I85 Vera Cruz – Zuchitan de Zaragoza then Route 200 to Tapachula
I85 from Vera Cruz was bustling with food and fruit stands for about 2/3 of the route. . The towns were clearly marked and there were bus stops. About an hour after entering Oaxaca there were fewer and fewer stands and little in the way of food. The corn fields were gone, replaced by sugar cane.
After Vera Cruz the orange/banana stands turned to pineapple/banana stands then pineapple/coconut stands then papaya / mango stands.
We stopped at a fruit stand, ordered a pineapple juice, coco frio (cold coconut juice) and a fruit cup … handing the money out the window … I really, really love this sort of ‘drive-thru. My friend was disappointed I turned down adding chili and lime to the fruit picado, but at that point my stomach couldn’t deal with spice.
I was lusting after the round, light green basket ball-sized watermelons with deep red interiors that I had been seeing. These are an amazingly sweet variety. It has been a long time since I have had watermelon that good. Fortunately, they are also available at my new home in Guatemala.
There was also some good orange papaya in the fruit cup, jicama and something I’ve never seen before … yellow papaya the bright color of pineapple. I really liked this. It had a sort of tangy taste to it and a firm texture like green papaya.
This stand also had lots of honey. The coconut juice was refreshing and at the bottom were lots of slices of tender young coconut and regular coconut … a drink and a snack all in one.
During the stretches of road that featured coconuts there were also bags of dorados de coco, dried coconut. There was a similar banana snack… plananitos.
This was my favorite snack of the trip
This it turns out is quite common also in Guatemala. Bananas are sliced thin length-wise, fried in oil and then dried. This result in a snack that, IMO, vastly surpasses potato chips. Not only were they greaseless, they had the same crunch as thick cut potato chips and great flavor … and bananas are more nutritious than potatoes.
There was also a sugared version that my friend said must be something local, because he never saw it before. We were going to get some at the next vendor selling them … but alas … no more plananitos vendors after that.
After Vera Cruz the road gets more tropical and primitive. Tin roofs were replaced with palm thatched huts. I turned total jaw-dropping tourist when at one point I saw one place grinding corn with a donkey providing the grinding power by walking around a wooden barrel with the handle of the grinder attached by a harness to the animal. I wonder if that would have even more cache in my home in SF than simply stone-ground grits.
My jaw dropped even further to see fields being plowed by teams of oxen … seriously … they still farm that way. No kidding.
Anyway, these were things we saw once we crossed the border into the state of Oaxaca where both the scenery and food changed drastically and almost immediately.
This stretch of road was all about pollo asado (grilled chicken) and tlayudas
. More about tlayudas here
Somewhere in Oaxaca (Route 200): Comedor Lupita tlayudas – the highlight of my SF-Mexico-Guatemala drive
For SF Bay Area people … this must be the Petaluma of Oaxaca with all that chicken.
There were special ovens for both the chicken and tlayudas … really cool contraptions. I am not yet finding a good photo on the web but it was sort of like this though the bottom held burning something or another and flames were involved
My friend chose to stop at a joint for tortas and while I waited for him to come back I was parked in front of one such stand with a special chicken oven.
The sign said “Pollos al carbon estillo Sinaloa”: I watched as people stopped by for their chickens and the tortillas were cooked over the grill at the front of the oven with flames leaping up and kissing them.
When my friend came back with some lame tortas, one of them cheese … we are in what seems to be the chicken capital of Mexico and he gets cheese tortas … I suggested the chicken.
The skin was lovely with a red color to it from a rub. Both the chicken and tortillas were nicely flavored by the grill and oven. An excellent, baggy of hot green sauce came with it.
I also learned you can’t take your coke bottle with you and we had to finish up there.
“Throw your bones out the window for the dogs”, my friend said.
“What? Bones are bad for dogs”
“These dogs have no other food but scraps and eat bones all the time”.
I threw the bones.
We spent the night in Acayucan a rather large sized town that had what looked to be an excellent pasteleria. There were lots of shops selling whole uncooked chickens, pollorias. Some kept chickens in insulated picnic coolers. Some just had the chickens on wooden shelves
Sayula is a smaller town nearby and loaded with fruit drink vendors, paleterias and other food shops.
