A box of Old El Paso was about as authentic as it got for me, cooking wise. But in my defense, the canary yellow box did promise “authentic Mexican food in your own kitchen.” Aware of my shortcomings, I decide to find a private cooking class – in Mexico City.
But forget the chaotic 21.2 million populated metropolitan of Mexico City – I’ve seen enough of the big cities in my travels. I’m more interested in the communities within cities, and Condesa is a perfect example of this.
The artsy, bohemian neighbourhood of Condesa, southwest of Mexico City, surely I can’t be in the middle of that mighty metropolis called Mexico City? Tranquil and Mexico City aren’t normally found in the same sentence but Condesa is the exception. Condesa, aside from all of its pleasantries of airy pavement cafes, hip boutiques and thickly vegetated parks, I decide, is the perfect place to learn how to replicate the tantalising tastes of this Latin American country.
After wandering around in circles for longer than I care to admit, I find an outdoor kitchen over wood burning stoves with a small sign promising that “visitors learn to grind corn on a metate, press tortillas, and cook them on a comal guided by practiced home cooks.” I had no idea what metate and comal was, but I guess that was the point of being there. Plus, the building was a striking burnt orange with a cool white Volkswagen parked outside. Yep, I was way beyond the radars of a Lonely Planet guide.
A man, which I’m soon to learn is named Luis, greets me. I attempt to string together the 10 words I remember from Spanish class. Luckily my attempt didn’t go unnoticed and Luis smiles, but with his eyes. Luis has dark skin, coloured only by the scarce strands of white hair in his otherwise thick black moustache. His fringe falls over his left eyebrow so effortlessly; the rest kept in place by the tanned cowboy style hat. He’s got a sense of fashion derived from a combination of what seems like European and Native elements, which include European-like clothing dyed with loud colours. Luis is the type of Mexican that fits all my early stereotypes – with his moustache, hat and thick Spanish accent.
I learn to make handmade tortillas and a nopales salad. But to be honest, it wasn’t the food I was interested in learning about, it was Luis. While we don’t speak verbally as we had no idea of each other’s language, a lot can be learned from body language. He moves his hands quickly, moving from one colourful ingredient to the next, treating each with delicacy. Behind him I see a sign that proclaims, “Celebrate Originality.” I sit cross-legged on the warm, pastel blue stool, as I watch Luis grasp the knife and puncture the ripe, red tomato, just as an artist holds a paintbrush.