There’s no denying that Mexico is famous for its Vitamin T (tacos, tortillas, tamales, tequila, tostadas etc.) and while it is certainly not difficult to find healthy food here, those with special dietary requirements will need some insider tips if they don’t want to waste precious holiday time searching for places to eat. With a bit of guidance, any gluten free, vegetarian, vegan and raw food fans can also enjoy Mexico’s renowned cuisine.
It’s true that raw food, organic markets and urban gardens may not be the first things that spring to mind when you imagine Mexico City, but I assure you that you will find a fast-growing movement here, as long as you know where to look. You’ll even find customised versions of classic Mexican dishes that cater to your specific dietary need, so you won’t have to miss out. Check out my video on the topic to see some of the food I selflessly tried for this post.
I think it’s important to mention that when it comes to fruit and vegetables, you will be overwhelmed by the amount of options available everywhere in the city and I highly recommend you also read this article by Culinary Backstreets Mexico that explains how much of the produce eaten in Mexico is already organic, or at least grown with far fewer chemicals that in more developed countries! A tremendous amount of the produce you’ll find here is usually freshly picked and locally grown which is why I prefer to shop in the local markets as opposed to retail chains.
I’ve already gushed about Mexican markets in my blog post on the topic, but they really are a haven for fruit and veg lovers. Vendors selling every kind of native and exotic fruit imaginable will thoroughly encourage you to try before you buy, enticing you with slices of juicy mango that taste like nectar of the gods, sweet, custardy soursop, ripe papaya and creamy avocado, all of which can be eaten straight off the skin before being discarded in the handy waste bins they keep next to their stalls. You’ll find that most markets have a food section where various restaurants and stalls sell meals made with the very produce you’ll find in the market. You cannot get fresher than that!
On almost every block you’ll find fruit sellers using whatever produce happens to be in season to prepare delicious salads and cocktails at prices so low that it works out cheaper than buying and chopping yourself. You can order a massive plastic cup filled with mango, papaya, pineapple, melon etc.; or grated carrot, cucumber, jicama etc. depending on whether you fancy sweet or savoury at the time. Make like a Mexican and ask for a squeeze of lime and a little shake of chilli powder on top. They’ll even give you a choice of spiciness. Believe me you haven’t lived until you’ve had juicy mango or pineapple with chilli! It really serves to bring out the flavours of the fruit. The fruit sellers will even whack the top off a coconut and empty the deliciously hydrating water into a cup or a plastic bag with a straw – way better than the packaged stuff you find in shops that has had most of the nutrients pasteurised out of it.
Also look out for the juice stands dotted all over the city streets and inside every market. Back home a freshly squeezed juice is seriously expensive but here in Mexico you can get a whole litre of juice for around $30 MXN ($2 USD)! You will see the glass jars lined up on the counter filled with fruit, vegetables, sprouts, seeds, cactus, cereals, nuts, herbs etc. and can either create your own juice or go for one of the variety of options on the menu that claim to help with weight-loss, flu-fighting, energising, detox, hangovers, the list is endless and each is delicious. My favourite juice makers are the guys at Jugos El Shaday in the market on the corner of Michoacan and Tamaulipas in La Condesa. Here your juice comes with free entertainment as Ismael and his gang incorporate flair bartending tricks into their juice making. I’ve yet to see them drop a cup and their capacity for throwing squeezed oranges into the waste bin behind them without even looking at it would put an NBA player to shame.
A great option for anyone interested in the permaculture movement here is to visit some of the urban gardens dotted around the city. I visited two for my video post: Huerto Romita and Huerto Roma Verde.
Huerto Romita (CAUR)
Volunteering in Huerto Romita is one of the best things I have ever done. Being from a very small town in Ireland surrounded by countryside, I find it hard to live in huge cities without having some sort of contact with nature to keep me sane, and Huerto Romita in the heart of the La Roma neighbourhood has become my refuge. It’s a small urban garden occupying a plot left derelict after the 1985 earthquake. They focus on container gardening – perfect for gardenless city dwellers – and employ various techniques to make the most of small spaces. They participate in community projects, and offer workshops (in Spanish) on all aspects of organic gardening. The space is open to the public from 10am to 2pm Monday to Friday so feel free to call in and ask any questions you may have about gardening or just take a few moments to be among the plants and marvel at how much can be produced with limited space and resources. They also have a special open day on the last Saturday of every month when they have meditations with Tibetan bowls and a Q&A session. The garden is situated on a corner of Plaza Romita, a picturesque little square with a fascinating history – well worth a visit in itself. Since my video, the space has changed its name to Centro de Agricultura Urbana Romita (CAUR).
