Daytrip: Vino, queso, magico and street food

We are spending a week in Querétaro and will have more to say about this beautiful colonial city in another post. This one is about a day trip we took and the delicious surprise that awaited us on our return.

Vino & queso tour

We are spending longer than we really need to in Querétaro, but we are appreciating the slower pace after our very busy week in Mexico City. Our next stop is a house sit with a defined start date. With extra time on our hands, we decided to indulge in a day trip that included a tour of a cheese factory and a vineyard, and a stop in two pueblos magicos.

The brochure for the tour was in English and the hotel staff, who knew our Spanish was limited, booked the tour for us. We made the assumption that we were going on an English tour, but we discovered our mistake as soon as we were in the van and heading out of town. The driver proceeded to give a thorough explanation of the day’s events in Spanish but didn’t follow up with an English version. I whispered to Ken that we were in trouble.

Sure enough, at our first stop at a little farm, which turned out to be the queso (cheese) portion of the tour, the tour guide walked us through all stages of the cheesemaking process in plenty of detail with a few jokes thrown in, and we were the two in the back of the crowd, eyes a little glazed, and not laughing where we should have been.

Similarly, at Freixenet, the big vino (wine) success story of Mexico, we proceeded through the bottling area and cavas, learning all about the various wines, how long each stayed in the bottles or casks, and the challenges the industry faced … or at least I think that’s what we heard since, again, it was all in rapid Spanish. At least the glass of bubbly at the end of the tour needed no translation.

One of our Mexico City drivers had told us we must go see Peña de Bernal, and that was our next stop on the tour. Bernal is one of the pueblos magicos (a tourism program where towns are certified as able to provide visitors with a magical experience), and it has a special attraction with its huge monolith, which rises 350 metres right behind the town. We were dropped off in the village. We had connected with other tour members, a family from California (with roots in Mexico), who had been good enough to make sure we knew what was going on at the first two stops. We asked if we could join them for lunch. We didn’t mean that they should buy our lunch, but that’s what they did, after explaining a few of the more unusual items on the menu.

After lunch, we wanted to get closer to the monolith so left on our own to hike up the steep hill toward the base of the rock.

We wandered back down and into the pretty village, where lovely views could be had from many vantage points.

Though we weren’t shopping, items on display looked surprisingly inexpensive for a tourist area, like sweaters for $100 MXN ($7 CAD) and scarves at 3/$100 MXN. When we headed to the pickup spot, our new friends were returning from a tuk-tuk ride up the hill to view the rock. They were loaded with bags from their shopping trip as was another couple from Veracruz on the coast of the country (so even domestic tourists found the prices and goods appealing).

Once we were all loaded back into the van, we had to laugh when the driver told us he was taking us up the hill so we could get a good view and photos. Oh, well, we got a good walk in, even if it wasn’t necessary. And it is nothing like the walk that the hikers get when they hike the path and then rock climb the final portion to reach the peak.

Our final stop was another pueblo magico, Tequisquiapan, or Tequis for short. We had over an hour to wander, far more than we needed in this pretty, but extremely quiet village. We weren’t ready for a meal, so we just wandered and then parked ourselves in the main square to people watch.

A yummy surprise

As we drove back into the historic downtown area at dusk and dropped off most of the van passengers, we spied well-lit tents and a bustling crowd in what we had experienced before as a sleepy plaza. We decided right then that we would drop our things at our hotel and walk back into town to check it out.

And we are so glad we did. Many of the vendors served the same foods, so there were lots of repeats. While we tried to decide on food, we were attracted by an aromatic brew. Large pots were filled with steaming liquid filled with fruits and spices including guava, apple, cinnamon, and nutmeg. We asked for a cup ($25 MXN or $1.71 CAD) and sipped the sweet, hot, comforting beverage (which came with a sugar cane stick to chew and a spoon with which to eat the fruit chunks) as we surveyed our meal choices.

Pot of ponche. Next time we’ll find out what gets served in the pottery cups.

Prices aren’t advertised, which we assumed meant that they were the same for all vendors. We just had to find one with a couple of empty seats, park ourselves, and order. We started with a guajolote ($40 MXN or $2.75 CAD), a sandwich where a split and flattened bun is rolled in a bowl of red sauce (tomato?) and then tossed into a large wok-like cooker to toast. It is then filled with your choice of protein (we chose carnitas, because we didn’t know what some of the others were or had already tried them in a different form), cooked potatoes and carrots, lettuce, and salsa verde. We were invited to serve ourselves a side of pickled peppers from a giant bowl in front of us. The sandwich was delicious and messy. Ken stopped, eyes a little moist, after one bite of the pepper.

For our second shared dish, we ordered the enchiladas ($50 MXN or $3.40 CAD) after seeing one delivered to a fellow patron. The plate comprised four tortillas stuffed with cheese and rolled around on the cooker to heat up, topped with the same carrots and potatoes, lettuce, sour cream, and salsa verde. Delicious.

Intrigued by stacks of platter-sized crispy discs aside a pot of bubbling liquid (and seeing many people pealing off chunks of what appeared to be sticky pastry from their plates or plastic bags and eating them) we finished our feast with a buñuelo ($25 MXN or $1.70 CAD). The crispy disc was dropped into the sweet liquid and stirred and then extracted with tongs and immediately slid into a plastic bag (we had ordered it to go), which was handed to us with a stack of napkins. Like the others we had seen, we ripped off chunks of the very hot, now slightly soggy pastry, and ate it with our fingers. Sweet, but not syrupy, we couldn’t understand why, after consuming the entire thing, our hands weren’t a sticky mess.

Oh, and if we were in the mood, we could also have purchased Calgary Stampede (or any North American fair) food–corn dogs and potato chips on a stick!

We were pleased to note excellent food handling practices at these stalls. Every single person working there had their hair fully covered, plates were served wrapped in plastic bags (a practice we had first come across in Mexico City), and at our stall the server donned a money-handling glove every time someone paid (food prep is done with bare hands).


TripBits

  • Vino & Queso tour: Booked through our hotel but available through tourist information centers in Centro Historico. $930 MXN ($64 CAD) per person covered all costs except for lunch and tip.

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