Tequisquiapan: Market Eating in Real Mexico
By Bob Brooke
It’s a little before 6:00 A.M., and the first bird chitters in the tree outside my window. Soon the bells of the parish church clang one after another. Dawn shows its pinkish light a bit in later as the quiet village of Tequisquiapan, two hours north of Mexico City in the State of Queretaro, awakes.
Before the arrival of the Spanish conquistadores, the area now occupied by what’s now the town of Tequisquiapan was commonly known as “Tequesquiatlapan,” meaning “River with carbontated water.” Today, Tequisquiapan is a weekend retreat for hundreds of chilangos (Mexico City residents) who come for its crystal clear air and sparkling thermal waters.
During much of the Pre-Hispanic period, the valley of Tequisquiapan was more than just a village. The great Nahua and Chichimeca chieftains acknowledged the importance of the place. According to the local chronicler, Jesus Landaverde Chavez, the lords of Jilotepec frequented the natural springs and fountains of Tequisquiapan only during very special occasions. Upon arriving, they would take a bath in the thermal waters of one of its numerous springs, during which they would deal with affairs of state and settle mild disputes among themselves.
I came to Tequisquiapan to relax and discovered a quaintness and inner peace not often found in touristy places. But my biggest surprise was the food: a cornucopia of vinos and quesos, salsas and sopes to titillate even the most jaded palette.
Tequisquiapan is especially noted for its wines and cheeses, two entirely “new” foods that first made their appearance in the Americas with the arrival of the Spanish Conquistadors in 1521.
It was during Mexico’s colonial period, in what today is the State of Queretaro, that the planting of grapevines and the culture of wine making was first attempted and eventually took hold. The Spanish conquistadors also brought cows, sheep and goats to the New World in 1492.
I got my first taste of Tequisquiapan at the local market across from my hotel, the El Relox, which boasts the oldest swimming facilities in town. On weekends, Tequisquiapan’s market hums with activity. Here locals and visitors alike can find everything from real and artificial flowers to beans, all sorts produce and meats, and even hats.
The delicious aroma of pecan pie led me immediately to the large wok-type containers filled with roasted pecans and peanuts candied with brown sugar–garipinados. After popping one of these caramel pecans in my mouth, I became immediately addicted to these sweet little morsels.
At Quesos Quiroz, I found a veritable cheese paradise.Tables piled high with mild Panelo,Ranchero, and Oaxaca cheeses, plus quesos frescos (soft crumbly cheeses) flavored with chile, epazote, arbole, chipotle, and jalapeno. My favorite, Queso a Humado, probably came from the nearby State of Hidalgo, and had the aroma of smoked provolone. Senor Quiroz also let me try a piece of Manchego, a mild cheese with the texture of mozzarella.
But with all the food around me and the aromas coming from the market’s fondas (food stalls), I decided to find some lunch. Eating in a fonda of a market, with the smells of roasting beef and frying oil and the sounds of chopping is an experience I won’t soon forget. It was like eating in someone’s kitchen, sitting amidst cases of sodas piled high, with Mexican music blaring out of a boombox and pictures of the Virgin of Guadalupe on the walls. On the recommendation of a local, I chose Fonda Juanita, a food stand run by Juanita Romero Ugalde with her cook, Dolores Duran.
Fonda Juanita’s menu read like the table of contents of a traditional Mexican cookbook and featured mole, chiles verdes, blue corn tortillas, quesadillas bistek y queso, frijoles, enchiladas verdes and sopes (thick, fried masa cakes fried with a variety of toppings-a typical local food). I decided to try the sopes, and soon my platter arrived with a variety of sopes topped with queso fresco, pollo, and frijoles, and a delicious salsa roja that wasn’t at all hot. The total came to about five pesos, including a cold soda. After lunch, I strolled around town. I was struck by the cleanliness and sense of order that prevails in Tequisquiapan. Purple bougainvillea tumbles down well-kept walls, hinting at the well-kept gardens behind them. Portales, or arcades, line three sides of the Plaza Civica, the central square, crowned by the pink and white 19th century Parish Church of Santa Maria Magdelena with its single, squat, bell tower. Spanish missionaries said the town’s first mass under the giant mesquite tree next to it. I sat at a square-side table at K’Pucchinos to have a cappucccino and pastel, a delicious chocolate cake smothered with fresh strawberries. Flute and quitar players wandered up, but the sudden ringing of church bells announcing a wedding at the parish church drowned out their tune. No matter, with a full stomach and the promise of more delicious eating from the local market, I was still appreciative. All that was left now was to find one of those famous mineral baths.
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