After this there was very little food-wise. All I remember was the KMART … one room the size of a travel trailer but sporting a red awning with the name one it in white. To the real Kmart … should any of your crack legal team hear of this …leave it alone.
After crossing the continental divide, other than Comedor Lupita mentioned above there wasn’t much but windmills and heat. There were areas of paypaya trees and a stand or two, but even the gas stations were far and few between
Our last two stops on the Mexico segment of my road trip to Guatemala were
Tapachula, Chiapas, MX: La Cena and desayuno at Los Arcos – Great room service food
Licuados, Coke, Fanta and Modelo at the Transmigrates on the Mexico/Guatemala border
This ends my trip reports.
I thought my trip reports were similar to my reports in the SF Bay area. With the exception of the last licuado report where I got carried away with describing the room, so to speak, to me these were nothing but about food … and even that last one had a lot about the nearby food stands and street vendors.
Even reporting about the donkey grinding corn wasn’t color. The tortillas we tried in that area were different … a stronger corn flavor and more rustic.
If you see oxen plowing the fields, also expect the food to be prepared in an unchanging, simple and ancient way. Those food stands aren’t there for the few tourists, they are there for the locals. The landscape descriptions had to do with what food was being sold in certain areas
Bones to starving dogs … merely local color … no, just a way of indicating how poor the area was.
A poster dismissed the food of poverty in this area of Mexico ... but isn’t that the most delicious food?
When you have little, you have to make what you have as delicious as possible. So many food favorites began with poverty … the cassoulet of France was a way of making beans and leftovers tasty … soul food was inspired by veggies and animal parts no one wanted ... etc, etc, etc.
Place is every bit as important as place setting. The food served on fine china is rarely the same as that served on paper plates.
So perhaps it is the cooking method that elevates the food … grills and special ovens … etc.
I’d even stop at that faux Kmart. Was it just another Mexican market selling the same old, same old … or did the style and ambition indicate surprises within?
They were not about the road itself, but what to expect on that road in terms of food. That would have been useful info to me when I did an inquiry a while back.
I did get one fabulous reply
Here is a cut and paste of the amazing food recs from RST
If it is a Sunday, you might consider trying to make it all the way to Papantla by late afternoon because they often have the Totonac voladores perform high over the beautiful plaza, which will fill up festively with families out for the ritual afternoon stroll. The Mercado Hidalgo in Papantla is just off the main square with some superb fondas on the second level and a row of atole/tamales vendors seated in front selling typical local items like tamales de cuchara ("so wet that it has to be eaten with a spoon"). This is all Huastec/Totonac country and if you keep your eyes wide open you might luck out finding roving vendors (usually very young girls, usually about 10 or 11) in the markets selling pulacles (accent on u), an ancient Totonac tamal, wrapped in hojas de papatla, and stuffed with small black beans, flor de colorin (in January/February) also called gasparito, pieces of the spiny chayote called espinosos, and ajonjoli molido. This will pretty much blow your mind away. El Tajin is very close is very much worth a morning's detour.
The market in San Andres Tuxtla is so packed with extraordinary one-of-a-kind produce and prepared foodstuff, one could almost claim that the cuisine of this micro-region is its own separate cuisine. Just the range of tamales available alone will take your breath away-at least 6-7 different kinds, and all unique: the tamales de presa wrapped in hojas de berijao, the marvellous chanchamitos, the multi-layered tamales de capita (virtually a masterpiece of artisanality). Then there's all sorts of weird and wonderful things: the spiny chocho, the tiny and mysterious frijolillo etc etc
In Acayucan, of course, you MUST have popo ;0)
Juchitan market by day is a marvel. Juchitan market and plaza by night has, for me, arguably the greatest single collection of nighttime street food in all Mexico: everything from the incomparable bu'pu to tamales stuffed with iguanas (best in January when they are fat and filled with eggs), the superb Juchitecan garnachas, whole roasted chicken (and in Tehuantepec, when they talk of an oven, they are referring to the tandoor-like comiscal), extraordinary fish dishes (shredded manta ray salad, little skweres of grilled ombligos de pescado etc) to all kinds of endangered species I would best not mention here etc etc etc
Huastec country is east and north of Tuxpan and this is where you will find not just zacahuiles but also quite easily find wonderful Huastec specialties like bocoles (have a plate of bocoles, scrambled eggs and dried meat for breakfast and you will never want anything else for breakfast again) . Papantla is the very epicenter of Totonac culture but there is at least one zacahuil vendor in the morning. As far as I know the largest contingent of zacahuil makers anywhere is in the Poza Rica market. And there is a specific reason for this: the city is large enough to support the 6 or so vendors here
In large cities with markets where there's zacahuil being sold publicly, this is what happens, or this is "how" I think it happens. (And incidentally, I think that zacahuil-which of course is intended to be consumed and enjoyed by a large crowd during fiestas etc-can be "sold" ONLY in large markets, i.e. is commercially viable where you have a constant stream of potential clientele walking by and where you would be guaranteed to sell through your entire zacahuil by the end of the day. There's no reheating zacahuil of course.)
