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Full Circle

Day 223: Mexico City

Michael Palin - Full Circle'Poor Mexico,' wrote Pofirio Diaz, a President in the early 1900s. 'So far from God, and so close to the United States.' Though we are not that close to the United States - there's still fifteen hundred miles between us and the Pacific border at Tijuana - there are times when I feel as though I am already there. There are far more English language newspapers, magazines, TV shows and American fast-food chains here than there ever were in South America. The only way to avoid this cultural blur is to get out on the back streets of Mexico City. I'm rewarded by finding a restaurant whose cuisine is not just firmly Mexican, but pre-conquest Mexican. Sandwiched between a butcher and a dry cleaner on a modest square called Plaza Aguila, Fonda Tino specializes in Comida Exotica y PreColombina which turns out to be mainly insects. Tino, a huge Hardyesque figure (Oliver Hardy that is), lays a tapas of tiny creatures before me. Maggots, beetles, ants' eggs, mosquito larvae and baby grasshoppers are set out for my delectation and delight. They are seasoned, cooked in oil and served crispy. Tino looms over me as I eat. He watches my face with such anxious concern that I fear that anything less than a 'Magnificent!' after the maggots would bring him close to tears. And indeed, once you forget that they are creepy-crawlies and treat them simply as snacks, maggots make rather good grub.

Apart from invertebrates, the Aztec menu is limited. Of course they ate fish, but cows, sheep and goats were introduced by the Europeans. For meat they relied on dogs, turkey and armadillo. Drawing the line at dog, I plump for armadillo and beans, which is delicious. Encouraged by my enthusiasm, Tino won't let me go without sampling his speciality, tuna in a mango and chrysanthemum sauce. To be able to eat the flowers in the middle of the table was just one of many firsts at my lunch in the Plaza Aguila.

Later that afternoon, I return to my hotel with the taste of ants' eggs fresh on my lips, to find that a script for the re-shoot of Fierce Creatures has just arrived. When I finish this journey they want me back in character again - as Bugsy, keeper of the Insect House.
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PALIN'S GUIDES

  • Series: Full Circle
  • Day: 223
  • Country/sea: Mexico
  • Place: Mexico City
  • Book page no: 288

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