Want to support local Mexican women? Eating tacos could be the answer
Working in the food industry was a given for Rocío Vázquez, who is the daughter of a chef and one of the first food bloggers in Mexico. But it’s her advocacy for both responsible tourism and women’s rights that sets her company Eat Like a Local Mx apart. This Women’s History Month, she tells High Life about the crossover between Mexico City’s street food and activism
Eat Like a Local Mx is all about responsible tourism. I discovered first-hand how tourism can damage local communities. It can lead to gentrification and loss of identity. I aim to create economic growth while preserving the real city and not making it more expensive for local people. We offer food safaris (basically tours, but more adaptable and adventurous) focusing on markets, street food and local people – avoiding the usual tourist traps.
It’s important to me to do away with the bad practices that can come with tourism. One example of how I’m doing this is with the wages I pay. In Mexico, the minimum wage is just $9 a day. My employees make $25 per person per tour, which usually works out to around $150 for four hours.
I really believe that travelling can change people’s perspectives of a country. When tourists come here, we use food as an excuse to introduce them to the real Mexicans – lovely, happy and hard-working people – and change any negative perceptions of the country.
I got the idea for my business from a group of homeless guys I met in Turkey. I was there on a bus tour and everything was so touristic, I didn’t feel like I got to know the place properly at all. One day in Istanbul, I got chatting to these homeless people. They introduced me to the heart of the city and I fell in love with it. I came back to Mexico wanting to recreate the experience I had with this group of locals.
Women’s rights are also a huge part of Eat Like a Local Mx. I only hire women and I make sure to pay them a high wage. I was previously in an abusive relationship that made me realise how important it is for women to make their own money so we never have to stay with someone because we can’t afford to leave.
When tourists come here, we use food as an excuse to introduce them to the real Mexicans
Wendy is our success story tour guide. We run a social programme that gives local girls finance and sex education and teaches them languages. She told us that her goal was to travel to Europe, so we created a great itinerary for La Merced Market, which she lives next to. It’s an amazing but complicated place with a bad reputation. The safari helps people discover the market but also its people. Tourists meet Wendy’s family, visit her house, and even go up to the rooftop for a view of the whole market. She managed to save up enough money for a 26-day trip in Europe, showing her that her dreams are in her own hands.
The pandemic was amazing for the food industry in our city. Beforehand, publications had dubbed us the best city in the world for food, so tourists were coming. Chefs got overconfident and restaurants were resting on their laurels. But then Covid happened and things weren’t so easy. Tourists stopped visiting and wealthier people moved out of the richer neighbourhoods. The big restaurants closed down. What that did, though, was give other people a chance. In their place we started to see tiny stalls and restaurants opening and selling cheap but incredible food. It made the food scene very diverse. And all in the poorer areas, such as Roma, Condesa, Juárez and Cuauhtémoc, where residents didn’t have the money to leave. Now they’re flourishing.
I try to recommend amazing places that aren’t on most people’s lists so the money doesn’t just stay within the same small group of people. For street food, you have to go to the corner of Colima 121. There’s a stall there whose owner has been selling quesadillas in the same spot for 20 years. Recently the Mexican version of Starbucks opened up shop next door and they’re trying to kick her out because she doesn’t match Colima’s new, fancier aesthetic. So I’d encourage tourists to go there, not only for the great food but as a way of protesting.
Next to her stall is a guy who sells tacos and there you can get what I call ‘The Infinite Taco’. While you wait for your food, he gives away free chicharrón (pork rinds) and tortillas, so you can pay for one taco but eat thousands.
As for restaurants, Costela is owned by ultra-cool queer chef Alexander Suástegui. She moved from Tijuana to Mexico and serves incredible seafood. Try the tostada ceviche bichi, made with Pacific blue shrimp, red onion, cucumber and serrano peppers. Mamma Ricotta is a tiny place owned by Karina Morales. You can get the best pizza in Mexico here and great cocktails too. Every time Carlo Petrini – the founder of the Slow Food Movement – comes to Mexico, he heads straight here.
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