Probably around 7p.m. or 8p.m. maybe earlier, the entire package is buried. When I asked a vendor if it is hard to make, she says no. But it is hard to keep the fire/heat at the correct intensity. The thing is kept underground overnight perhaps 10, perhaps 12 hrs. This would take us to 6 or 7 or 8 in the morning. Zacahuil is sold by portion. If I remember correctly in either P10 or P25 portions (or something like that-I have to check my notes) You get a bigger slice and more of the meat with P25. It's done when it's done and the vendor leaves unless she's got some side things (a clump of chiles from her plot of land, some tomatoes etc) to finish selling.
Sorry about the interruption. But the point of the rambling above is this: if each zacahuil renders 80, maybe 100+ portions, this means that (given 6 vendors at the market) some 500-600 people consume zacahuil each morning in Poza Rica. That's not counting other zacahuil vendors elsewhere in the city that I don't know about
You will see meat/chile stews called chilposos or chilpozontes, pascales/pazkales (which is meat stewed in pumpkin and/or sesame paste), tlapaniles of local heirloom beans, and almost everywhere up and down the coast, guatape (or huatape) which would correspond to Central Mexican chileatoles or which we could perhaps categorize and describe as a kind of very light stew (a soup?),
One delicacy to look for along the northern Veracruzan coast is dried mullet roe called huevas or specifically huevas de lisa, which might be prepared in a kind of fish roe omelette (torta de hueva). The best place to pick up dried mullet roe however is in the Juchitan market
nd if you DO decide to follow the Papaloapan upriver from Tlacotalpan, and do decide to stop in Cosamaloapan (where I am at the moment), you MUST go and eat the local specialty called tapixte at Restaurante Anita (it´s on Ocampo, but everyone knows where it is). Tapixte is always "de pollo", the version made with beef is called (confusingly) barbacoa (although it has nothing to do with what "we" understand by barbacoa). Both use the large leaves called hopjas de pozol as wrapping (in fact as double wrapping, to prevent leakage) before the package is steamed like a tamal. The chicken in tapixte takes a sauce of the small wicked local chile called chilñpaya, jitomate, cebolla and loads of the heavenly aromatic acuyo (hoja santa). The barbacoa on the other hand takes a dried red chile (guajillo) sauce and lots of aguacatillo leaves. The tapixte I just had was so good I nearly fainted in happiness. This is a place I would consider something like what Michelin calls "worth the journey, worth the detour" despite the lack of all amenities. The tiny place is dripping with charm however-with well-worn tiled floors, mirrors in old intricate carved frames, beautiful old hand-carved wood chairs.
