Our Mexico Bucket List

As of this month, we’ve officially been residents de México for over two years! I honestly can’t believe how fast our time here has gone by, but I’m very happy to say that despite the short timeframe (and the global pandemic), Tucker and I were actually able to check loads of things off our Mexico Bucket List. Here are some of my favorite things we’ve done en México, plus a few more to come before we leave: 

Listen to Mariachi

Jalisco, the state we live in, is the birthplace of mariachi, so I’d say we’ve checked this one off and then some. We’ve listened to many a mariachi band at restaurants, at hotels, in the main plaza, and even at a mariachi festival. Although still not my favorite style of música (brass instruments can be a little jarring), I will always be transported back to Guadalajara when I hear mariachi, and for that, I am eternally grateful.

✓ Walk the Ruins of Chitchen Itza

Something that should be on everyone’s bucket list is to walk among the many ancient ruins of Mesoamerica, perhaps the most famous being Chitchen Itza. Prior to living in Mexico, this was the only archaeological site on our radar, but we’ve now also seen Uxmal, Tulum, Monte Albán, Teotihuacán, El Cerrito, and los Guachimontones, each one as incredible as the last.

Cheer and Jeer at a Lucha Libre Event

Another event that we just couldn’t miss out on while in Mexico was Lucha Libre. Although I’m not a fan of fighting, even when I know it’s pretend, even I couldn’t help but be entertained by the cheers, the jeers, the theatrics, and the outfits of the luchadores. The crowd also taught me quite a few useful words and phrases for…expressing emotion en español.  

Admire Frida Kahlo’s Work

Mexico has so many symbols, but perhaps none will ever be as famous and beloved as Frida Kahlo. Over the years, we’ve learned so much about this incredible artist and have been lucky enough to see her work in person a few times. We even have our very own copy of Las Dos Fridas, so she will likely be accompanying us on our journey post-Mexico.

Drink Tequila in Tequila

By far one of my favorite experiences we’ve had in Mexico was the Tequila train tour. Tequila is the town where the drink originates, and we happen to live about 45 minutes away from it. The town, the agave fields, and the distilleries are all equally amazing, but taking it all in via scenic train with all-you-care-to-enjoy Tequila drinks is pure perfection.

See Axolotls in the Flesh

Some animals are just cooler than others, and the axolotl (or ajolote) has to be one of the coolest. However, they are also, unfortunately, critically endangered. Therefore, we were extremely lucky to get the chance to not only see them in person, but to learn more about their continued struggle and even be a part of the conservation effort.

Yell “Gol” at a Fútbol Match

Tucker loves sports of all kinds, so, of course, we had to attend a football match in Mexico. And while I have no idea who we played or whether or not we won, I’ll never forget the Atlas chants and the whimsical red and black stadium snacks we enjoyed. Not to mention the sheer mania that ensues when there’s a “GOOOOOOOOOL”!

Swim in a Cenote

Visiting a cenote is absolutely another thing that should be on everyone’s bucket list. They’re incredibly cool, natural swimming holes that are all extremely unique and beautiful. Whether you want to float through an ancient cave system, splash around in crystal clear waters, or listen to stories of Mayan sacrifice, there is literally a cenote for everyone.

Share Roscas de Reyes and the Subsequent Tamales

Some of the most important items on our list had more to do with customs than tourism, for example, the sharing of a Rosca de Reyes on Three Kings’ Day and tamales on Candelaria. It was so fun to see who got the baby (spoiler: it was me), and to then shoulder the responsibility of sourcing tamales on the hottest tamale day of the year – something I’ll never forget.

Revel in the Rainy Season

Then there are things on the list that we had no idea would or should be on a Mexico bucket list, such as experiencing the rainy season. When we first read about Guadalajara’s climate, we learned that it would rain basically every day for three months during the summer, but we had no idea how much that would change our daily routines. From the most hail we’ve ever seen to crazy flash floods, we have realized that rainy season is truly something to behold.

Celebrate Día de Muertos

Another celebration that I would definitely recommend to anyone interested in Mexican culture, is Día de Muertos. There’s really nothing like it anywhere else in the world, and it’s just such a great window into what makes Mexico Mexico. It’s colorful, energetic, and happy – just an incredibly fun celebration of life that anyone would be lucky to experience firsthand.

Shop at a Tianguis

A tianguis is a local, generally weekly pop-up market that is absolutely an experience in and of itself. They can be quite sprawling as they take up alleyway after alleyway, and it seems there is something new to discover around every corner: snacks, clothing, home décor; basically, if you can name it, you can find it in a tianguis.

