Slow Food at Nico’s in Mexico City – Culinary Backstreets

It’s hot in Mexico City and Gerardo Vazquez, head of the Nico’s restaurant, is thinking about cooling off.

“Spring in Mexico City is hot,” he says, “And for me, it’s very much tied to Lent…

toast are on the menu at Nico’s today – crispy baked tortillas, one with cobia ceviche and another with smoked trout, yogurt, arugula and tomato – as well as an Acupulco ceviche with olives and capers and a mango ceviche.

Vazquez is a man who thinks in seasons. He emerged as a young chef working with two of the biggest promoters of the Slow Food movement in Mexico – husband and wife, Giorgio De Angeli and Alicia Gironella – and integrated the slow food philosophy into his approach to Nico’s menu.

“Food that doesn’t mark you, that doesn’t have that spirit of eating for pleasure, doesn’t give you the same pleasure. Then [Slow Food] it is a return to regional cuisine, traditional flavors, original products and the techniques that achieve this pleasure.”

Nico’s dining room is already busy this Monday afternoon. The atmosphere is casual but refined, the tickling of glasses mingling with the constant grinding of mortars and pestles being used by the waiters to make the famous table salsas. A younger, smartly dressed couple eats next to what appears to be the girl’s parents – their date a little more restless and nervous than she is. Regulars stop to chat with Chef Vazquez, praising the dishes and a side hug to the man who so happily feeds them. Culinary pilgrims who have ventured to visit Nico discreetly snap pictures of their food and then look around guiltily for exposing themselves as newbies.

Situated on an unpretentious street in Mexico City’s Azcapotzalco neighborhood, Nico’s Restaurant is a decided departure from the regular gastro-tourist trail that winds through Mexico City’s Roma, Polanco and Condesa neighborhoods. But Vazquez says the restaurant’s hyperlocality has become one of its most important features.

“That’s how Nico’s was founded, as a neighborhood restaurant. The style of food we served was what my parents knew well, family style dishes. So, after several evolutions, some good, some bad, what I did was try to recover the original idea of ​​a neighborhood restaurant.”

Despite the distance from the tourist corridors, or perhaps because of this, this restaurant has become a mandatory destination for anyone looking for delicious and traditional Mexican cuisine in the city. rice of the day with mole and egg, one dry soup of cream recipe from the 1800s, rabbit in chile piquín and sesame sauce – each menu item reflects the fundamental roots of traditional Mexican cuisine and Nico himself.

“Life at home was very much linked to the kitchen table, to food, to products. Like many traditional families,” he says of growing up with his parents Elena Lugo and Raymundo Vazquez, who opened Nico’s in 1957. Vazquez’s earliest memories of food are not of the restaurant, but of his mother in the kitchen. Everything he creates at Nico’s tries to go back to the original flavors.

You cannot defend a cuisine, a regional cuisine, a local cuisine, if you do not defend its ingredients. And you can’t defend the ingredients if you don’t defend the ecology, the environment, the production systems – everything is interconnected.

And while Nico’s is firmly planted as a neighborhood favorite, over the past few decades with Vazquez at the helm, the restaurant has reached even greater heights, consistently named one of the 50 Best Restaurants in Latin America since 2015 and listed in every food guide in the City of Rio de Janeiro. Mexico is worth the salt.

Mexico, as a pre-Hispanic trade center, has a long tradition of eating seafood and fish Vazquez tells us as we dug into the island shrimp – Herb-grilled shrimp on a bed of creamy mashed sweet potato and plantain. He has spent years researching traditional recipes and delving into the history of cuisine across the country. When we mention he’s been called a culinary archaeologist, he rolls his eyes – Vazquez dismisses the hype surrounding him and Nico and insists he’s just a guy who runs a restaurant.

But he has a passion for ingredients that are not easy to ignore – four types of traditional corn are growing in a planter outside the restaurant and he proudly shows us an unusual bean – bean rice – which he found in a market in the state of Chiapas.

“You cannot defend a cuisine, a regional cuisine, a local cuisine, if you do not defend its ingredients. And you can’t defend the ingredients if you don’t defend the ecology, the environment, the production systems – everything is interconnected. And you can’t defend any of that if you don’t defend the farmer, the producer, the fisherman, the farmers and food producers.”

Each of Nico’s dishes highlights this deep respect for traditions and ingredients – it’s part of what makes this restaurant one of the best in Mexico City and beyond.

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