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International Travels

Back to Mexico City!!

This past year has been a struggle for me & John to readjust from the “every other weekend = a 3-day+ vacation to a beach, jungle, colonial town or archaeological site” schedule that we got accustomed to living in Mexico City. :) (Yes, I can almost feel your waves of sympathy washing over me.)   So after a long, challenging, nearly-vacation-free 2011, we made last minute plans to zip down to Mexico City today (Friday Jan 6th).  We debated going somewhere new & unknown to us, but for this particular trip, the comfortable & familiar won out. Consider it a greatest hits tour….just 15 months after the original tour.

Planning has been pretty light thus far… all we’ve really accomplished is starting a list of places we need to eat…. So far we have:

Point being– we are super excited to eat & wander through all the fun neighborhoods, mercados, etc. & track down some friends while we’re there.  More photos to follow of anything else new we discover while there. My current fascination is this— Bamboocycle, a company that makes bicycles out of bamboo. Love it!

Is it wrong to just want to replicate this photo again in person? Love ya, tacos al pastor (& even the sullen taquero).

Takenoya: Chinese Steamed Soup Dumplings in Mexico City!!

One of my favorite parts of my recent visit to China was the food. Particularly, the magical “soup dumplings” for which Shanghai is legendary, known more properly as xiaolongbao. I went to DinTaiFung in Shanghai, as per friend Todd’s recommendation, which is known world-wide for its excellence in these steamed dumplings.

Dudes furiously making xiaolongbao inside the zoo-window at DinTaiFung in Shanghai near Yu Yuan Garden.

Here they are in the flesh, authentic xiaolongbao, ready to be eaten in all their glory in Shanghai.

Why are these little nuggets so good? Well, they are filled with a pork meat mixture, but also an incredibly savory broth. You pick them up with your chopsticks (while carefully trying to avoid breakage) and deposit them into a big Chinese soup spoon, so that you can slurp out some of the broth before biting in (so as to avoid a hot broth explosion all over your clothing).

When I returned from China, I had a momentary burst of inspiration regarding dumplings & steamed buns in general. I had purchased a book of dim sum recipes in Hong Kong after having these amazing bbq pork-filled buns for breakfast 2 days in a row:

Luscious barbequed pork bits tucked inside a fluffy white bun: breakfast of champions, folks.

“I am totally going to learn how to make all of this stuff when I get back to Mexico City,” I told myself. The cookbook unsurprisingly did not have a recipe for the xiaolongbao, so I went off to the innerwebs in search of instruction. This fantastic blog post described in great detail how to make the magical soup dumplings, and cleared up the mystery of how hot broth ends up inside. Unfortunately (as the blog post freely admits), the recipe “is not fast and easy”. My burst of inspiration tempered momentarily, and I got a little sulky at the idea of further xiaolongbao encounters being restricted to a future visit to NYC’s Chinatown.

Yesterday, I was having a particular craving for some Chinese dumplings. Friends Brandi & Mike had tipped us off a while back to a great new Japanese restaurant just a few blocks away from our house in Polanco. It is called Takenoya, and it’s located at Moliere 313 (between Ejercito Nacional y Homero). We had been there prior to my China trip for sushi (which was great), and I vaguely recalled seeing several Chinese steamers in circulation. John acquiesced to my desire to go suss it out for dinner last night.

As we entered the restaurant for my 2nd visit, I once again observed numerous Asian people eating there (which is the classic uninformed American cue for “so this must be good Asian food then”). :) We flipped to the menu insert titled “Platillos Chinos Cocidos al Vapor” (aka Steamed Chinese dishes). With my new China-vocab, I quickly spotted my good friend: “Yes! They have xiaolongbao! These are the soup dumplings I had in Shanghai! We must get at least 10,” I barked.

Here's a partial shot of Takenoya's "steamed Chinese dishes" menu. To me, 10 pieces of xiaolongbao were totally worth $80 pesos since it meant me not having to spend two days making them.

