I travel to Mexico a lot for my job — I'm a writer and I run street food tours in Mexico City and Puebla. The DF is usually my base, and whenever I'm there and itching for kitchen goodies, I visit Mercado de la Merced, a huge, chaotic market east of the downtown historic center. It has the largest and most inexpensive selection of cookware around. It's so big, actually, that you can get lost inside — thankfully most vendors are nice and will point you back to the Metro.
Here are four Mexican kitchen tools that I like to bring back home with me.
- A comal. This flat disc is the Mexican kitchen workhorse — it'll char your tomatoes or poblano peppers, toast your chiles for salsas, and produce the crispiest, crunchiest quesadillas. The best ones are made of heavy steel, not aluminum. You can also use them on gas or electric stoves.
- Wooden spoons and spatulas. They're the traditional utensils in Mexican cooking, and many recipes, such as mole poblano, specifically call for stirring with one. I love them because they come in all shapes and sizes, they don't melt on a hot griddle, and they look nice on the countertop, especially when placed in a clay jug. They're also inexpensive. In Mexico you'll find most for less than a dollar each.
- Clay pots. Clay pots and cazuelas are still heavily used in Mexican cooking, particularly in moles and guisados, and even simple dishes like rice. The Merced market has a small selection, but you'll find much better quality at places like Culinaria Mexicana, a kitchen boutique in the Centro; La Nicolasa in Azcapotzalco, or even the market in Xochimilco, south of the center. I bought my squat little clay bean pot at La Nicolasa a few years ago.
- Meat pounder. The milanesa is a thin, practically see-through slice of meat that's been coated in breadcrumbs and fried. They're super popular in Mexico City, and local butchers pound them into submission with a flat-plated metal tool. I'm not the biggest milanesa fan, but thin-pounded chicken breasts (without the crumbs) work great as a quick meal. You can roll them up and stuff them with all sorts of things, like vegetables or ham and cheese. (I never had to buy one of these when I lived in Mexico, because all the grocery stores sell meat already flattened.)
(Images: Lesley Tellez)