We’ve been in Querétaro for a couple days now. Our routine has been fairly consistent – wake up later than we should, go out for lunch, come back to work for a little bit then, once our bellies begin singing in concert for more food, we venture back out into the city in look for dinner. Throw in more than a few cups of cafe de olla at any available time slot in the day and congrats, you’re now more than capable of walking in our shoes for a day.
In an effort to extend our hard-saved dollars, we’ve been sticking to a budget guideline. Not quite hoofing it as a backpacker, but not dropping wads of colorful pesos on comfort and convenience either.
Where can we reduce some of our daily costs and lengthen our budget? With accommodation already purchased and centrally located, allowing us to put kilometers on our feet instead of a taxi meter, our meals were the top choice.
Don’t get me wrong – tacos aren’t expensive here. Actually, as much as I don’t want to use the word, they’re damn cheap. Right up the road from us is a stand that sells them for 10 pesos each. Here’s a handy chart for you American readers to understand the price tag I’m talking about here:
Unfortunately, my body isn’t quite what what it used to be. Between the ever-increasing sum of laps around the sun to a pancreas that decided to stop showing up for work, I have to… *gulp…* think about what I’m putting in it.
Tacos (and other Mexican street food staples for that matter) are mouth-wateringly delicious but they definitely aren’t at the top of recommended healthy diets. Sure, they’re fantastic for your mental health, but physical health would be a hard argument to make.
The more classic, sit-down style restaurant offer a bit more well-rounded plate, but with the amount of palate-pleasing butter and fat present, you’re mainly paying extra for the comfort of a seat, the convenience of a slower ordering process, and maybe a few half-forgotten vegetables to maybe add a splash of color to your plate.
I wanted to find a way to incorporate budget-friendly cooking with local ingredients that could be made in our Airbnb.
Prior to Querétaro, we were in a city called Guanajuato, about two and a half hours west, where we met Veronique. She came to Mexico twenty years ago from a small town in the south of France to open a bistro and ended up falling in love with the place and staying indefinitely. She introduced us to a nearby Charcutería where we indulged in copious amounts of cheese and bread. That craving has not subsided yet and I need you to know this as context for the next part.
After venturing around the southeastern section of Centro Histórico in Querétaro, seeing the Templo de la Santa Cruz and viewing the impressive Los Arcos aqueduct from a nearby vantage point, we started to head back to our Airbnb.
Rachel had pointed out a colorful alleyway that she wanted to take a closer look of, so we weaved and wove, wobbled and wandered our way around a few residential blocks picking out our favorite color combinations between the concrete walls and their accompanying window frames. She liked the ones with sunset pinks and oranges; I liked the ones with stark contrast.
This led us to a small panadería on a corner. Inside, a few hip, young teenagers happily offered an assortment of baked goods and breads. Rachel picked out a ginger cookie and strudel for later. The ginger cookie made it to the end of the block before one small bite turned into many small bites and it disappeared somewhere into our digestive tract. We came back to the bakery for a loaf of whole-wheat pumpkin seed bread. Not sure what this was needed for, just that it was needed.
We arrived back at our Airbnb and discussed the rest of the day. Rachel was approaching a deadline and needed to work some more. I was a bit ahead of schedule, so I was free to venture back out.
*Intermission* The night prior, we passed a busker on the street playing some saxophone rendition of a top-40 hit incredibly well. We could not remember what it was, so while Rachel began to work, I spent entirely too long going through the Billboard Top 100 Singles from 2022 trying to find the song that we enjoyed. To no avail with the search, I now have a very skewed YouTube recommendation list. *End Intermission*
I headed north to the nearby Río Querétaro. Despite being close, I had yet to explore this area. I ended up following it for a few blocks. People passed by on bike and in car. A few people were walking in the same direction as me. This street was one that you lived a normal life on. There was an occasional SuperQ or parking lot, but no sense that it was a UNESCO-listed historic quarter.
I rounded the corner at the first busy street I approached and businesses started popping up on both sides of the street. This was definitely a busy area. I passed small grocery outlets, tortillarías offering tortilla by the kilogram, and electronic stores that looked like they repackaged old goods from closed RadioShacks.
This was the entrance to Mercado Josefa Ortiz de Domínguez or “La Cruz” for short.
I went in with only a semblance of a plan. I had bread and I wanted avocado to spread on it. The entrance was mostly toys. Vendors demonstrated their remote controlled cars by driving them around the legs of tables that showcased stuffed animals and jigsaw puzzles. Some knock-off Lego sets caught my attention. Would Rachel give me that look if I brought one of these back with me?
I turned left and passed by stands of meats. Glass displays of various chorizos and meat cutlets and is that an entire half of a cow hanging from the hook?!? The fish section was next with a vendor trying to make sure I saw his offerings. Don’t worry man, the smell wasn’t letting me past without noticing. I saw some produce down a side alley.
I walked past a few older ladies sitting behind tables of green vegetables laid out in wooden crates. I stopped at the first one that had avocados. They were huge. The lady greeted me. Buenas, I replied before asking for “un aguacate.” I think she asked me next if I was eating it today. It was for tomorrow and she picked one with an ever-so-slight give when pressed.
“¿Algo más?” she asked if I needed anything else. I didn’t see any poblanos, but that’s what I decided I needed for some reason. Poblanos offer a nice option when you wanted something a bit warmer than a bell pepper, but earthier than a Jalapeño. “¿Tienes chiles poblanos?” I inquired, asking for two of them. She left around a nearby corner for a moment before returning with three of them in a bag. She also had some cactus pedals that already had prickly needles shaved off. “y nopales por favor. Es toto.” 75 pesos.
I left with my bag of produce, ready to explore the rest of the market. I saw another, slightly larger food stand at the next corner. Some roma tomatoes looked at me, reminding me that I should probably pick up one of these too. I stood by the tomatoes and the old man and (presumably) his wife sat there. Usually they approach me, I thought, working up the lacking courage of an introvert to say hola. He looked at me. “¿Puedo comprar?” I asked, pointing at the red pile of
fruit vegetables what are tomatoes? Fruigtables? The man continued just to look at me. Did I get it wrong? I nervously tried to figure out what else I could say but my multiple years of Spanish classes growing up only prepared me to tell someone my name and ask where the bathroom was. He finally stood and approached with his hand out. I picked up the best looking tomato and handed it to him. He placed it on a scale. 6 pesos.
With a slightly heavy bag of produce, I needed one more thing. Eggs. My shopping list was ever-evolving and . I trekked my way around the myriad of random shops. There was seldom a pattern between what two shops were neighbored to one another. Back towards where I entered, I found a stand that was selling eggs. I waited behind another lady before the woman behind the counter looked my way. She very kindly greeted me and asked what I needed. “Mantiquilla y seis huevos por favor,” I ordered. She asked what kind of butter I wanted, listing off a few brands. I shrugged, not really knowing the difference, only requesting that it was sin sal. She handed me a small, wrapped stick of butter in a bag and six eggs in another bag. 38 pesos.
Feeling like I had a good starting point, I started to head back to our Airbnb with my produce and a bag of eggs that I nervously gripped doing everything I could to not accidently break them.
Need help shopping for groceries in Mexico? Check out my helpful guide here.