Words and photography by Pete Heck
“Before you eat, you must understand the history of the area you are in,” Rodrigo stated as we walked along Calle Jalapa. We were en route to the first stop of the day on a culinary journey through La Colonia Roma.
Rodrigo went on to explain that La Colonia has seen much change over the past century. Early on, the neighbourhood was actually outside of the city, and was being built with a strong aristocratic and European feel. It carried influence of Paris with its wide streets and some with tree-lined paths down the middle. Cafés, restaurants and bars sprung up everywhere and Colonia was considered an area for socialites.
Up until the 1940s it was a place for the wealthy until the rural community started to migrate in, causing the community to struggle with keeping its identity for decades to come. Urban development and need took over, and then a devastating earthquake in 1985 forced the socialite lifestyle into a corner. With the 1990’s came a drastic turnaround and the people fought to bring back the neighbourhood La Colonia once was. Restaurants started popping up everywhere, outdoor cafés started to fill up again and property prices skyrocketed.
“Everybody wants to be here now,” Rodrigo explained. “And the establishments you are going to visit here today are passionate about food. Most try to source their food locally, bringing traditional Mexican methods and culture into their menus, and of course the owners and staff involve themselves as part of the community.”
Despite my growling stomach as we strolled along, I was enthralled and thrilled to hear the passion in Rodrigo’s own voice, and his pride in the restaurants he would be introducing me to. And it continued all along our seven stops with lessons in history and food intertwining. There were several highlights in the day.
It doesn’t get more Mexican than the taco. Chef Rodrigo Malvido believes that the taco is the most complete dish because the combinations are endless. Chef Malvido takes risks and believes attention to every detail is also key. Temperature, texture and source of ingredients are important in making each bite amazing. It’s not surprising Tres Galeones is one of the top rated taquerias in México City.
Recommendation: Every taco is amazing, but try the shrimp soup shot if available and wash it down with an Agua de Jamaica.
Orígenes is an organic cafe and market in the heart of La Colonia. Organic food was a challenge at first in the city. The locals thought of organic food as being tasteless and for vegetarians only. But reputation spread fast about this establlishment and people are now convinced and keep coming back.
Recommendation: The cafe changes their salad selection daily but the Nopales (cactus) salad with tomatoes, onions, panela cheese and coriander is delicious.
One of the top French cuisine establishments in Mexico City. Originally a store, it has been transformed into a Bistro by Emanuel and Gabriel Chabre, two brothers. What was once just a humble cafe now caters to embassies and parties of thousands of people. Much like the complicated fusions of the neighbourhood in which they work, the brothers found a way to blend French and Mexican cuisines. Tomales are paired with particular wines (only imported from France) and traditional french soups have sour cream added.
Recommendation – Make sure to try the Terrine, a french forcemeat similar to pâté – it is their specialty.
café de raíz
Café de Raiz celebrates corn as one of the most important ingredients in Mexican cuisine, deeply rooted into the country’s culture. The owners have always had strong beliefs in the power of community and are actively involved in supporting the indigenous and local artists who have found their way to La Colonia. The restaurant is known for its tamales and on special occasions its zacahuil. Zacahuil is not the average “normal-sized” tamale – They can measure up two meters long, basically the size of a big kitchen table. They are cooked for approximately 12 hours in a special clay oven.
Recommendation – Try the traditional tamale. The simple recipe of corn, beans, green chiles, and coriander, boiled in a banana leaf, served and topped with salsa roja is tough to disappoint.
la tlayudería de la roma
Tlayuda means tortilla in Zapoteca (indigenous language from the state of Oaxaca). Don Carlos opened La Tlayuderia to bring Oaxacan food to La Colonia and he still incorporates some of his family secrets into his food. You can always find a smile on Don Carlos’s face as he was brought up not only to be a good cook but to be a good host.
Recommendation – Tlayudas are not to be missed and be sure to try the mezcal that is filtered a *special way*. I’ll let you find out how that is.
After a full day of eating and drinking and eating more, I understood why this place is so important to Rodrigo and to the city. La Colonia is the place where trends are born and culture extends out to the rest of the country.
how to do it
Learn about food and history in an afternoon with Sabores Mexico Food Tours on their tour of La Colonia Roma Norte. You will explore an amazing neighbourhood and taste authentic and delicious Mexican food. Make sure to go on an empty stomach.
I was a guest on the Sabores Mexico La Colonia Food Tour. As always all opinions are expressed are my own.