Synopsis: This trip to Mexico for Bourdain is more of a cop-car ride-along than spring break in Cancun. In Mexico City he ruminates on cartel violence; in Oaxaca he downs mezcal and marvels at the resilience of our southern neighbor. Big problems, bigger heart. 

On Mexican resilience  

  • “Mexico is a country where everyday people fight to live. All too often they lose that battle. A magnificent, heartbreakingly beautiful country. The music and food and a uniquely Mexican, darkly funny, deeply felt worldview. Right down there, cuddled up in ethos, our brother from another mother.”
  • “In Mexico, people fight to live every day. One man stands alone, facing another man. His intent, to beat his opponent with his fists until he can resist no more. A match, yes, but, more accurately, a fight.”
  • “Who’s got a longer career: a narco or a boxer?”
  • “Expensive protein shakes and dietary supplements? Not so much. Boxers here eat what they can afford… That’s why Mexican fighters are so exciting. They’re hungry.”

“Not a lot of upward mobility here. The rich get richer; the poor get ground slowly under the wheel.”

  • “Tepito is a city within a city. Its own thing. Either the dark center or the beating heart of Mexico City, depending on your point of view. It’s the home of Santa Muerte, the skeletal St. Death. This is where they come: the impoverished, the oppressed, the marginalized, the criminal—people for whom the traditional church has less relevancy. For the unforgiven and the unforgivable. For those on whom the Catholic saints have turned their backs, there is Santa Muerte. This is a place and Santa Muerte is a saint that accepts everybody. “Death to my enemies” written on a votive candle. Let’s face it: We’ve all prayed for that at one point or another.”
  • “Tepito is a poor neighborhood, for sure, and a tough one. A center of commerce, both aboveboard and not.”
  • “The quiet night in the Zócalo, the central square of Oaxaca. But even tonight there’s plenty of evidence of the struggle, the discontent, boiling just under the surface.”

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Notes on narcos

“As I have come to know in my own life, drugs, even drug addiction, can be a survivable event. Death is not. Death is final.”

  • “Holy mother of Santa Muerte, please protect my stash of cocaine. Let it not be interfered with by the cops or the competition. Let any who would mess with me be killed. My enemies destroyed. Please forgive us our sins, for they are many.”
  • What do you do if you’re one of these cops? You’re driving around one night. You see some guy outside of a bar beating somebody or disturbing the peace. You start to arrest him, and he’s got a diamond-studded pistol. It’s got his name on it. Now you realize you’ve just arrested somebody with serious, powerful connections. What do you do?”
  • “Under former President Felipe Calderón, Mexico launched a concerted war on drugs. Ostensibly against the notorious and seemingly untouchable cartels. Absolutely no one can say with any credibility, by the way, that Mexico’s war or our trillion-dollar war has had any effect in diminishing the flow of drugs into our country.”
  • To me, the weak link are the bankers. A banker who launders money, he’s got a family, he’s got a reputation, he gives money to charity, his neighbors think he’s great, his kids think he’s wonderful, but he’s got something to lose. So I wouldn’t be prosecuting drug dealers. I would be prosecuting bankers.”
  • [Speaking to poet Javier Sicilia, through a translator] “Can he think of one place on Earth where the good guys are winning and where you are not ground under the wheels of the machine?”

On food and a few too many

  • “Perhaps a breakfast beverage first. A michelada. One giant beer with lemon, chili powder, salt, and maggi sauce.”
  • [Eating migas at Migas La Güera] “When you got nothin’, you make somethin’ really awesome out of nothin’. … Any great old culture where there’s poverty, there’s something like this.”
  • “The restaurant business, as I well know, ain’t no picnic. And in Mexico City it’s particularly rough.”
  • [On the food at Máximo Bistrot Local] “It’s going to be like Mick Jagger, you know, 50 years from now singing “Satisfaction.” There’s no getting away from it, man. This is so good. This is a classic.”
  • [Over his mezcal in Oaxaca] Is this an enlightening high? Is this a good high?”

“I came to Oaxaca for mezcal. I like mezcal more and more these days.”

  • “Probably America’s most beloved food is what they think is Mexican food. And I think most Americans’ view of Mexican food is like beans, fried tortilla, melted cheese, some chicken. In fact, in particular when we’re talking about Oaxaca, this is a deep, really sophisticated cuisine.”
  • [On Oaxaca] “Like 500,000 varieties of corn. Something like that. I mean, this is where the good shit grows.”
  • [On Oaxaca] “I haven’t been anywhere in Mexico where the cooking is better than here.”
  • “The quiet little town of Teotitlán del Valle is about 15 miles outside of Oaxaca, a town where the arts, crafts, and traditions of pre-Hispanic Mexico are celebrated and packaged for consumption.”
  • [To chef Alejandro Ruiz Olmedo] What most people miss is how really deep and really sophisticated the sauces here can be. Like Lyon is to France, Oaxaca is to Mexico in my experience… Not kissing your ass here. I was just in Lyon.”