western Hemisphere, built over the even greater Temple of Teocalli.  Mexico City features also one of the finest museums in the world:  the National Museum of Anthropology and History is worth a visit to Mexico in itself.  Mexico City offers a vast array of culinary experiences.  Restaurants specializing in the regional cuisines of Mexico's 31 states are available in the city.  Also available are restaurants representing a very broad spectrum of international cuisines reflective of the same diverse communities of expatriates and immigrants who now call Mexico City home.


The city and municipality of Puebla is the capital of the state of Puebla, and one of the five most important colonial cities in Mexico.

The area where the city now stands was originally called Cuetlaxcoapan, which means “where serpents change their skin", and is located in a large valley surrounded on four sides by the mountains and volcanoes of the Trans-Mexican volcanic belt.  It lied between two of the main indigenous settlements at the time, Tlaxcala and Cholula.  It was not habitated because this valley was set aside for use for the so-called Flower Wars between a number of indigenous populations, with those soldiers captured being used as sacrifice victims.  After the city was founded in 1531 by the Spanish, this valley became the main route between Mexico City and Mexico's main port, Veracruz.

Today, Puebla is the fourth largest Metropolitan area in Mexico, and serves as one of the main hubs for southeast Mexico.  Due to its history and architectural styles ranging from Renaissance to Classic to Baroque represented in over 5,000 buildings, the city was named a World Heritage Site in 1987.  Puebla is also considered to be the “cradle of Mexican Baroque” both in architecture and in the decorative arts, and one of the five most important colonial cities in Mexico.

The city is also famous for mole poblano, chiles en nogada and Talavera pottery.  However, most of its economy is based on industry; Puebla is home to one of the largest Volkswagen factories in the world, outside of Germany.

Cinco de Mayo (Spanish for "fifth of May") is a holiday held on May 5 to commemorate the Mexican army's unlikely victory over French forces at the Battle of Puebla on May 5, 1862, under the leadership of General Ignacio Zaragoza Seguín.  (Contrary to widespread popular belief, Cinco de Mayo is not Mexico's Independence Day, the most important national patriotic holiday in Mexico, which occurs on September 16th.) Celebrations include several days of concerts and other cultural activities.  On the 5th itself, there is a very large parade and a re-enactment of the battle.  The parade includes Mexican Army, Navy, Special Forces and soldiers dressed in period uniform.  Civilian participation includes school bands, students and floats, both from Mexico and from abroad.  Although celebrated in the United States, this holiday is not widely observed in other parts of Mexico.

In 2005, the state had a population of 5.38 million, with 548,723 people spoke an indigenous language, ranking fifth in the country.  The state has five major indigenous ethnic groups:  the Nahuas, the Totonacs, the Mixtecs, the Popolocas and the Otomi, many of which still maintain their many ancient traditions, rites and customs.


Episode Recap:

Anthony Bourdain starts his trip in Mexico City.  He and Carlos meetup in the Plaza de la Constitución (Constitution Square), also known as the Zócalo.

As one of the largest city squares in the world, the Plaza de la Constitución has been a gathering place for Mexicans since Aztec times, having been the site of Mexica ceremonies, the swearing in of viceroys, royal proclamations, military parades, Independence ceremonies and modern religious events such as the festivals of Holy Week and Corpus Christi.  It has received foreign heads of state and is the main venue for both national celebration and national protest.  

It is bordered by the Cathedral to the north, the National Palace to the east, the Federal District buildings to the south and the Old Portal de Mercaderes to the west, the Nacional Monte de Piedad building at the north-west corner, with the Templo Mayor site to the northeast, just outside of view.

Cantina La Mascota:  Agreeing that it's not too early in the day to hit a cantina, they rendezvous with Anthony's old friend Martin for some food and drinks at Cantina La Mascota.  The food is free, but you pay for your drinks; the more drinks you order, the more food they'll bring.  They start with a round of shorts of tequila and carnitas—tender, juicy, stewed and pulled pork, loaded onto a warm tortilla.  Second round:  more tequila with a delicious soup made of fava bean and cactus.  Third round:  more drinks and gordita de chicharrón filled with cheese, cilantro, onions, salad.  As the three amigos continue to alternate between shots of tequila and swigs of Mexican beer, they're serenaded by the cantina's "quartinos románticos"—a roving group of musicians with guitars who sing beautiful songs of heartbreak and loss.

