El Dia de los Muertos
The Day of the Dead is celebrated all over Mexico, but seems particularly commercialized in Mexico City with all of the paper cutouts and trinkets on sale dedicated to the celebrations. You'll see all sorts of skeletons and mini-coffins and the like from around mid-October through the beginning of November. October 31st is Young Souls Day, November 1st is All Saints Day and November 2nd is All Souls Day and locals use this time to feel closely to their departed relatives. They decorate their graves and their own homes and even make a special bread called "pan de muertos" which is shared with family members. It is believed that the dead come back to be with their relatives and can eat and drink as when they were alive.
These pictures show a Day of the Dead exhibit that is right across from the Alameda.
Tequila comes from the town of Tequila in the state of Jalisco, but as you would expect, is found all over Mexico and, of course, all over the world. It is distilled from the fermented juices from the hearts of the blue agave plant. Drinks made from just the agave plant can be called Mezcal, but if it's from the blue agave, then it's tequila.
Tequila is usually served in a two ounce glass and should be sipped not chugged like at Spring Break in Cancun! You can bite down on a lime before sipping, but that isn't always done either. There are four main types of tequila: Blanco is clear or transparent and is bottled just after the distillation process. The flavor is strong and the taste of fresh blue agave. Oro is tequila that has colorant added (caramel or "gold" coloring is most common, hence its name). It is a bit more mellow than blanco. Reposado or "rested" tequila sits in oak barrels for between 2 months and a year to allow a bouquet or smell to develop and a little more complexity to develop. I enjoyed these a lot (the one pictured here is good) as they are still relatively affordable and have a developed taste. The last kind of tequila is anejo, or aged tequila, which sits in oak barrels for over a year (even up to 8 years, which would be a "reserva"). These are the most complex kinds of tequila that also cost the most.
So, remember, look for Blanco, Oro, Reposado or Anejo (sometimes Reserva) on the bottle when making your selection.
Diego Rivera lived from 1886 to 1957 and was one of the most significant painters of the 20th century. He is known for revitalizing the bright colors used in pre-Hispanic times and I noticed that his use of colors is fairly similar to some of the arwork on display at the National Anthropoloical Museum by groups like the Toltecs and the people of Teotihuacan. I also like the fact that many of his murals are on display here in Mexico City in their originally intended place. Most of what you see was painted by Rivera in the place that it now sits, so you can see the artist's intent to bring his art to the public. He painted in government buildings, galleries, shopping streets and other places very available to the public. His paintings sometimes show scenes from daily life, but also often include important moments in Mexican history and no other artist better represented his people.
One of the best places to see Rivera's art is at the National Palace in the Zocalo, or at the Museo Mural Diego Rivera near the southwest corner of the Alameda.
In the center of the main square (the Zocalo), there is a giant Mexican flag that is ceremonially lowered each day at sundown (around 6pm). A group of guards comes out from the National Palace which is located right on the square and with plenty of flair they lower the flag and fold it neatly into a small bundle. After about a half hour, the flag is raised again.
Everywhere I went in Mexico City, I saw shoe shiners on the corner. On my third day in town, after spending some time walking the dusty paths around the pyramids at Teotihucanan, I decided that my shoes could use a shine. I was pleasantly surprised to find out that is was only 12 pesos for the service and the guy did a terrific job. I gave him 20 pesos and he seemed pleased. That's still under 2 bucks for a service worth a lot more.
I heard Mariachi bands playing at a couple different restaurants (El Arroyo and Cielo Rojo) during my stay in Mexico City, but the most famous place to hear the music is at the restaurants near Plaza Garibaldi. This area, however, is a little seedy at night, so I avoided it.
The music is great usually consisting of some violins, two trumpets, a guitar, a vihuela (a guitar with a rounded back) and a Mexican harp. The songs are usually upbeat and lots of fun.
Aguas, Juices and Milkshakes
In Mexico, it is very common to go to a Paleteria o Neveria (Ice cream shops) for an Agua (water with blended fruits) or Juices (like carrot with orange, orange with papaya...tons)
These Aguas have a big range of variety and normally they can be mixed too. The most famous Aguas in Mexico are Horchata (rice water) and Jamaica. But in some places like Zona Azul, Tepoznieves, La Michoacana, Buena Tierra... you can find also waters made with any fruit and mixed together (Guanabana, Strawberry, Guava... any you want)
As well as juices and waters, there is also the option of milkshakes with fruits and cereals (oatmeal, etc.)
