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Disasterous NYT Article on Dining in Mexico City

From the NYT Travel section --

http://travel.nytimes.com/2007/01/28/...

I found this article to be pompous, condescending and laden with errors - spelling errors, locational errors and errors about the food itself. Errors made by Mark Bittman and errors the copy editors failed to correct. Whether the errors were Bittman's or the editing, it lends no credence or credibility to either.

Mexico City is one of the worlds best dining spots these days but you'd never know it from this poorly executed article. Even if I didn't know quite a bit about Mexican cuisine, there is nothing - NOTHING - in this article that would make me want to visit Mexico City and try the food.

Mark Bittman should just leave Mexican cuisine alone. This follows less than 6 months after an equally disasterous and error filled article on tacos. In that he demonstrated that he has little knowledge about Mexican cuisine. This most recent article demonstrates that he either can't or won't learn about it. I sincerely hope that whoever the local chef was that squired him around D.F. never sees this article. S/he could be appalled.

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  1. Which statements do you disagree with. We were in Mexico city a few months ago, and we found some good food and quite a bit of bad food too.

    14 Replies
    1. re: MIKELOCK34

      Here's what I posted about that article on another food-oriented website:
      -----------------------------------------------------------------------------------
      Bittman's article is so full of weirdities that I want to talk directly to him. And who the heck edited this thing? "Palomos de Chapultepec" was the first clue (that plus 'fruit drinks called jugos') in the caption under the first picture that made my eyes bug out. That would be Lomas de Chapultepec (one of the most upscale parts of Mexico City) and...well, there's no excuse for the jugos business. Jugos are pure unadulterated fruit juice, not fruit drinks.

      It wasn't exactly all downhill from there, but it was no stellar performance.

      For example, this: "Mexico City acts like a food processor, puréeing ingredients until you can't tell what went into the final mix." Huh? That's just crap.

      Then: "And then there are literally hundreds of places with cheap, good and rarely distinguished food." What?

      Then: "...odd items like chapilines..." Spell it right, guys. Chapulines.

      Then: "...fried insects..." Those would be grasshoppers, Mark.

      Then: "...the simple pan dulce..." Wonder what he means. All the panes that he mentioned are pan dulce; I've never heard of a pan in Mexico that's simply called pan dulce. Every single one has a name.

      Then: "...chilaquiles, which are the best I've ever eaten, perfectly cooked taco chips...: Oh, come ON! Chilaquiles are not made with taco chips, whatever the hell that is. Here in Mexico, they are made with stale tortillas. And speaking of tortillas, his reference to the tortilla (omelet) with escamoles is actually a reference to the tortilla española, which is an omelet.

      Then: "...mozzarella-like cheese..." ay ay ay.

      Then: "...it's a stretch to call Spain a region of Mexico..." Duh.

      Then: "...Xel-Ha..." In the video, he pronounces it some strange way.

      Then: "...tacos de carbón..." Ummm, Mark...it's tacos al carbón.

      Then: "...tostado of turkey..." That would be tostada.

      I probably left a bunch of stuff out, but it was too tiresome to edit this mess.

      It's very irritating to see that Bittman couldn't be bothered to investigate the food or its sources, couldn't be bothered with the nomenclature, couldn't be bothered with the article's final product. As in any food review, if you don't know what the hell you're eating, don't comment on it.

      I wonder who his 'local chef' companion was. That person should be made to eat "taco chips".

      1. re: cristina

        Quite a list.

        I regularly find mistakes in the New York Times Food or Travel section. Fit to print, yes, not always the best.

        For example, here's something I saw a while ago. People like Jane E. Brody get the sugar chemistry right, but occasionally there are articles which misstate crucial facts. Take the one by Melanie Warner (July 2, 2006) - "The version of high-fructose corn syrup used in sodas and other sweetened drinks consists of 55 percent fructose and 45 percent glucose, very similar to white sugar, which is 50 percent fructose and 50 percent glucose."

        Huh?

        Apples and oranges, big time. First part is roughly true, but white sugar chemical composition is almost entirely made up of sucrose, chemically different from its components. Sucrose 99+%, glucose & fructose combined only 0.05%. It's akin to saying tapioca starch is glucose. Only when broken down, ONLY when.

        Well, let's just accept that mistakes do happen, and point them out whenever we can. No need to be outraged.

        1. re: grocerytrekker

          Cristina, I feel your pain--the NYT travel section and foreign food reporting is unforgivably bad. Instead of getting people who are knowledgeable about the region in question to write, they go for big names or foreign correspondents (who, sadly, aren't generally terribly knowledgeable about anything beyond current events in the region they cover). As an expat who has spent over 15 years actively studying the place where I live, I literally cringe when I read these articles.

          1. re: butterfly

            (sigh) Bittman
            I really like him, so forgive the travel dorkups. The jugos thing is one of the many stupid mistakes made by photo caption writers.

            I like *one* foreign correspondent from the NYT that wrote about Mexico for the other sections of the paper...but it is clearly a side gig for these folks.
            Bittman...well he should do better.
            http://query.nytimes.com/gst/fullpage...