Lucha Libre Wrestling School:  Filled with pork, beer, and the kind of bravado that only tequila can give, the three amigos head over to the gimnascio (gym) at Lucha Libre Wrestling School for Martin's lesson in the manly art of Mexican wrestling.  Mexico city can be a dangerous place, and kidnapping is big business.  Since Martin volunteered to act as security escort for the duration of Anthony's stay, he thought it would be only appropriate that Martin brush up on some of his skills with a lesson from the legendary four-time middleweight champion, El Octagón.

Mexican professional wrestlingcommonly known as Lucha libre—is characterized by colorful masks, rapid sequences of holds and maneuvers, as well as "high-flying" maneuvers, some of which have been adopted in the United States.  The wearing of masks has developed special significance, and matches are sometimes contested in which the loser must permanently remove his mask, which is a wager with a high degree of weight attached.  Tag team wrestling is especially prevalent in lucha libre, particularly matches with three-member teams, called trios.

Quesadilla Street Vendor:  Anthony meets up with author, street food enthusiast, and long-time resident of D.F., David Lida, for some street food.  David takes Anthony to his favorite food stall for some awesome quesadillas.  Doña Anastasia makes her quesadillas using blue corn on a comal.  She offers an assortment of fillings, including sausage, brains, and beef, but David and Anthony opt for the sautéed spinach and zucchini flower.

A quesadilla is usually made with a corn tortilla and is filled primarily with cheese and other ingredients such as cooked meat, refried beans, and vegetables.  The filled tortilla is then toasted under a boiler or fried, usually until the cheese is melted.  Once the quesadilla is cooked, it is traditionally cut into slices, or wedges.  It is a dish that originated in Mexico.

Taqueria Los Cocuyos:  Anthony and David join Martin at Taqueria Los Cocuyos near the Zócalo for some tacos made of some of Anthony's favorite parts of the animal—the nasty bits—all bubbling together in one big piping hot cauldron.  Tongue, brains, hooves, eyes, stomach, you name the anatomical part, and they do it and do it well.  David has the tripe, and Martin goes for the adventurous options of brain and eyeball, all with a delicious sprinkling of onion, cilantro, and lettuce and dousing of fresh salsa.  Then Anthony and Martin order the tripe.

An authentic Mexican taco is a traditional Mexican dish composed of a corn or wheat tortilla folded or rolled around a filling.  A taco can be made with a variety of fillings, including beef, chicken, seafood, vegetables and cheese, allowing for great versatility and variety.  It is often accompanied by garnishes such as salsa, avocado or guacamole, cilantro, tomatoes, onions and lettuce.  Anthony orders the tongue.

El Huequito:  Anthony, David and Martin continue their street food binge at El Huequito with Mexico City's municipal dish—tacos al pastor.

Al pastor is a dish developed in Central Mexico, likely as a result of the adoption of the shawarma spit-grilled meat brought by Lebanese immigrants to Mexico.  Having derived from the shawarma, it is also similar to the Turkish doner kebab and the Greek gyros.  Pork is marinated over one or two days in a combination of dried chiles and then slowly cooked with a gas flame on a vertical rotisserie called a trompo with a piece of fresh onion and a pineapple on top.  The juice from the pineapple contains bromelain, an enzyme that breaks down protein and thus makes meat tender.  When ready, the meat is then thinly sliced off the spit with a large knife.  It is served on small tortillas, with finely chopped onions, cilantro and a small slice of pineapple, and usually topped with some lime juice and hot salsa.

Isla de Las Muñecas:  In a scene almost straight out of the movie Apocalypse Now, Anthony, Carlos and Martin take a trip to Isla de Las Muñecas (Island of the Dolls).  Almost every tree growing on the island is decorated with old, mutilated dolls that give anyone the feeling that they’re constantly being watched.

