Corn, Cactus, and Chile: Exploring the Building Blocks of Mexican Cuisine - October 2, 2019 - Atlas Obscura Trips

Mexico City, Mexico

Corn, Cactus, and Chile: Exploring the Building Blocks of Mexican Cuisine

On this immersive journey, we'll learn about the essential ingredients of Mexican cuisine and their role in the daily life of Mexico City. Expect a one-of-a-kind experience filled with tastings, market visits, cooking workshops, harvest activities, and more.

Feeding Mexico City, a megalopolis of some 22 million people, is no small feat. Incredibly, what the city’s residents eat–as well as how and where that food is grown–has remained largely unchanged since Aztec times, when the area already played home to a bustling urban center. Since those days, corn, beans, and chiles, supplemented by cactus, squash, and other products from the fertile lands surrounding Mexico City, have been the culinary bedrock of Mexican life.

On this in-depth and hands-on 5-day trip, we’ll track down these building blocks of Mexican cooking, learning about the unique and ancient ways in which they are grown. We’ll also learn how they are prepared to create both classic and modern Mexican dishes. We’ll visit corn and cactus fields on the outskirts of Mexico City, taste agave sap drawn fresh from the plant, explore a beloved market where crickets and ant eggs are among the offerings, and step into kitchens of chefs who use Mexico’s elemental ingredients to preserve and update traditional recipes. At the end, we’ll have a cooking class utilizing many of the products encountered during our trip to help us bring it all together.

Throughout, we’ll be getting a deeper sense of how these building blocks have helped shape not only Mexican cooking, but Mexican society as well. 

This adventure is limited to 12 hungry explorers.

Trip Highlights

  • Trace ingredients to the source: We'll be tracing our way back to the source of the indigenous crops of Mexican cuisine. We’ll meet the farmers upholding thousands of years of agricultural tradition. We’ll walk through ancient farming and production systems that still feed Mexico City today.
  • Contemporary cuisine: Experience the contemporary side of Mexican cuisine in restaurants where chefs are applying inventive techniques to traditional materials.
  • Cooking lesson with a chef: Apply what we’ve learned all week in the markets and fields to a unique cooking lesson bringing the building blocks together into a meal, led by a professional chef.
  • Market tours and home-cooked meals: Take guided tours through bustling city markets, where we’ll see, smell, taste, and learn about the distinct products that compose Mexican cuisine. Along the way, be welcomed into local homes to taste these products in traditional dishes that rarely appear on restaurant menus. 


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Atlas Obscura has partnered closely with Culinary Backstreets to create and curate this unique experience. Culinary Backstreets is a global guide to local eats that publishes restaurant reviews and features on culinary culture. They bring these stories to life on culinary tours and special events, offered in 12 cities around the world, and have extensive international experience with all things gastronomical.


A $500 nonrefundable deposit is required to secure your spot, as we have a very limited capacity, and we expect the trip to fill up quickly. The trip is $2,375—the $500 deposit plus the $1,875 final payment—and will cover all fixed costs, including all accommodations, meals, and activities listed in the itinerary below. 


Please email us at with any questions about the itinerary, logistics, or payment.