We decided to go all-dumpling, ordering the 10-pack of xiaolongbao, 6 shaumai de camaron y carne de cerdo (shrimp & pork), and 6 gyoza al estilo taiwanes (these turned out to also be stuffed with pork).

John prepares to dive in for his first soupy-porky dumpling experience. Note the similarity between these dumplings & the original Shanghai dumplings shown above!

The xiaolongbao were first to arrive, and they met my high expectations. :) (happy day) I would say maybe they didn’t have *as* much broth inside as the ones I’d had in China, but I thought they were great.

Here I am with my shumai friends. Note trendy decor in background!

Next we had the shumai– these have pork filling in the base with a cooked shrimp nestled into the top. Also very good!  In fact, these were John’s favorite. (heresy, but I will let it go)

Finally, we had the taiwanese-style gyoza, which are first steamed & then briefly pan-fried on one side.

The gyoza was our last dish, which came with an interesting sauce I couldn’t quite pinpoint– maybe peanut-based? Hard to say. Anyway, these were filled with a mixture of pork, green onions & other stuff, and also very tasty. I will say by this point, we did both agree that perhaps we should have ordered something that *wasn’t* stuffed with pork… (Shock, I know.)  But despite the dishes having a lot of pork, they were all great.

Here is a shot of a slightly-melted mango-flavored mochi that I had in Beijing, from the aptly-named boutique store "Mochi Sweets".

We ended the meal with “tempura helado”, aka fried ice cream. This was the only disappointing part– the ice cream had clearly been fried at some earlier point in time, as the tempura exterior portion was chilled & a little soggy. Instead I might recommend the mochi for dessert, which are balls of ice cream covered in a thin, sticky-rice-based shell.

Overall, the two meals I’ve had at Takenoya have both been fantastic. This is one of the few restaurants I’ve visited here in Mexico City that seems to understand pacing– they brought out the dishes one-by-one (vs. all in one swoop, resulting in dumplings sitting on your table getting cold). The service is great & the prices, while not bargain basement, seem reasonable for authentic Asian food. They have a couple hibachi grill tables as well, where the chef cooks things up right in front of you, but we’ve not tried out those. Upstairs, there is a cute lounge area where I am already envisioning hosting a dumpling-fueled happy hour sometime in the future. :)

Perhaps this exterior view of Takenoya's street-facing kitchen should have clued me in to their dumpling offerings (as depicted in 3 large TV-sized photos near the ceiling)!!

For anyone living in Mexico City who’s been warily avoiding the numerous “Buffet de Comida China” offerings, I would definitely put this on your list for an interesting combo of Japanese food + steamed Chinese food options!  Hope to see you there during my next visit to sate my dumpling needs…

Mexico City Airport- Terminal 1 Meeting Point

After 30 minutes spent on the innerwebs trying to find an answer to this question, I thought I would share it with any other impending Mexico City airport visitors. (Consider it a follow-up to my “Navigating the Mexico City Airport ” post from last year.)

If you are trying to either go pick someone up or meet another arriving friend at Mexico City’s Benito Juarez International Airport (AICM), Terminal 1, you will discover that there are two doors from which people arriving on international flights can leave the secured area. I am not 100% clear on how they differentiate who goes out which door (either E2 or E3, which are just on the other side of baggage claim & customs). If you get there early enough, the TV monitors outside the door should state which door people from a certain flight are exiting. However, if you get there after the flight’s arrival time, it probably won’t be on the TV monitor anymore.

So, you may be wondering, where is a good place to meet someone if you am not sure which door they are coming out of?? There is one restaurant on the lower level of the airport in Terminal 1 that is located BETWEEN the E2 and E3 departure doors. I thought I had this all figured out from the map on the AICM website, which is why I confidently directed my dad to come meet me at the name of a restaurant that I discovered no longer exists– it’s now called something different. :(

BUT NOW I know the name of this restaurant as well as location, so I can share with any inquisitive readers a definitive meeting point in Terminal 1!  And even if the name changes, you can at least describe with precision its location to any arriving friends and family.