Located in beautiful Xochimilco, on the outskirts of Mexico City, the Island of the Dolls is perhaps the creepiest tourist attraction in Mexico.  Amidst an extensive network of ancient Aztec canals, is a place shrouded in mystery and superstition.  

Legend has it that a hermit by the name of Don Julian Santana lived there for 50 years.  Don Julian used to say he was haunted by the ghost of the little girl who had drowned in one of the canals around the island.  He used to fish the dolls from the water and place them around his home to ward off the spirit that tormented him.  He even traded home-grown fruit and vegetables for old dolls.  Ironically, in 2001, Don Julian Santana was found dead, from a heart attack, by his nephew in the same canal that the little girl had drowned in.

Pulqueria:  The three amigos sooth their nerves with a visit to a pulqueria in Xochimilco that serves pulque, a relatively nutritious milk-colored, somewhat viscous alcoholic beverage made from the fermented sap of the maguey plant.  This particular establishment serves several flavors of pulque:  oyster, guava, pistachio and walnut.  A few of their congenial patrons offer the three amigos a round of home-brewed aguardiente (meaning "firewater", or, literally "burning water"). 

The history of pulque extends far back into the Mesoamerican period, when it was considered sacred, and its use was reserved only for priests and nobility.  After the Spanish Conquest of Mexico, the drink became secular and its consumption rose.  In the 20th century, the drink fell into decline, mostly because of competition from beer, which became more prevalent with the arrival of European immigrants.  There are some efforts to revive the drink’s popularity through pulque tourismAguardiente is a strongly alcoholic beverage (between 29% and 60% alcohol), obtained by fermentation and later distillation of from sugarcane and other sweet canes.  Like pulque, the drink’s history extends far back into the Mesoamerican period before the conquest by the Spanish.

Fonda Margarita:  Back in D.F., the three amigos get up before the break of dawn to go to Martin's favorite breakfast spot, Fonda Margarita, where the cazuelas (clay cookware) filled with meat and beans have been simmering all night over hot beds of charcoal.  This family-style establishment has been famous for its breakfast for several generations.  Martin practically orders their entire menu:  huevos y frijoles (eggs and beans)—served straight up, or on fried tortillas for the huevos rancheros, or in a wedge-shaped heap called frijoles con huevos; pork loin and salsa verde (green sauce); beef in a dark chili sauce; pigs' feet; stewed lamb; fried chicharrón (pork skins) in the same vibrant, green tomatillo sauce; and little pork meatballs in spicy jalapeño tomato.

Plaza de Toros:  Carolos invites Anthony to attend a bullfight with him and members of his family at the Plaza de Toros in the city of Huamantla, located 40 km from Puebla.  Every year the city hosts 2 weeks of bullfights.  The streets are lined with food vendors.  Anthony and Carlos opt for a taco stall that just so happens to be serving bull meat tacos provided from the losers of the previous day's contest.  It's served with fresh salsa and fresh-squeezed lime.

Bullfighting planted its roots in Mexico shortly after the Spanish conquest in the 1500s, and today nowhere outside Spain is bullfighting more popular than in Mexico.  It is often called a blood sport by its detractors but followers of the spectacle regard it as a fine art and not a sport as there are no elements of competition in the proceedings.

The tradition, as it is practiced today, involves professional toreros (also called toreadors), who execute various formal moves which can be interpreted and innovated according to the bullfighter's style or school, toreros seek to elicit inspiration and art from their work and an emotional connection with the crowd transmitted through the bull.  Such maneuvers are performed at close range, which places the bullfighter at risk of being gored or trampled.  The bullfight usually concludes with the killing of the bull by a single sword thrust which is called estocada.

Traditional Family Dinner:  After the bullfights, the family gathers at Carlos' mother's house for a family dinner.  Mole poblano is the featured attraction on the menu.  Other items on the dinner menu include:  masa for the tamales is mixed by hand, rolled up in corn husks for steaming, more masa flour for tacoyas—a small, fried tortilla cake; special rice with pork fat, turkey liver, gizzards, and peas; and refried beans.  Several generations of the women in Carlos' family each make their contribution.

