By: Carlos Dragonne @carlosdragonne
One of the great advantages of traveling in Mexico to discover new places and revisit past destinations is the range of opportunity to share a table, a glass of wine or a whole day with people we meet along the way. Even better are those times spent with old acquaintances who continue to surprise us. This was what happened on our most recent trip to San Cristobal de las Casas. And I will not tell you why, but with whom.
Our trip was planned just two days before our arrival. A simple phone call and we modified our plans for the weekend to fulfill one of those ongoing dreams: travel to Chiapas with Elsie Méndez and to enjoy a destination together that has such importance in each of our lives. As I mentioned in the previous article, it was in Tuxtla Gutiérrez and then in San Cristobal where I began an adventure that would end almost a year and 360 pages later and become my first book. Elsie, on the other hand, has strong roots in Chiapas, where her mother is originally from and whose gastronomy, ingredients, aromas and landscapes are incorporated into memories that take her on an indescribable journey.
So, we took a plane to Tuxtla -we must point out that you can not get directly to San Cristobal- and we started the three day journey that would surprise both of us. When we arrived at the airport in the state capital where we were greeted by Chefs Angel Ortiz and Manolo Nájera. The first, currently the Director of Gastronomic Tourism of the State Government, is passionate about what Chiapas gastronomy means in all its aspects and, in addition, has a knowledge of the needs of producers and how to support them through not only governmental initiatives, but in private initiatives with consumers. The second, the chef and owner of Arboledas 125, one of the flagship restaurants of Tuxtla Gutiérrez and the most talked about among cooks for the work he develops in his menus that reveals his deep knowledge about the state’s cuisine, ingredients, and stories of living and lost traditions. Manolo Nájera was the first part of the trip that convinced us that the earth calls us. And when it calls, we must listen to it.
Going through markets, flavors, streets and corners of San Cristobal de las Casas with Manolo is an experience that everyone should be lucky enough to have. As in everything, knowledge helps us understand and enriches the enjoyment of any activity. Imagine those mythical walks of your childhood to the chocolate factory, but take away the memory of the guide that repeats everything like a parakeet and replace it with the fantasy of traveling with Willy Wonka, the creator and conceptualizer of each treat you will buy in the store. The is how it is to walk through and talk about San Cristobal with Manolo, because he knows every place that could fulfill our expectations; before allowing us to try a dish in such traditional places as La Diligencia he explains where, how and why the dish is enjoyed and how it is traditional in Chiapas; between streets he remembers the stories of the houses and alleys that are now hotels that shelter foreigners. And just as in San Miguel de Allende, those who thought that they would be there for just a few days when they arrived, have made homes of this destination.
Thus, between the stories of two Chefs who love Chiapas, we discovered a small place on our walk in Guadalupe that has undoubtedly become our favorite coffee shop of all Mexico. Carajillo Café is a project by Jesús Salazar that is presented as Café de Autor. There, between an ancestral drink called Posh -from Tzotzil Poxil and that the Chamulas use as medicine- which they tell us is at risk of disappearing due to the lack of production and demand. Jesus tells us about how, after studying Medicine and Philosophy and Letters, he returned to Chiapas with the idea that it was time to do something here for this extraordinary place. Carajillo is not just any cafe, but a true journey that pays homage to the grain of its conception and, of course, supports the region’s producers for its development. For Jesus, the art of drinking a good coffee is an act of imminent dialogue. It is a dialogue with that invisible interlocutor and the author of a book. And yes, I repeat, Carajillo is not just any cafe, it is also a place where tastings of the grain and special tastings of the Chiapas coffee are made. The producers personally select each harvest.
If touring Chiapas and thinking about eating is a delight, the doing it while enjoying the architecture with Lorenzo Díaz and Eugenia González is a privilege. Architect and Designer, lovers of their professions and, above all, promoters of Mexican design and architecture, add a unique perspective to that moment of being in front of historical monuments and not only help us to enjoy them, but to understand them in their architectural extension. Lorenzo and Eugenia are able to transport us to the idea behind the conception of each iconic construction of Chiapas and help to transmit the spirit of these places through their deep knowledge of architectural history. Walking with them through the streets of a place as full of emblematic buildings and squares as San Cristobal de las Casas becomes an experience inevitably full of magic. It is something that everyone should be lucky enough to try. Lorenzo and Eugenia, amid the aroma of that newly discovered coffee, were able to explain the greatness of places like the Church of Santo Domingo de Guzmán and its construction with the so-called Divine Proportion. They explained how the planning respected the natural light behind the main plaza and the colonial buildings. In addition, they explained the architecture not only of San Cristobal but throughout Mexico. Lorenzo and Eugenia, between the streets of the city, with unparalleled passion for their profession, became hypnotic and revealing.
This was our return to San Cristobal de las Casas, a path that revealed every little detail before our eyes. An adventure that, at the end of each day, left us in expectation of what we would experience the next day. The magic came during talks amidst cups of coffee, wine glasses, and alleys of this magical place of State of Chiapas. The reality is that, through the words of our companions, everything vanished to become huge landscapes of history, imagination and traditions. They not only confirmed our passion for Mexico, they also nurtured the dreams of never ceasing to know the wonders that are hidden in every corner, that lurk from the aromas of each dish.
If you don’t know where to stay, check out Redescubriendo San Cristobal en el Hotel bö
This post is also available in: Español