So here's the map of the international arrivals section of Terminal 1 at the Mexico City airport. People will arrive through either E2 or E3 on the ground floor. You see the icon of the fork & knife, right next to the "You are Here" sign? That is where the restaurant is. At present, it is called Baron Rojo. Its entrance faces the E2 exit door.

The restaurant is Baron Rojo (at least as of July 2010). It has a bar, so you could go sit there & just order a soda if you don’t want to pay for food while you’re waiting. Or, you could meet right outside the restaurant. This would be basically right where the “You are Here” map is located (of which I took the above photo).

Here's one view of the restaurant, taken when I was standing in front of the E2 exit doors. You can see the restaurant is literally right next to where people come out of the E2 exit (those white glass doors on the right are in front of the secured baggage/customs area). If people end up arriving at E3, they just have to walk forward towards the long hallway & look for the overhead sign that says E2. It is a 1-minute walk.

And here's another dark shot of the inside of the Baron Rojo restaurant.

That’s my hot tip on an easy meeting place inside Terminal 1 of the Mexico City airport. Good luck & happy flying!

Pork Consumption: China’s beating you, Mexico…

To further the undeserved reputation I have of being a crazy bacon/pork advocate, I thought it was time for another pig-related post. Two years of living in Mexico has opened my eyes to a whole new level of involvement between pigs & your daily food intake. The sheer number of chicharrones (fried piggie skins) on display at every corner + the frequency with which I see massive bubbling pots filled with assorted internal piggie organs & snouts & tails made me think that perhaps I was residing in the hub of pork consumption.

Then I went on this trip to China, and I realized that Mexico has some catching up to do.  To be fair, I guess the whole “China is 5x larger in area and has almost 12x as many people” thing helps give them an edge in sheer numbers. But regardless, China is totally kicking butt with about 50% of the world’s pork production (446 MILLION piggies in 2008 vs. a mere 15 million in Mexico acc. to porkmag.com) and over 50% of the world’s pork consumption. Someone in Shanghai told me that China eats as much pork in a day as Mexico does in a year, but I haven’t found any data on the internets to back up this audacious claim.

In paging through my China photos upon my return to Mexico, I realized I had subconsciously managed to capture a few pork examples (sheer luck, I assure you). Perhaps if Mexico adopts enough of these, we will be able to move even further up the pork consumption ladder??

Award for best use of pork: pork-n-broth-filled dumplings. These things were magical little pockets of flavour, with a tasty porky-meatball center swimming in pork broth.

Award for plate that most merits being licked clean: short ribs at South Beauty restaurant in Shanghai

Award for most mysterious pork source: these random meat skewers in 'street food alley' in Beijing. I'm 90% sure something in that case has to be pork. On top of the counter, note the bonus starfish and live scorpions. You can't see how vigorously they were writhing around in this photo, but let me assure you that they seemed displeased about having a wooden skewer shoved through their little scorpion bodies.

Award for weirdest pork shape: barbecued pork strips/sheets in Macau. I tried a sample of this from one street vendor-- a little sweet for me, but overall pretty tasty. One of things where you don't want to know too much about how they're made...

Award for wittiest pork product name: Porkablock, as seen at a bakery in the Oriental Plaza mall in Beijing. Porkablock sounds like something that would top the list of "Weight Watchers' Things Not to Eat": fluffy bread filled with pork & topped with some cheese just for good measure. I particularly like the "preview windows" built into the bread.

Award for best pork shout-out that's not made of pork: this blown sugar pig. Who could eat a pig with a smile like that? Sidenote: as per the two open bottles in this photo, apparently it requires a LOT of beer to make it through a long day of blowing sugar animals. Hmm.

(Note: China-related posting will continue until I feel I have sufficiently bored you all with the highlights of my recent trip. Sorry to all of you assuming that a blog entitled “Midwesterner in Mexico” would be only about Mexico…)  :)

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