Huerto Roma Verde
Huerto Roma Verde is also situated in La Roma, just a few blocks from the main thoroughfare, Avenida Alvaro Obregon, and also occupies a space left derelict following the 1985 earthquake. Behind its gates lies a huge community garden where butterflies flit around a rainwater harvesting centrepiece. Here residents of the Condesa and Roma neighbourhoods can come together to grow quality produce, recycle, protect native species and heirloom varieties, while also cultivating relationships and improving quality of life. As you wander around the space you’ll see henhouses and various composting techniques in action including a dry toilet system. They hold weekend farmers markets, cultural activities and food truck days. They also give workshops on all aspects of permaculture as well as art and culture-based programmes (in Spanish). Volunteerships are also available.
Mexico City Farmer’s markets
Mercado el 100
If you are interested in supporting local farmers while purchasing locally produced organic goods, take some time on your Sunday morning to check out Mercado el 100 in the La Roma neighbourhood. Producers come from no further than a 100-mile radius (hence the name) with fruit, vegetables, herbs, coffee, cacao, body products, mezcal, meats, cheeses, baked goods and gardening products, all of which are produced organically and sold at fair prices. Some stalls cook up their produce so you can even have breakfast or lunch there washed down by an ice-cold cream of coconut (my favourite). They offer a variety of workshops (in Spanish) where you can learn about a diverse range of topics such as small-scale poultry rearing or beekeeping for example. They also set up in the Coyoacan neighbourhood on Saturdays. See my tips section for further details.
The number of options catering to special dietary requirements is growing in Mexico City. Here’s my guide to a few tried and tested favourites that appeared in my video post:
Pan Comido is a 100% vegetarian restaurant that also caters for vegans and has a couple of gluten free dishes (although they cannot guarantee against cross contamination). As well as meatless burgers, hotdogs and meatballs, they also do vegetarian versions of Mexican classics. Everything on the menu is named after famous vegetarians and the furniture is made from recycled and upcycled materials. They also own the little place next door where you’ll find vegan milkshakes, ice cream and desserts.
Green Corner is probably Mexico City’s most popular organic store. They have 5 branches, 2 of which have restaurants (Condesa and Coyoacan) that serve the store’s organic produce in the form of meat, vegetarian, vegan and macrobiotic dishes. In-store you’ll find 3,500 products including gluten free flours, superfoods such as spirulina, maca, cacao etc. organic Mexican coffee, fruit & veg, nut milks, dairy products, and cosmetics etc., all of which are locally produced by 250 producers. Due to the high prices of organic certification, many products by local farmers do not carry the organic seal although they are however organic. Look out for “La Cocina Verde” branded products. These come from the organic ranch owned by the store.
Coco y Chia
Out of all the vegetarian restaurants I’ve tried in Mexico City, I love Coco y Chia’s décor and surroundings the most. Situated in front of the Jardín del Arte Tlacoquemécatl park, both the restaurant interior and the exterior patio are beautifully designed using recycled and upcycled materials and I am particularly in love with the mural on the patio wall and the tiled sink outside the bathroom.
Having volunteered in Huerto Romita and studied raw food in San Francisco, owner and Chef Denise returned to Mexico City with the aim of establishing a restaurant free of animal products. Since then she has gone on to eliminate preservatives, white sugar, flours and colourings from her kitchen, as well as freezers and fryers, yet she still manages to create the most beautiful, tasty dishes using the healthiest of ingredients. Art on a plate, her creations are definitely worth the quick Metrobus ride out to the Colonia Del Valle neighbourhood.
So, as you can see, Mexico City is abound with healthy options and although the raw and vegan movements may not be as booming as in other countries, they are certainly growing, and fast. Don’t forget to check my tips section for how to get to the places mentioned and further info on healthy eating in Mexico City, and check out my video post to see some of the dishes I tried in the name of research.