Mole is the generic name for a number of sauces used in Mexican cuisine, as well as for dishes based on these sauces.  Mole poblano is the best known of all mole varieties and has been ranked as number one of "typical" Mexican dishes.  It has also been called the "national dish" of Mexico.  The state of Puebla is identified with mole poblano and the dish is named after the state.  Mole poblano is a dark red or brown sauce served over meat.  It contains about twenty ingredients, including chili peppers and chocolate, which works to tame the heat of the chili peppers, but it is not a chocolate sauce per se as the chocolate is not the main ingredient.

After the meal, as Carlos continues to show Anthony his hometown of Puebla, Carlos shares the tale of how he came to work at Les Halles so far away from home so many years ago. 


ARGENTINA:  From the Tango to paragliding to cattle rustling to trekking along icy glaciers, Anthony experiences it all.

AUSTRALIA:  Melbourne has been described as San Francisco without the fog.  Anthony is off to discover what makes it so special.

BERLIN:  Anthony finds himself in Berlin, a city that is for him both good and evil, Eastern and Western, repulsive and appealing.

BRAZIL:  Some say São Paulo feels like LA threw up on NYC.  But Anthony's back for the great food and its welcoming people.

Anthony revisits his love for India's vibrant culture, cuisine & communities with a trip to Kolkata & Mumbai.

COLOMBIA:  A bright and beautiful country that has gone from drug capital to food capital.  Anthony explores its unique cuisine.

EGYPT:  Anthony skips the long lines and tour buses, and visits with Egyptian locals to get a taste for what it means to be Egyptian.

GHANA:  Anthony heads to Ghana, West Africa, a land of old forts and slave castles, and a culture filled with great food and music.

GREEK ISLES:  Anthony is on a culinary odyssey to discover if Greece really does have the world's healthiest diet. 

HONG KONG:  A wonder-land of colors, lights and speed, a perfect marriage of modern and traditional, and home to great Asian cuisine.

IRELAND:  Ireland's steeped in history and traditions, both oral & written.  Anthony dispels the myths that it has the worst food on the planet.

JAMAICA:  Jamaica is a vibrant, colorful land full of resorts and reggae music.  Anthony is there to uncover the lesser-known Jamaica.

KOREA:  Anthony gives in to his employee's pressure to visit Korea and, next thing you know, they're in Seoul and the adventure begins.

OSAKA (Japan):  Anthony learns all about kuidaore, which means to bankrupt oneself with extravagance in food and drink!

PARIS: In this very first episode of the series, Anthony heads to the "City of Light" to show, at least the Americans, why the French don't suck.

PERU:  Anthony is on a mission to obtain personal enlightenment in a land of ancient culture, rich cuisine, and vibrant people.

QUEBEC (Canada):  Anthony is off to Québec to indulge in one of his most hedonistic pleasures–foie gras (fatty duck liver).

RAJASTHAN (India):  From gorgeous sights to enticing smells, Anthony explores the magical and delicious offerings of Rajasthan.

ROME:  Anthony adopts the mindset of the Roman people–living a simple life and eating fresh, seasonal ingredients.

RUSSIA:  Anthony explores Russia, where the food is hearty.  Along the way he meets a former Cold War spy and Miss Russia.

SHANGHAI (China):  Anthony is back in China.  From Shanghai to Tibet, he searches for the mythical Shangri-La.

SICILY:  Anthony starts his gastronomic tour through Sicily in style by sharing a spleen sandwich with Sicily's president.

SINGAPORE:  Singapore is serious about food and offers up a cuisine like no other.  Anthony dives in head-first.

SPAIN:  According to Anthony, outside of Asia, Spain is the single greatest place for culinary achievement in the world.

TOKYO:  Anthony is off to Tokyo in search of the relationship between a perfect piece of sushi and a perfect knife blade.

TUSCANY:  Anthony travels to the beautiful Tuscan countryside to visit with friends and enjoy some homemade pasta that's out of this world.

URUGUAY:  Anthony and his brother are on a mission to connect with their roots in Uruguay after learning that Bourdains once settled here.

Anthony visits Vancouver, home to a thriving film industry, gorgeous scenery, and an evolving food scene.


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