Mexico City is like a large European city with a tropical jungle twist. It’s also one of the largest cities in the world, but you wouldn’t know it from the cool, calm atmosphere that presides over the Roma Norte neighborhood where I am staying for a few nights.
My life as a travel writer takes me to great places like this all the time. I’ve explored the bohemian cafes of Prague…the seductive beaches of Portugal…a seaside village in Turkey…and the neighborhoods of Buenos Aires.
Now it is Mexico City’s Roma Norte that lies before me. In this lush green area of organic eateries and farmer’s markets, tables from hip and modern cafes spread out over the wide sidewalks. Fashionably dressed local and expat patrons are speaking English and Spanish over lemonades and horchatas.
The architecture of the stately homes and refined boutiques is an eclectic mix of colonial and classical styles unlike anything I’ve ever seen. Beautiful and provocative graffiti art appears here and there over brick facades.
I discover only when I arrive that it’s rainy season from June till September, but the sun still appears throughout the day, with a light, warm rain starting up in the early evening. But that doesn’t stop the locals from gathering at a tiny eatery where several women grill blue corn tortillas stuffed with cheese and a combination of potatoes, squash blossoms, mushrooms, chicken, pork, or beef.
In fact, eating from the street food stalls is the thing to do here. For breakfast, I pick up a cup of bright yellow mango slices that are unbelievably sweet.
I walk on, mango cup in tow, and find myself in the downtown area after an easy 15-minute stroll. As might be expected of Latin America’s second largest economy, the financial district is impressive—but the sleek and gleaming skyscrapers are tempered by wide avenues lined with graceful leafy trees, quirky bronze sculptures, and enormous, clean sidewalks with plenty of benches for relaxing and people watching.
Beside a local designer boutique, I find a cafe where I order some of the best organic coffee I’ve ever tasted, along with a thick slice of wonderful homemade plantain bread and fresh papaya slices.
For lunch, my nose leads me to my next streetside meal—a vendor offering plates of tiny corn tortillas, filled with your choice of meat, salsas, fresh onion, and cheese. This stand is crowded with office workers and students, and I squeeze into the long line with them, watching the cooks dice the juicy meat on an enormous tree trunk slab for a cutting board.
As I walk off my hearty tortilla lunch, I stroll through several perfectly landscaped parks, where purple-flowered trees and various flowers adorn the walkways. As is my habit in any place I visit, I imagine myself living here, walking to the panaderia every morning for fresh bread, then picking up a fresh fruit juice (beet, carrot, pineapple, orange, watermelon, etc.).
Street food is a major part of life here, and I happily oblige in following this fun and delicious tradition. And taking part in the day-to-day customs is the best way to collect those wonderful details that I will need for the travel writing work that helps me pay for trips like this.
Later, when I wander out for dinner, I discover a somewhat more healthy street food option—chickpea and chicken rice soup, which I eat with a freshly grilled tortilla. It’s a truly comforting and homemade meal. I sit on a long bench before the stall and share this happy soup moment with a handful of other satisfied patrons, feeling very much at home…in my globe-trotting life.
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