Life on the border may sound strange to some people, but it’s very normal for me and my family. Going from San Diego to Tijuana and back is something I’ve been doing my whole life. My parents grew up there, my dad works there, I have a lot of family there, it’s somewhat of a second hometown. And it’s so close by, it literally takes 20 minutes from my home to downtown Tijuana. In the last couple of months Fernando and I have been down there quite a bit for doctor’s visits, movie dates, and family gatherings. This post is a little tribute to San Diego’s neighbor to the south.
On one of our recent visits to Tijuana Fernando and I went in search of a vegan restaurant. Being vegetarian in Mexico is fairly easy. You have beans, rice, tortillas, guacamole, and lots and lots of cheese. But being vegan is definitely more of a challenge, mostly because of the cheese thing, it’s always the go-to substitute for meat. There is one vegan restaurant I had been meaning to try for some time now, but we arrived to a sign that said “Closed on Tuesdays”. Fortunately though, that was not the only vegan place, in fact we had a few to choose from! We headed to Tury’s Vegan Restaurant in the outskirts of the downtown area. I wasn’t sure what to expect but we were both pleasantly surprised by the varied menu and large portions. I ordered the breaded eggplant with a side salad and Fernando got a delicious spaghetti with black bean “meat”balls. They also brought us chickpea ceviche to try and to drink we had the strawberry and pineapple/kiwi drink, which unfortunately came with a straw even though I specifically asked for no straw. But that’s what happens when one person takes your order and another brings it to the table. (On my second visit my no-straw request worked!) It was so much food we had leftovers, which my eco lunch box was perfect for!
After lunch we headed to Mercado Hidalgo, a large traditional Mexican market in the Zona Rio with many stalls selling everything from coconuts to mole and pinatas. It’s a colorful bulk foods and fresh produce paradise with a taste of real Mexico. I’d been a few times before but never with my reusable bags. This time however, I went prepared and brought ALL my bags! My mom had a list of all the produce that’s allowed to be brought back into the US and with that I made a list of what I wanted to buy.
We didn’t get very far when we started our shopping. Fernando loves huitlacoche and since it’s not something you can find easily in San Diego, that ended up being our first purchase. If you’ve never heard of it, huitlacoche is the fungus that grows on corn.Yep, people actually eat it and like it. I can’t remember ever having it, but that’ll change very soon I’m sure. At the same stall where we bought the huitlacoche I got bananas (one of the few fruits you can cross) beautiful unpackaged cinnamon sticks, dried hibiscus flower to make iced tea, and tamarind fruit to make another popular Mexican cold drink. The women helping us offered plastic bags for everything so we had to be alert and refuse them as soon as they made a pass for them. Unfortunately the woman who helped us used a plastic bag as a glove to scoop out the huitlacoche from the bin. But I kept the plastic bag and we ended up using it for something else.
I saw many tropical fruits that I also saw in South East Asia like jackfruit, rambutan, and passion fruit. Mysterious fruits I probably would have just walked past before, but now I know exactly what they taste like. Something I wasn’t expecting to see was luffas, also something I bought in it’s all natural form for the first time in Asia, and now I happily bought in Tijuana since I needed a new one. The last thing on my list was vanilla. I sometimes use the extract in smoothies, banana milk, or baking recipes so I was looking to make my own. I asked around and found a stall selling very fresh, unpackaged vanilla vines from Veracruz. It was beautiful!
Another unexpected find was organic coconut oil from Mexican grown coconuts. It came in a glass jar with just a bit of plastic around the lid. To be honest, I LOVE coconut oil but I hate buying something that comes all the way from the Philippines or Thailand, so finding this was just perfect.
All in all it was a very nice shopping experience. It feels great to be able to buy Mexican products from small business owners and to be able to do it without plastic bags. Next time I’ll bring a large mouth bottle to buy fresh coconut water and more small reusable bags for more Mexican goodies.