I travel to Mexico a lot for my job — I'm a writer and I run street food tours in Mexico City and Puebla. Whenever I go and I'm itching for souvenirs (and I'm always itching for souvenirs), I take an extra bag to fit all my purchases. I pick up ingredients, yes, but also kitchen tools. While you can find some things in specialty cook shops in the States or online, you can't beat the quality or the prices you'll find south of the border.
Here are four Mexican kitchen tools that I like to bring back home with me.
1. A Comal
This flat disc that sits directly over the fire is a Mexican kitchen workhorse. It'll char your tomatoes and poblano peppers, toast your chiles for salsas, and produce the crispiest quesadillas.
Don't worry, though — you don't need need an open fire! You can use them on gas or electric stoves. The best ones are made of heavy steel, not aluminum, or you can also opt for clay. (If you don't want to invest in a comal, a griddle or cast iron pan is a good stand-in.)
Buy It: Ancient Cookware Carbon Steel Comal, $36
2. Wooden Spoons
Wooden spoons and spatulas are 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.
More on Wooden Spoons
3. Clay Pots
Clay pots and cazuelas are still heavily used in Mexican cooking, particularly in moles and guisados, and even simple dishes like rice. Try cooking something as simple as beans in a clay pot and you'll notice an earthiness to your food that you don't get from other types of cookware. (Read more about the benefits of cooking in a clay pot here.)
Buy It: La Chamba Black Clay Oval Casserole, $75
4. Meat Pounder
The milanesa is a thin, practically see-through slice of meat that's been coated in breadcrumbs and fried. It's super popular in Mexico City, and local butchers pound them into submission with a flat-plated metal tool. This technique also works with chicken breasts (with or without the crumbs); you can roll them up and stuff them with all sorts of things, like vegetables or ham and cheese.
Buy It: Rosle Meat Tenderizer, $50 at Sur La Table
Where to Shop in Mexico City
Mercado de la Merced is 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.
You can find most things at Mercado de la Merced, but for clay pots 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.
Lesley is a food journalist, cookbook author, and tour operator based in Los Angeles. She lived in Mexico City for four years, which allowed her to connect with her Mexican-American roots. She currently runs the tourism company Eat Mexico and wrote the cookbook Eat Mexico: Recipes from Mexico City's Streets, Markets & Fondas.