        2. re: cristina

          The sad thing is, there are a number of restaurants here in the bay area that think that you can fry 'taco chips' and call it chilaquiles! (and just what the heck are taco chips anyway? Does he mean tortilla chips, which is still, as you say, not what you should use)....

          Thanks for the post!

          1. re: cristina

            I couldn't agree more with Cristina and DiningDiva. I like Bittman but you'd think he'd at least have run the piece by someone who knows a bit more about Mexican food? Just the fact the he set out to profile 4 places that serve regional Mexican food, and he came up with only one (Casa Merlos and El Cardenal are hardly excluisvely Poblano and Hidalguense restaurants - escamoles are reasonably common in Mexico City, and and half the Merlos dishes he mentioned are Oaxacan!). I mean, Jesus, he went to Mexico City to profile regional Mexican restaurants and did a Spanish tapas bar?! Granted, residents of Mexico City oddly aren't always the best people to get Mexican food tips from, and it CAN be frustrating - if you're not including street food - to find restaurants there which are not only authentic & non-nuevo but specific to one region, but it ain't THAT hard, and it suggests he didn't look too deep...indeed, his Mexican restaurant choices aren't exactly 'finds' (it's decent, but there's an El Cardenal in the SHERATON, for crying out loud). Very disappointing, though snobbery aside, I'm always glad for anything that advances interest (even misleading) in real Mexican food and its regional variety.

            1. re: nils

              Yes, and the NYT recommended a sushi bar in a small town in Spain and McDonalds in Madrid. Like I said, there's a real problem with their foreign travel and culinary reporting because they nearly always choose NYT insiders or food celebs to write the articles. I've been following this closely for quite a while and I'd say the Times has the worst (and at times down-right offensive) travel coverage of all the major US papers.

            2. re: cristina

              (I just posted, but t clarify, i don't mean to be the gringo going around bemoaning the inauthenticity of Mexican restaurants in Mexico, I just mean that restaurants play a different role there; once you get out of the streets and markets [your best gauge of local flavors], the food is geared toward the smaller percentage of people with money, whose restaurant visit likely has more to do with things OTHER than regional specificity and such.) OK, back to my 8-year absence from Chowhound!

              1. re: cristina

                I understand where you are coming from, but photo caption writers are doing their best to describe what's in the picture, and jugos ARE a drink, made from fruit. Could the caption have said 100% fruit drinks, called jugos" sure, but that doesn't make what was written wrong. Just not thorough enough to your liking. OR, they were confusing jugos for agua fresca?

                1. re: MaspethMaven

                  I think the direct translation of "juices" for "jugos" would have served.

                  1. re: MaspethMaven

                    IMHO they were confusing jugos with aguas frescas.

                2. re: MIKELOCK34

                  Mike, it looks like Cristina beat me to it in replying. And did a great job, I might add. As home to 22 million people, Mexico City is going to have as much bad food as it does good, I think that's got to be a given. I've just spent the last 3 weeks in Mexico and flew home from Mexico City last night (and had a surprisingly edible, if not good meal, on AeroMexico)

                  I'll add another item to Cristina's list and then expand a little on a couple of her comments.

                  In the Casa Merlos section of the article he discusses at length mole and then refers to manchamanteles as a "guisado". Well, technically it is a guisado but it is a mole. In fact, it is one of the famous 7 Moles of Oaxaca. For people that have never had mole, or think they don't like it, manchamanteles is one of the most approachable moles in the Mexican kitchen due to the flavor combinations. A common misconception here NOB is that there are only a few kinds of moles. The reality is that there are literally hundreds of types and versions of mole being served all over Mexico. Since mole is a dish that is closely identified with Mexico, and since Bittman made a big deal out of it in the article, he could have done a better job in his explanation than he did. He ate Mole Poblano, one of the gems of the Puebla kitchen and rightfully lauded. But it is not the only mole in Mexico.

                  On chilaquiles. As Cristina points out they are never, ever made with a "taco chip" whatever the h*ll that might be. Like most cusines with a close relationship to the land, Mexican's waste almost nothing. Pickle it to extend the shelf life, make vinegar out of it if it starts to go bad, but don't if throw it away - whatever "it" may be. In the case of chilaquiles "it" is the staple of the Mexican diet, the corn tortilla. Families literally go through dozens of these a day, but invariably at the end of the day some remain uneaten. Fresh corn tortillas in Mexico - unlike a vast majority of their cousins here in the U.S. - do not stay fresh for more than a day. A way had to be found to use up the excess and keep the family fed. Chilaquiles developed out of a need to not waste food and was an easy, tasty and simple way to stretch what food there was to feed a lot of mouths. Tacos are also made from corn tortillas, but I have yet to see a chip made from a taco, except perhaps by Frito-Lay ;-).

                  On the issue of pan dulce, a lot of Mexico's baking heritage can be traced to the reign of the French emperor Maximillian and his emperess Carlotta. Not that I would necessarily expect this in the article, but it's one of the reasons why Mexican pastries can be delightful when done right. Where I live, in Southern California, when people refer to pan dulce, they usually are thinking of conchas, the round breakfast pastry with a sugar coating marked to resemble a shell (or concha). But there are almost as many kinds of pan dulces in Mexico as there are moles. It's a catergory of baked good not one variety.