You can definitely play with your imagination in this place and make all the combinations you want.
It depends on the place and the size of the Glass, but every juice, Agua and Milkshake can vary from $8-20pesos
The Zocalo was once a focal point of Aztec society and the ruins of the Templo Mayor are still here today. As a result, there is a steady presence here of groups celebrating pre-Hispanic traditions. You'll here the pounding of drums and see "healers" offering smoke healings to tourists in the main square most of the day. The dances sometimes draw big crowds.
Posadas are traditional mexican Parties are celebrated since a long time.
Its is said that the ancient mexicans used to celebrate the winter time with the comming of
Huitzilopochtli, God of war, in the month called Panquetzaliztli, which in the actual calendar corresponds from 7 to 26th December, so it was easier for the Spaniards to relate it to Christmas and promote the substitution of ancient Gods to Christian characters for the Evangelization period.
However, the customs of the Party remained the same and with time, some others were added.
Today, some of the typical things you will find in a Posada are firecrackers, Piñatas, sings, a lot of popular food, fruit-Punch, Atole, tamales, etc.
For almost every kind of food, mexicans have a special way (even skill) to eat them.
There have been even jokes about the angle that your arm should have while eating your Taco without dropping the salsa inside.
People even fold tortillas in a special way with one finger while holding it with the other hand, others take a small piece of the tortilla and use it as a small spoon, etc.
When it is about Merienda (dinner at night) we use to eat Pan Dulce (Sweet breads) with hot chocolate, coffee with milk or even Atole.
And a Golden rule here is to "Chopear el Pan" (introduce a corner of the bread in the milk, chocolate, etc.)
If you don´t know anybody living in Mexico and just stay in the touristic Zones, it will be difficult to see some of the Local traditions and customs of Mexico.
They vary in each city or state, but what is a common thing everywhere in Mexico is the importance of the family.
Normally in any mexican house, Sundays are the days when the family gathers for lunch. And for family not only parents and kids, also auncles, aunts, cousines, grandparents and close friends join.
The Land Without Time
I've always prided myself on being punctual..but punctual in Mexico City means 1/2 an hour to 45 minutes after the set time. This was an easy custom to get used to.
I found it particularily amusing that the bride pulled me aside the night before her wedding mass to tell me that even though mass was suppossed to start at 12:30 I could give myself until 1:15 to be at the church.
Coctails with Chile
A very common snack for us are the fruits or vegetables like Carrots and Jicama and add them a lot of lemon, salt and Chile (the best chile sauce for this is the Valentina)
If you are not very used to chile, don't put much Valentina!
Normally you can find these cocktails driving around the streets in small stands with wheels or in Paleterias.
Most people in Mexico City are Catholic and churches are more than just beautiful buildings with wonderful artwork inside, they are places of worship. Be respectful of those who are inside the churches for spiritual reasons. Always avoid flash photography.
This is not to say that Mexico City is an ultra religious place. In fact, most of the local I talked with called themselves Catholic, but also said they were not strictly religious.
A good website for expatriates & visitors
If you're moving to Mexico City - even temporarily - there's a website that might be quite helpful to you. And why not?? It can be helpful for people who are spending a few days in town for business or pleasure as well. The address is: http://www.solutionsabroad.com/index.asp
I just bumped into it by chance while looking for references about a restaurant on the web, but it has a lot more information: job searching, info about different cities, security, traveling, relocation advices, etc. It is rather intended for people who might have to relocate temporarily or permanently because of their job so they can more easily adapt to the new environment they will be living in. It's written in Spanish, English and German. It particularly caught my attention because of a couple of statements made in the restaurant/cuisine and security sections which are very true and I copy hereby textually:
"You need to know that this country's eats are not the taco "shell", ground beef-and-baked-beans fare that Tex-Mex has made it out to be. In fact, the Mexican cuisine genre contains more variety than any other type of cooking, except for French and Chinese."
"Because expatriates who visit, temporarily reside or live in Mexico are not Security Professionals, all information they receive before they arrive here is that found in their local press or via official Websites. While evidence shows that we have a serious growing problem with crime, what goes on in this area of the world as reported by international media is alarmist, without the vision of a global context. Its current Vision increases a sense of fear, that in my opinion, is unjustified."
Mexican cuisine and the crime situation in Mexico City are only 2 of the many aspects about which people are misinformed abroad. Please read next tip for further info, no space left (as usual!)
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