Find the Hidden Beach

One of the most Instagram-worthy places we were able to visit during the last two years was definitely the Hidden Beach in the Islas Mariettas, about 36 kms (22 miles) off the coast of Puerto Vallarta. It’s essentially a beach surrounded by land on all sides that can only be accessed by swimming through a cave. And as if the beach wasn’t amazing enough, seeing all the blue-footed boobies on the island really made the excursion unforgettable.

Cross the Border on Foot

Another experience that I count among one of my favorites in Mexico was crossing the border by foot. Before moving to Mexico, the border was a shadowy, mysterious place, but now we’ve been back and forth in a variety of manners, and I have to say walking across the Rio Grande (or Río Bravo as it’s known en México) was superbly cool.

Perfect our Taco Order

You will never truly know tacos until you have them from a taco stand at 3am in Mexico. Over the last couple of years, we’ve done this more times than I can count, thus we each now have our perfect late-night taco order. But more than that, we are also now experts in differentiating tacos, gringas, quesadillas, gorditas, huaraches, and all the other taco/taco-like options, which I think will serve us very well for years to come.

Survive some Earthquakes

Sometimes you just have to wait for a bucket list item to unexpectedly hit, as was the case for our first earthquake in Mexico. For much of Mexico it’s such a common occurrence that there are regular safety drills and a plethora of memes; however, it’s not so common in Guadalajara. Nevertheless, we were lucky enough to experience and survive a series of moderate quakes that shook western Mexico in 2022.

Try Grasshoppers

Mexican food is one of, if not my absolute favorite of all the world’s cuisines; however, there are still a few delicacies that I thought I’d try to avoid entirely. One of such delicacies are the infamous chapulines (or grasshoppers). But as it turns out, I actually did try a roasted and seasoned chapulín while in Oaxaca, and I’m happy to report that it wasn’t that bad! Seriously, try them!

Now onto the last few things on our list that we haven’t quite done yet, but have plans to do in the next few months!

Snorkel in the Sea of Cortez

Jacques Cousteau once called the Sea of Cortez the “Aquarium of the World”, and that sounds like something I have to see for myself. Dolphins, whales, sea lions, and an incredible array of tropical fish and coral all wait for us in one of the most beautiful regions of Mexico. Stay tuned because depending on when you’re reading this, we might even already be there.

See Masses of Monarchs

The monarch butterfly migration is another amazing feat of nature that happens to take place right on our Mexican doorstep, and it is something that I will be doing everything I can to make happen before we leave! Millions of butterflies in a magical Michoacán forest, yes please.

Make Tortillas from Scratch

Everyone knows I hate cooking, but one of my fondest memories of China was learning how to make handmade dumplings, which is what prompted me to add this particular item to our list. It’s not exactly surprising that this should be the last thing I hope to do before we leave, but no matter where it falls on the list, I know it’ll be a worthwhile experience!

So that’s my round-up of just some of the incredible things we’ve been able to do and see over these last two amazing years in Mexico. Whenever I take a look back like this, I can’t help but feel incredibly grateful and insanely lucky. ¡Gracias, México, por todo!

La Comida: The Regional Cuisines of México

Mmm…enchiladas…

I absolutely love Mexican food! Tacos, enchiladas, guacamole…yes, yes, yes! But what I didn’t know and what I’m still learning is that the old stand-bys that we all know and love are only the teeny tiny tip of the authentic, Mexican food iceberg (quite the image, I know!). After delving a bit deeper into some of the regions of Mexico in 2019, and definitely more so recently, I’ve been discovering (and tasting) a lot of this incredible variety. Here’s what I’ve learned so far:

Like in many large, diverse countries, the dishes of Mexico are often grouped by geographical region. The boundaries of these regions might differ slightly from person to person and occasionally a few are lumped together for simplicity, but in general, there are seven main regional cuisines: Baja, El Norte, Bajío/The West, Gulf Coast, Central, South Pacific, and Yucatán. 

Starting at the top left is the region of Baja, and you guessed it; this region contains the two states that make up the Baja California peninsula. The food of this region is sometimes called Cali-Mex, and it is often seen as somewhat of a fusion of Mexican and Californian fare. Being surrounded in water, seafood is, of course, a big part of the local cuisine there. Baja is well-known for its amazing ceviches (fresh, raw fish cured in citrus juices) as well as the infamous Baja fish tacos. Interestingly, Baja is also the point of origin for the now quite internationally famous Caesar salad.

