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The Xochimilco Market in Mexico City

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On the Road

I had a night flight from San Francisco to Mexico City that arrived at 6 a.m. and normally I sleep on planes just fine but I was next to a nice, chatty Finnish tourist and we spent the night gabbing away. I arrived not so fresh but hearing Ruth Alegria's voice on the hotel phone telling me she'd pick me up at 10 a.m. was like a tonic. Ruth runs Mexico Soul and Essence and I don't think there's anyone I'd rather spend the day with, especially on her turf of Mexico City.

"People go on about the Merced market or San Juan", she said, "But I think the best is the Xochimilco market." Without missing a beat, we were soon in this great market with a real neighborhood feel.

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The huitlacoche looks even more lurid than usual because of a green tarp. It broke my heart not to be able to buy some and take it home.

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Ruth's favorite place to buy mole pastes and supplies. She says the pastes need to be fried in their own fat before thinning out with chicken stock and the powders need to have fat added. "You don't just use them straight!" she explained.

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My photos of the hibiscus flowers didn't turn out but there was one very red variety fom China and a more multi-colored one from Mexico. "The Chinese dye theirs to make it more red."

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Ruth had me sampling everything and the vendors were eager to oblige. They liked Ruth and the admiration was mutual. I'm lucky to have her as a friend. If you find yourself overwhelmed with the idea of Mexico City, I would encourage you to hire Ruth. The world's second largest metropolis is like a family neighborhood when she has you under her wing.

Coming Up: Ruth introduces me to one of my culinary heroes.



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