A superchef’s guide to the secrets of Mexico City
Roula Khalaf, Editor of the FT, selects her favourite stories in this weekly newsletter.
Mexico City was always my father’s city, where most of his family lived. When I was growing up in Tepoztlán, a small town an hour or so away, we would come here for the important things – family gatherings, my parents’ work and the museums. I remember coming to the movies. It was always this special big city with an emotional link. And then I made it mine – when I was 19, I came to university here.
Mexico City is so visually exciting. I love simply walking in my neighbourhood, Condesa, and going to the park or cycling with my son. We’ll head out and get a really good flat white at Qūentin, a great café close to home. As a chef, I think one of the best things about Mexico is the markets – they are like worlds of their own. I love Mercado Jamaica, the big flower market, where they also have great produce. Of course, I adore La Merced. It’s the biggest traditional market in Mexico City and it’s insane; there are tons of fruits and vegetables – it’s full of life. The best way to see it as a tourist is on one of the special food tours, like Anais Martinez’s The Curious Mexican. There’s also La Nueva Viga, the huge fish market, and the organic market Mercado el 100, which I was partly responsible for creating. The “100” is because all produce comes within 100 miles of the Zócalo, the public square downtown.
Cámara’s favourite markets
La Merced Circunvalación s/n, La Merced, Merced Balbuena, Venustiano Carranza, 15810
La Nueva Viga Eje 6 Sur 650, Abastos, Iztapalapa, 09040
Mercado el 100 (El Cien) Orizaba s/n, Roma Sur, Cuauhtémoc, 06760
Mercado Jamaica Guillermo Prieto 45, Jamaica, Venustiano Carranza, 15800
It’s a pleasure to be in the city if you love food because there are so many options, though I have a few favourite restaurants I always return to, such as Hugo, a wine bar with lots of exciting small plates. I love Mikey Crespo, who cooks there, as well as Isabel. You don’t have to go there and think about what you’re eating, you just enjoy it. It’s reminiscent of many other restaurants that I love, like Estela in New York, or what San Francisco’s Bar Tartine used to be, because Mikey was a cook there. Ticuchi is also great – I need to go there more often. I love Gonzalo Gout, who is behind it, and when I go there I just eat whatever they give me.
For drinks, I go to San Angel Inn. It’s a traditional restaurant and has a very particular atmosphere emblematic of a different era, like a time capsule. It’s in a colonial building with a central patio and really good margaritas and martinis. I like to sit on the terrace and enjoy the aperitivo-style service.
I love that everyone is now looking into Mexican craft and design. I’ve always had great admiration for it, maybe because I have a foreign mother and a Florentine grandmother who was always very taken by the extraordinary textiles. My favourite design store here is Onora. It has Mexican crafts done really well, responsibly and sustainably. There there’s Remigio, named after its owner, which has a focus on Oaxacan textiles. Remigio sells pieces that he commissions with cooperatives, weavers and dyers. There are so many treasures to be found there.
For fashion, I adore Carla Fernández – what is really special about her brand is that she has integrated traditional Mexican techniques and textiles into wearable but sophisticated clothing. It’s quite architectural in its conception. Usually I buy from her shop on Álvaro Obregón, as it’s close to where I live.
When I need a culture fix, the National Museum of Anthropology is one of the most extraordinary places in Mexico City. It holds brilliant pieces of Mexican pre-Hispanic art and everyday objects and utensils. The design and architecture is by Pedro Ramírez Vázquez, who was an important figure in Mexico; and, as most people know, architecture has a special importance here.
I also love downtown – to have an opportunity to see inside the incredible palaces, such as the Ministry of Public Education building with Diego Riviera’s first large-scale murals. You can also see Riviera murals at the Palacio Nacional. The National Museum of Art is personally important to me because it’s the first place I worked. I opened my restaurant Contramar while I was working there. Though it’s been challenging for the downtown area in the past two years, it’s now back to being filled with energetic crowds of people.