                  Aside from all the errors - by the writer and/or his copy editor - the article missed the mark for me because if failed to even remotely mention the remarkable food that is coming out of some of the alta cocina kitchen, or out of some of the long standing bastions of cuisine. There are well trained, well traveled and well skilled Mexican chefs that have come home to apply what they've learned to the bounty that is the Mexican kitchen, and with delicious results. Instead of an article ripe with possibility, it was a mish-mash of mediocrity. The kind of mediocrity that can only come from a lack of understanding and respect for the subject.

                  1. re: MIKELOCK34

                    Rick Bayless does a fine job of revering Mexico City's cuisine in the latest issue of Saveur magazine. Check it out if you can.

                    1. re: GloRak

                      Yep, you're right. I've been a subscriber to Saveur since it's inception. Rick's been a contributor over the years. His piece in the current Saveur is so much better than the NYTs piece.

                      I spent a week cooking with Rick in Oaxaca a few years ago. I'm not a RB groupie (and he does have them), but after spending time with him I can safely say he's a great guy, an even better teacher and a worthy advocate for Mexican cuisine.

                  2. Bravisima. They say a chef's reputation is only as good as the last meal he prepared. If the same were true of food writers, Bittman would be looking for a job. That sloppy article was inexcusable.

                    1. The original comment has been removed
                      1. Wow, I didn't find it quite so insulting or pompous - I just thought I'd like to go back to Mexico City and spend a few days checking out the restaurants!

                        4 Replies
                        1. re: SusanB

                          I didn't think it was pompous. I thought it was filled with both factual and editing errors. Mark Bittman should have had better food advice and better backup from his editors. I'd think the Grey Lady would be red-faced.

                          1. re: cristina

                            On the website, they've already corrected the "Palomos de Chapultepec" error. Maybe someone there is reading this.

                            On balance though, I liked the article. I think it will be a revelation to some readers who thought that Mexican food meant nachos and football-sized burritos and gloppy stuff floating in a lake of melted cheese. And it makes a good exam for Mexican food aficionados, with your score being the number of errors you find.

                            1. re: Brian S

                              Sorry, Brian, look again. Nothing in the article--including "Palomos de Chapultepec" in the first caption--has been corrected. Somebody got "Lomas de Chapultecpec" right in the body of the article (it's been right all along), but the caption-writer blew it. Nobody appears to care.

                              They also haven't answered my email.

                              1. re: cristina

                                This appears on the website at the bottom of the article. It might be published in print next Sunday... along with other corrections hopefully:

                                Correction: February 4, 2007

                                A picture caption with the Choice Tables column last Sunday about dining in Mexico City misstated the name of a restaurant’s neighborhood. As the article noted, El Cardenal is in Las Lomas de Chapultepec, not Las Polomas de Chapultepec

                        2. There are two problems here. One is factual errors in the article and the other is editing. We had a problem in the editing when two different versions of the Lahey recipe appeared: one in the video and the other in the paper. One of the responsibilities of the supervising editor is to see that all the facts are correct, and a copy editor should have caught discrepancies within the article. It is sad when the New York Times, which generally sets standards, "wobbles" with a major columnist. But I am disturbed by the fact that I don't think this would have happened if French cuisine were involved. There would have been an outrage. I have the impression, which I hope is wrong, that in this case accuracy and fair reporting isn't an issue.

                          6 Replies
                          1. re: Father Kitchen

                            I can attest that their articles about Spain are equally bad (perhaps even worse). The 36 hours in Madrid article that ran this past weekend was full of errors and misperceptions. Something along the lines of a slightly high-brow, rehashed Let's Go.

                            1. re: butterfly

                              You are right, it was awful! My Spanish mother-in-law saw it and emailed it to my wife and her siblings... and they're all exchanging emails on how bad it was. It starts out implying that Madrid is "sleepy" and that girls dress as their grandmothers did in the 1940s... what????

                              1. re: Pincho

                                Yes, it was the "sleepy" comment that really made me question the sanity of the author. But, unfortunately, it just got worse from there. There was absolutely nothing new there--just rewarmed tidbits that you could find in any guidebook (including the historical and cultural inaccuracies).

                                1. re: Pincho

                                  That was true when I visited. But Franco was still running things. Maybe the guy just hasn't visited in a very long time.

                                  1. re: Pincho

                                    Here's a little article in El Pais trying to get the 36-hours-in-Madrid writer to explain herself. She doesn't do a terribly convincing job. It seems she's only been here since September...

                                    http://www.elpais.com/articulo/madrid...

                                    1. re: butterfly

                                      Very amusing.... she's backpedaling hard! So she offends the entire Spanish capital in an American newspaper... and as part of her defense she's turning the tables and insulting Americans in a Spanish newspaper... "(what I meant is) they dress their children beautifully in Spain, unlike in the U.S.!"

                                      ..although in her defense, the Spaniards do indeed dress their children quite nicely, and the most adorable clothes my daughters wear are those sent from grandparents in Span.