I’m eating a taco al pastor after an accidental 4-hour nap and there is this squealing sound that makes the kid next to me drop his horchata. “Ah,” says Rich. “Camotes”.
A man walks through the middle of the road pushing a wood-fired pressure cooker – a steaming turquoise metal drum on wheels. Inside it, the camotes (candied sweet potatoes) shriek as their steam escapes. Horchata Boy and I stare after Camote Man, dazed and electrified, slowly dipping tortilla chips in seven types of salsa. I feel like I’ve gone – I dunno – down the rabbit hole? Up the Faraway Tree? Somewhere good.
Mexico City goes like this. Every breakfast there is a new tamale configuration (black bean and cheese? cream cheese and blackberry?). Every lunchtime there is a mad new thing to drop your salsa on (gorditas, panuchos, huaraches). Whenever you want it, there’s horchata (cinnamony almond-rice milk). You are never far from tequila, corn or lime wedges.
And as for cake.
We chanced on a couple of ‘European-style’ pastelerias, which were good in their own way; custardy. But I was interested in meeting a proper Tres Leches – the cake of three milks.
I found it at Pasteleria Ideal, which is stupid. A floorful of nonsense. The kind of nonsense I live for. At the front there is a quite generous Tres Leches counter. Beyond that there is just pastry and doughnut and biscuit and sponge and sprinkle and cherry and madness. Among the baked goods, humans hold trays in the air and wield tongs like lobster claws.
I made you this collage to set the scene.
I joined in this manic circling, with tongs and tray, and I felt that I was on the precipice of something magnificent, but also at risk of taking home one shit rum baba. It was scary.
Suddenly, everything went still and silent. “Something’s coming,” I muttered; “Something fresh”. And a baker floated in with a tray of something. It was buttered, sugared bread, as far as I could tell. The crowd went wild. The tray was decimated. Crumbs.
Tres Leches was true milky wonder, on a bed of sticky, syrupy milk mix, on its own private plastic tray. Frosted with cream. More milky than sweet, just the way I like most things.
Here I am eating the whole thing in hysterics on the train platform just after I realised we didn’t have enough time to get to Frida Kahlo’s house.