Day 1
Welcome to Mexico City!
  • Arrive in Mexico City and check in to our boutique hotel. We encourage you to plan your arrival earlier in the day to give yourself some time to relax, settle in, and wander around the neighborhood.
  • This evening, we'll enjoy a lively welcome dinner at Pasillo de Humo, where chef Alam Mendez has become a well-known fixture in the Mexico City scene for his inventive take on Oaxacan regional cuisine. In this stylish contemporary setting on the second floor of the Parian Market, we'll share our first of many meals and conversations together. Paco, your main culinary guide, will introduce himself and give you a glimpse into what the week will hold. 
Day 2
Markets & Mezcal
  • After breakfast at our hotel, we'll be spending the day in downtown’s Centro Histórico, exploring the markets of the area and their bounty. This will be a crash course in the essentials of the Mexican pantry, seasonality, and how these products are sold and prepared into classic dishes.
  • Along the way we'll gain insight into the historical context of these foods with visits that may include Templo Mayor, a pyramid built in the 1400s and the former site of human sacrifices. We'll explore the colonial city, built over the ruins of the Aztec city of Tenochtitlan using the same lava-stones from the Aztec temples.
  • For lunch, we'll be eating at a classic Centro spot, Azul Historico, where we will taste the cuisine of the Veracruz region. We'll also get a firsthand view of an essential part of many Mexican meals during a tortilla-making demonstration.  
  • The afternoon may include visits to the Diego Rivera murals, an altar of the Santa Muerte following, and Zócalo Main Square. Paco will be sure to bring us to any special events or exhibitions taking place at the time of our visit!
  • For dinner, an inventive chef and one of the city’s premier mezcal sommeliers awaits us. During this private dinner, our chef will create several small courses. Our sommelier will introduce mezcal's special qualities and pair each course with some of the country’s finest artisanal spirits. Along with the chef's spontaneous creations, the night’s menu may include taco de cochinita pibil, guacamole con chicharrón, tostadas de flores de jamaica, and quesadillas de flor de calabaza con queso.
  • Afterwards, feel free to stay out or head back to the hotel on what will be a full and happy stomach. 
Day 3
Tlaxcala, the Land of Corn & Cacti
  • Today we will be exploring the agriculture of this distinctive region, famous for its native varieties of corn. Remarkably, Tlaxcalan traditions have remained largely intact through the Spanish colonial period and into the present day. Here we have a chance to experience ancient agriculture and taste the unique cuisine of the region. To make the most of our time in Tlaxcala, we’ll get an early start on this day. After a quick coffee, we’ll have pastries on the road before stopping for a traditional breakfast on the way. 
  • We’ll take in some of the sights of Tlaxcala’s historic center before visiting farming communities growing native corn and cacti, as they have since pre-Hispanic times.   
  • We'll then head to a nearby village where we will be welcomed into the home of a local family for a lunch of Tlaxcalan specialties, many based on local corn.
  • In the late afternoon, we will return to the hotel in Mexico City. After this long day, the evening is free to rest or explore Mexico City on your own.
Day 4
Mole & Maguey
  • Today, we’ll head to Milpa Alta, a center of mole production on the outskirts of Mexico City. After breakfast, we'll be delving deep on the subject of all things mole. But first, we’ll visit a farm for a quick look at the harvesting of maguey, the agave plant from which the Aztec drink pulque is made. We’ll have a sip of the sap, straight from the source as well as a sample of house brew made by the farmer himself.  
  • In October there is a local county fair dedicated to the veneration of mole. We’ll skirt around the carnival itself and go deep on the subject of mole, learning about ingredients, production techniques and regional varieties.
  • During the afternoon, we'll visit a mole producer to gain a better sense of daily life and the food that shapes and defines it.
  • In the evening, we'll return to the city center and set out on a taco tour. For dinner, we'll hit a number of taco stands, including this al pastor spot housed in an auto repair shop. Along with classic tacos, we’ll also have the chance to taste ones made with brains, bull’s eyes, and intestines. 
Day 5
Cooking Our Final Meal Together
  • On this final day together, we’ll take to the kitchen for hands-on instruction in the assembly of the building blocks of Mexican cuisine. 
  • After our last breakfast, we'll make an exclusive visit to the private home and workshop of the famous Linares family, considered the most important producers of Mexican folk art.
  • Then, we will head to the kitchen atelier of a well-known Mexican culinary personality. Step by step, she will lead us through the recipes and techniques of classic Mexican cooking, focusing on the materials we’ve spent the week learning about. After the lesson, we’ll feast on what we’ve prepared, celebrating the native ingredients we’ve tracked from farm to market to our table.   
  • After our farewell lunch, you can return to the hotel and depart for the airport, or stay some extra days to explore on your own.
  • Until the next adventure! 
The Fine Print


  • All lodging in a modern, well-equipped boutique hotel throughout the trip. (A limited number of single rooms are available at a supplemental cost of $425. Otherwise we'll work to place singles of the same gender together.)
  • All meals and transportation during the trip, including in a private coach for visits outside the city center. Travel within the city will be by foot and public transportation.
  • An experienced, local English-speaking guide to accompany you throughout the trip, as well as special guests throughout. 
  • Admission to all proposed activities, locations, and events.
  • A great group of fellow Atlas Obscura fans, excited to explore all that Mexico City has to offer!


For flights in and out of Mexico City International Airport (Aeropuerto Internacional Benito Juárez), we suggest you arrive any time before 3 p.m. on October 2 and depart any time after 6 p.m. on October 6. We are happy to book you extra nights at the group's hotel (subject to availability) and provide suggestions for things to do and see in the city on your own.


Itineraries are subject to change. This particular tour has been designed with specific activities and events in mind, whose schedules and availabilities may change in coming months. If any activity or attraction that is advertised is missed or not available, then we will always replace it with another activity or location of significant interest and value.


Travelers should be reasonably fit and feel comfortable walking 4 to 5 miles each day and remaining on their feet for long periods of time. Keep in mind that Mexico City is a bustling and crowded place!


You will be charged a non-refundable $500 deposit to hold your space. The final payment of $1,875 will be due by July 5, 2019. All reservations will be final after this date and subject to our cancellation policy. By submitting your deposit, you agree to the Terms & Conditions. For travelers wishing to have single accommodations during the trip, an additional $425 will be included in the final payment.


  • Transportation and flights to and from Mexico City.
  • Airport transfers.
  • Travel insurance (recommended).
  • Baggage charges.
  • Additional meals and drinks outside of Atlas Obscura offerings.
  • If applicable, applying for a Mexican visa (not required for U.S. citizens).

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