Norma Listman & Saqib Keval met in the kitchen tracing notes of ancestral recipes and community foodways. As chefs, they've committed themselves to creating unique dining experiences rooted in using food as a means to tell complex stories. In Mexico City, they spend their time researching the migration of spices, ingredients and cooking methods between Mexico, South Asia and Africa. As Masala y Maiz, they've been presenting these recipes and stories through elaborate dinners hosted at intimate locations throughout the Bay Area and Mexico City. A chef born and raised in Texcoco and Mexico City, Norma Listman spent her life chronicling Mexican food craft and food ways. Meanwhile, Chef Saqib Keval has worked to document diasporic South Asian food ways and the impacts of colonialism on food migrations. Their dinners are equal parts history and culinary storytelling and their dining experiences aim to share the complexities of these foods to new audiences. These are meals to celebrate the good life, and the many ways spices, flavors, and spirits have created their cultures and their ancestry. This is their Mexico City.
MASALA Y MAIZ'S CDMX EATING GUIDE
1. Churreria El Moro for chocolate espanol :
Eje Central Lázaro Cárdenas 42, Cuauhtémoc, Centro, 06000 Ciudad de México, CDMX, Mexico
2. Bósforo for some incredible mezcal and beautiful, no-fuss food :
Luis Moya 31, Cuauhtémoc, Centro, Ciudad de México, CDMX, Mexico
3. Contramar for the vibe, the buzz, and the seafood. Do save room for some incredible dessert :
Calle Durango 200, Cuauhtémoc, Roma, 06700 Ciudad de México, CDMX, Mexico
4. Panadería Rosetta for the best guava roll of your life :
Colima 179, Cuauhtémoc, Roma Nte., 06700 Ciudad de México, CDMX, Mexico
5. Pasteleria Ideal for the gaudiest, kitchiest, most elaborate cakes and whatever else looks the brightest and wackiest :
República de Uruguay 74, Centro Histórico, Centro, 06000 Ciudad de México, CDMX, Mexico
7. Central Cacao for the 70% cold fermented chocolate with honey, much, much better than coffee and so freaking delicious :
Calle Campeche 51, Roma Sur, 06760 Ciudad de México, D.F., Mexico, Roma sur, Roma Sur, 06760 CDMX, Mexico
9. Mercado de Xochimilco for gorgeous produce, steaming champurrado, and huitlacoche quesadillas
Avenida Nuevo Leon s/n, Santa Crucita, Xochimilco, CDMX, Mexico
10. Barbacao at Norma's family's secret spot in Texcoco, but you gotta work hard for that address! ;)
Above : Three of my favorite Mexico City things - Norma y Saqib, Barragán Pink and Pulque.
The city perplexed me from the moment I got here. How could a city be so sexy, powerful, flawed, falling apart and graceful all at once? How did it seamlessly weave together it's indigenous roots, its Hispanic influence and its postcolonial present, so gorgeously? How come it didn't reek of the diasporic angst, the postcolonial turmoil and the developmental chaos that Mumbai does? Or Cape Town? Or even New Orleans? How did it feel like a soul food kind of home, but all grown up with nicer teeth and better skin?
And then at Xochimilco, whilst boating a 1000 year old canal route, it clicked- it's because this city is A N C I E N T. This city has lived much longer and deeper and wider than both all our cities combined. Our cities are teething their way to becoming Mexico City. Mexico City has been for a long, long time. And so we have years and years to learn from it, and that is incredibly exciting.
I didn't really fly to Mexico City for the tortillas, though we packed those in - I went to see Norma's Mexico City, the heartbeat of a place that drew the force-of-nature chef Norma Listman back home after over a decade working in the best kitchens and restaurants of the Bay Area. And then, when Norma's partner-in-crime and my dear friend Saqib Keval, the other half of Masala y Maiz, and soon-to-be Cafe Zena, joined us- it was the Mexico City x Masala y Maiz week of dreams. As Saqib and Norma get ready to open their new venture - Cafe Zena, I can't help but feel a bit warm and fuzzy. On my last day in Mexico City, after a week of talking life plans, and food dreams, and sharing our origin stories- of grandmas kitchen remedies, and decolonizing foodways and the future of food, we felt our homelands deserved the offer of Cafe Zena appeared on the table. I flew back to Oakland smiling at the small possibility of Norma and Saqib, and the beautiful restaurant that they might build together. It's happening and I know they have a whole community smiling and rallying for them.
Mexico City's markets are all the lushness and vivid hues and bustling urban centers that make me pine for Mumbai whenever I'm away, it's the thing about CDMX that set me at ease right away. Produce arranged on bright blue tarp to halwais teaming with fruit and nut based sweets- the mercado is all avocados, nopales, peppers and squash blossoms piled high and abundant, and calabaza en tacha, candied pumpkin making me drool. It's home, on a completely different continent.
On Sunday, as is Norma's family tradition, we drove to Texcoco for barbacoa. I described it to my dad as our weekly family biryani feast, but on a whole other planetary orbit and put completely to shame. Slow cooked lamb, endless pitchers of pulque, fatty spicy lamb consommé, fresh tortillas, everything al fresco and our funny, gorgeous crew of CDMX visitors, recent additions and fresh returns. I still sigh thinking about it.
Additional List of Things You Must See!
1. Casa Luis Barragan - Book a tour! Barragan was a crazy architectural genius and CDMX would be so much less interesting without its iconic #BarraganPink
2. Kurimanzutto - one of the most beautiful galleries out there.
3 La Ciudadela - basically, try not to spend all your money here. The yummiest craft market.
About the author and photographer :
Sana Javeri Kadri is a sometimes salty, permanently hungry, rather creative human. She was raised in post-colonial Bombay, wound up in the produce aisles of California and can be currently found @sanajaverikadri and @diasporaco on Instagram or in person wherever there are vegetables to be found. She is currently schemer-in-chief for Diaspora Cooperative, check out their website.