Yearning to travel south of the border to the home of mariachi music, mezcal and great Mexican street food? We'll show you how – regardless of our current travel restrictions.
Where to go in Mexico
Ranked by Mexican and international foodies, the region of Oaxaca is one of the country's great eating destinations. Stay in boutique colonial hotels like Casa Oaxaca (casaoaxaca.com.mx) and dine on innovative Mexican fusion dishes at restaurants like Origen, or tlayudas (spicy flatbreads) and glasses of agua fresca (fresh fruit juice) at the city's markets.
To explore Oaxaca's mezcal scene (a signature distilled alcoholic beverage made from Mexico's native agave plant), order a tasting flight at Mezcaleria Los Amantes in the old town, or join architect-turned-street food, beer and mezcal expert Darinel Silva on a personal tour around the area visiting rustic, family-owned mezcal distilleries (experienceagave.com). Oaxaca's hip Mezcalite Pop! cafe even combines seasonal fruit juices and local mezcal for thoroughly grown-up paletas (ice-blocks).
What to watch
Netflix's reputation for excellent food-focused content is definitely enhanced by their Mexico-centric offerings. Explore the history of the nation's street snacks by watching Taco Chronicles' 13 episodes – touching on regional variations including Lebanese-influenced tacos al pastor and a traditional spit-roasted pork dish known as conchita pibil from the Yucatan peninsula – before learning about traditional Oaxacan flavours on Street Food: Latin America. Enrique Olvera, the innovative owner of Mexico City's Pujol restaurant is profiled on Netflix's Chef's Table (episode four of series two), while TVNZ On Demand is a free-to-air option to learn about the life and cultural impact of artist Frida Kahlo with Frida: Viva La Vida. Also on TVNZ On Demand, Sue Perkins: Along the US - Mexico Border presents a fascinating journey along one of the world's most dynamic frontiers.
What to read about Mexico
The cultural, political and social issues defining both the United States and Mexico were major drivers for travel writer Paul Theroux to explore the country across recent years, and his latest non-fiction book, On the Plain of Snakes: A Mexican Journey (2019) is an essential read to understand contemporary Mexico and its relationship with its northern neighbour. If you're keen to recreate some of the flavours infusing Netflix's Mexican-themed programming, dive into Tu Casa, Mi Casa – Mexican Recipes for the Home Cook by Pujol's Enrique Olvera, or try some of the recipes British chef Rick Stein picked up during his travels from California and Mexico. Part travel narrative and part cookery book, Rick Stein – The Road to Mexico is available online and in book shops.
What to eat to experience Mexico
Tacos are the obvious place to start, especially while avocados are well-priced for a mandatory hit of guacamole, and meal kits from The Lucky Taco include all the ingredients you'll need. They're available from Farro Fresh stores throughout Auckland, and their hot sauces and Mexican pickles are also stocked. Once out of lockdown, Mr Taco and Miss Torta in central Auckland are go-to spots for authentic street tacos and traditional torta sandwiches, while Chocola in Glen Innes offers crunchy tostadas, tacos and chilli-laced Mexican chocolate.
Other Mexican flavours to try at home include the breakfast dish of chilaquiles – tortilla chips in a spicy sauce topped with a fried egg – or the Oaxacan speciality of tlayudas, traditional pizza-like flatbreads. If you're really keen, embark on the journey of making the complex Oaxacan dish known as mole (pronounced "moh-lay"). Including chilli and dark chocolate, most recipes incorporate around 20 different ingredients. If that all sounds too much, just fire up the barbecue and grill some elote (street corn) seasoned with chilli and lime juice.
What to drink
A cold beer is often the best accompaniment for Mexican food, and Mexican beers including Tecate, Bohemia and Dos Equis can be ordered online from specialist Mexican drinks importer Mexi-Bev (www.mexibev.nz). They also import a wide range of tequila, and mezcal, a more refined spirit sourced from around the Mexican region of Oaxaca. The Latin American-themed La Fuente bar in central Auckland teams mezcal and tequila with authentic street snacks including cheese and jalapeno croquettes and crispy salmon tostaditas.
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Kiwi craft beer fans should keep an eye out for Garage Project's seasonal release of Mexican-influenced beers around the annual Dia de Los Muertos (Day of the Dead) festival in early November. Annual releases include La Calavera Catrina, a blond lager with watermelon, rosewater and habanero chilli, and Day of the Dead, a dark beer with Mexican cocoa, agave syrup, and smoked chipotle chilli.