When Tim Leffel, the author of The World’s Cheapest Destinations, moved abroad he bought a house in the historic and beautiful city of Guanajuato Mexico. When the man who wrote the book on great places to live picks a destination, then you have to pay attention.
Tim discovered a city not just rich in Mexican history (this is where the first battle of the Mexican War of Independence took place) but also a city of culinary riches What it didn’t have was a great food tour to introduce that rich street food scene to his gringo brethren. So Tim created mexicostreetfood.com which hosts walking tours of the city and its food.
When we were in nearby San Miguel de Allende this week, Tim invited our group over to Guanajuato to eat our way through the city. You don’t have to ask me twice.
We hopped in an Uber in San Miguel and it took us about an hour and forty minutes to get to Guanajuato. At least 20 minutes of that was just getting out of San Miguel. It is much easier to get into Guanajuato because this silver mining town has honeycombed the rock underneath the city with tunnels for traffic.
We met our guide John at the fountain at Embajadoras plaza. John grew up in Boulder Colorado but came to Guanajuato years ago to improve his Spanish. He then went to the large university in Guanajuato to study tourism. After living in different places in Mexico he returned to Guanajuato which had captured his heart. We found John well suited to the task of introducing us to the city, its food, and its history.
We started our tour at 10 am, which is a bit later than John recommends because some of the vendors will run out of “the good stuff” by the time you get there.
Our first food to try was gorditas at Doña Marta. Like so many local dishes gorditas starts with a corn tortilla. In this case, the tortilla has a pocket that can be stuffed with various meats or fillings. I had the carnitas, with a helping of the homemade salsa. We were soon going to be glad we had not eaten a big breakfast before the tour.
We stopped by the juice stand to order our fresh fruit juices. I ordered an orange and pineapple juice.
While our drinks were being made we made a quick trip to a local bakery where we picked out pastries or breads. We got a quick peek into the small back room where flour is turned into delicious magic before returning to pick up our juices.
We made a stop in a small local tortilla factory where locals can pick up their fresh corn tortillas. A corn tortilla has to be eaten that day as it will dry out. Older tortillas are only good for turning into tortilla chips. Some bakeries are starting to add wheat flour which gives the tortilla another day of shelf life.
John pointed out the many statues of Don Quixote. Guanajuato hosts a Cervantes festival that started in the middle of the 20th century with plays by Cervantes being performed by the local students but now has expanded into a festival of the arts. It is held in October when the city fills with visitors.
Along the route, John would point out good restaurants, cheap restaurants, and good cheap restaurants. He kept saying that we might want to try this place or that place for lunch…. as if we would need lunch. I would recommend that if you are staying in Guanajuato, do this tour early in your trip as you will need the rest of the week to work through John’s suggestions.
We made a quick trip down a flight of steps to what used to be the river that flowed through Guanajuato. Because of problems with flooding the river was diverted and turned into the first of the underground streets in the city.
Our next stop was for tamales. I had a more traditional pork tamale while Joan tried a sweet tamale made with strawberries. They also had a Swiss chard tamale. This was one of the vendors that John said would run out before noon.
Tamales are available from vendors in the morning and again in the afternoon. They are made fresh at home and then transported in a bucket of tamale goodness. Gorditas, by contrast, are a morning food and tacos are not available until lunchtime.
John gave us the choice of climbing the hill to a vista point overlooking the city or taking the funicular behind the Teatro Juarez. Climbing the hill, as we did, gave us a chance to see the back alleys of the city. 90% of the houses in the city are up the side of the steep hills and not accessible by car.
Guanajuato is a beautiful city of colorful buildings climbing up the steep hills. The city did not use to be as colorful but for a time had a contest annually giving awards for the most colorful houses. The contest is no longer held but the tradition of colorful houses remains.
Along the steps we climbed, there was a large mural that explains some of the history of Guanajuato, from a home for indigenous people, to an important silver mining town (dating back to the 1500s) to the start of the revolution.
At the vista point, there is a statue of El Pipila who is a legendary hero from the start of the Revolution. The Spanish turned a local granary (Alhóndiga de Granaditas) into a fortress when the revolutionary forces arrived in the city. El Pipila, who was probably one of the local miners, strapped a large stone on his back to protect him from the Spanish bullets and took a torch to the door of the building allowing the revolutionary forces to capture the building.
But the early phase of the revolution ended in failure and the 4 leaders of the revolution Miguel Hidalgo (priest from nearby Dolores Hidalgo), Ignacio Allende, José Mariano Jiménez and Mariano Abasolo were captured and executed. Their severed heads were displayed in cages on the corner of the Alhóndiga de Granaditas building. The heads have been removed but each of the 4 corners of the building has a plaque commemorating the leader whose head once resided there.
We descended from the hill and made our way to the market where we enjoyed some carnitas tacos.
After visiting the granary, we made our way past a number of closed museums since our visit was on a Monday, which turns out to be a bad day to visit the town if museum visits are on your agenda.
Our last stop was for ice cream. If you really want weird flavors of ice cream I recommend a visit to nearby Dolores Hidalgo where I had cheese and guacamole flavors. In Dolores Hidalgo, you can also get mole, shrimp, and cactus. In Guanajuato, I also had a cheese ice cream but it was a more normal cheesecake flavor.
Guanajuato is a beautiful city and a street food tour is a delicious introduction to this great city.