(ceviche)
(one-stop, cheese shop)

Next, and easily the largest region in Mexico is El Norte (The North). This is the region that has arguably had the greatest effect on US-Mexican food (including the super Americanized hybrid that is Tex-Mex). This cuisine and culture evolved around ranch life; thus, beef is a main component. Flour (as opposed to corn) also reigns supreme here, and the need for a meal on the go (say via horseback) is how some say the burrito was born. Fajitas and other grilled dishes are also popular, and many of Mexico’s numerous cheeses are made in El Norte.

(carne en su jugo)

The next region on the list is very close to my heart (I live here), and funnily enough it’s often referred to as the “heart of Mexico”. Bajío means lowlands in Spanish, but the region generally includes states not necessary lying solely in the lowlands. This region, of which Jalisco is front and center, is known for its signature dishes, such as birria (a sort of meat stew), tortas ahogadas (literally “drowned sandwiches”, which are sandwiches swimming in tomato or chili-based sauces), and carne en su jugo (“beef in its juice”), as well as its desserts, like arroz con leche (rice pudding) and the absolutely delicious cajeta (caramel made from goat’s milk). Jalisco is also the birthplace of tequila, so the influence clearly doesn’t stop at food!

(torta ahogada)
(coconut fried shrimp)

Heading east, we come to the Gulf Coast of Mexico. This is the region where the Spanish first landed, and their influence can be seen even in the modern-day cuisine of the area. One of the most popular dishes is Huachinango, or baked snapper flavored with traditional Spanish ingredients like olives, garlic, and capers. The incredibly diverse Caribbean and African influence can also be seen in this region. Unsurprisingly, seafood is generally the protein of choice here, particularly shrimp, although plantains also feature prominently, as well as vanilla, which is indigenous to the area.  

Another big-hitter in the Mexican cuisine line-up is the Central region, which includes Mexico City and Puebla, two very influential areas. Here the Aztec influence can still be felt (and tasted), especially in the abundant use of chili peppers. In fact, Mexico’s most patriotic dish, Chiles en Nogada (which are stuffed chili peppers in a walnut sauce sprinkled with parsley and pomegranate seeds), hails from this region. Street foods such as tacos and tortas are also generally associated with Central Mexico and like El Pastor (spit-grilled pork), probably come from the mixing of cultures that has always been prevalent in this part of Mexico. Interestingly, while the Central region is famous for its street foods and cheap eats, this is also the location for Mexico’s haute cuisine scene as well. 

Down in the South Pacific region, lies another internationally renowned cuisine, particularly the dishes and food culture of Oaxaca. Known for its moles (traditional Mexican sauces/marinades) and the use of chocolate in savory dishes, the South Pacific has been influenced by the Zapotecs and other indigenous peoples. This is the region where chapulines (grasshoppers) can be found as well as other unique ingredients like huitlacoche (corn fungus). Oaxacan cuisine is often touted as one of the greatest untapped resources of the culinary world.

(panuchos)

Finally, we have the oft-visited, Yucatán peninsula. The resort cities of Cancún or Cozumel have their own culinary flair (catered to the needs of their many guests), but this region also has an array of incredible Mayan-influenced dishes. Papadzules (hard-boiled egg-stuffed tortillas covered in a pumpkin seed sauce), Cochinita Pibil (roasted pork), and anything with achiotes (flavorful seeds turned spices), are all unique, colorful, and absolutely delicious. As are the numerous tropical fruits incorporated into this region’s cuisine. Another personal favorite of mine, Yucatán cuisine surprises me at every bite. Even the seemingly simple panuchos (fried tortillas topped with beans, chicken, avocado, and pickled veggies) are just perfect.

(papadzules) (poc chuc) (relleno negro)

Of course, this is only a sample of the thousands and thousands of dishes that originated in Mexico. In fact, some of the most ubiquitous weren’t even included on this list because they don’t really belong to any particular region; dishes like chilaquiles (sort of like breakfast nachos), tacos, sopes (sometimes called Mexican pizza), tostadas, quesadillas, molletes (toasted bean and cheese flatbreads), pozole (hominy or puffed-corn soup), elotes, and tamales. They instead represent the country and its people as a whole; a country every bit as diverse as its cuisine. So, the next time you find yourself in Mexico (or even in a Mexican restaurant) try to stray away from the classic enchiladas or quesadillas and see what other offerings are available – you might find a few new favorites (much like I certainly have). Either way, ¡buen provecho!

(elotes) (chilaquiles) (flautas, fried tacos, y molletes) (sopes) (pozole)