An hour or so farther up the river is the hot dusty city of Tuxtepec which boasts the splendid seafood restaurant called Los Jarochos (it´s on Daniel Soto, very close to the Casa de la Cultura, anyone would be able to tell you where it is). The owner is the gracious Nelva Martinez Graham who shared several of her recipes with Diana Kennedy for her new book on Oaxaca. This is the kind of seafood/fish restaurant that we dreamed about on the thread on Veracruz when we mourned the fact that the old wonderful Veracruzan ways with fish/shellfish seems to have been lost forever in the tourist crush of present-day restaurants along that coast. It´s fish cooked with extraordinary care-and I dare say in the case of Sra Nelva-with love. I want to try one of her preparations with fish roe (huevas de lisa, huevas de nacar) with these were not available. So I started with a plate of tiny sweet pristinely fresh river shrimp about the size of my tiny fingernail, prepared enchilpayados (in a butter and chipaya sauce). Then followed a stupendous whole mojarra wrapped in acuyo leaves and steamed. It was so good I sucked every last proteinaceous morsel out of every crevice of spine, of the head, of the cheeks, and surrounding the fins and tails. Nothing was left of my fish except a neat pile of bones. Both the shrimps and the fish were not cooked one-half minute too long. After the meal, Sra Nelva came out to hear what I had to say about her cooking-she said that she strives every single day to perfect her dishes just a little bit more. This place, again, is what I would call "worth the journey"
I am back in my beloved Acayucan (about 1 1/2 hr from Cosamaloapan). Beloved bec I have eaten some of the most unforgettable things in my life in this town. But these are things of the sort that the truly adventurous have to find on their own bec they do not exist in restaurant menus (and as we know the greatest things that one can eat in Mexico are precisely those that cannot be "listed" in guides): I can only point the way (as others like Sra. Diana have, before me) to what might be found and in what season, and where, if one searched hard enough...
Specifically I just had a very late second lunch featuring two very local, very regional specialties which are always prepared and eaten only at home. Dona Ofelia at the market who became my friend the last time I was here welcomed me with open arms when she saw me today and immediately said: why, I was just thinking about you because this is the precise week when choschogo is at its most abundant. I had deeply rued the fact that I could not try this flower back in May when I was here and had sworn to be back for it in the rainy season. Well, here I am. Choschogo, which is known only in this microregion of Mexico, is usually featured in the local version of caldo de res (the whole flower is cooked whole, almost like a vegetable). But today, I was given choschogo, quickly parboiled and then capeado. These are fried whole and come out looking almost like chiles rellenos. The second specialty is an herb I had picked up at the market outside the bus station when I arrived: a bunch of azquiote (Smilax sp). I have had (what is almost certainly a diff cultivar of) this herb/shoot already on this trip inclg a lovely simple broth of the tender tips simply chopped up and cooked with diced tomatoes, onions, chilpayas prepared for me in Ojitlan. The texture and taste is almost like that of the tenderest pencil-thin early asparagus. Here, my bunch of azquiote was quickly parboiled, then scrambled with eggs, tomatoes, onion in a kind of a la Mexicana preparation. Just too good for words
Azquiote is one of the two possible foaming agents for the foamed cacao drink called popo which is typical of Acayucan. Popo could be had in the main market (not the one by the station but the one beyond the main plaza) in the morning from two sisters at one corner of this market who sell this (from about 10 onwards) as well as several masa specialties (balls of pozol for the pozol drink, bollitas de elote, diff local tamales). There are also popo vendors by night in the main square.
End quote ... thanks RST ... so sorry our trip could not take advantage of those tips, but hopefully someone else can
But others called that route a wasteland. I don’t see how that could be.
Due to the need to not spend much time getting to Guatemala, we had no time to detour and ate food almost exclusively from road side stands. Maybe it was the novelty, but I thought it was interesting and delicious and I could ride these roads a number of times and still not be bored ... even with the simple food I tried.
I’d like to try other tlayuda stands and see how they compare. On my other report on I80 I’d break for the shrimp tamales, stop at that stretch with all those carne asada stands where each breath of grilling meat was mouth-watering. I’d check out the cheese shops in the cheese town, etc, etc, etc.
I would have loved to try actual restaurants at the larger towns along the route … Sayula,
Acayucan and Tapachula on this stretch of road … Tampico and Tuxpan on I80.
I would have loved to stroll the beach towns of Tecolocam Tecolutla and Nautlus, trying oysters and other seafood. I really would have liked to try the restaurant with the valley view at San Pablo.
There were the nearby towns we missed due to lack of time.
Vera Cruz was the only cosmopolitan city with restaurants like in the US so maybe that is why the route was called a wasteland … don’t you believe it.
Perhaps the food is better and more amazing in other parts of Mexico, but even here it seemed there was deliciousness everywhere.
I reported about a little of what you can expect along the way. To me it was all about food.
The first stretch of the road
Mexico: I80 Matamoros to Vera Cruz