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Photo Essay: Finding Mexico City

By:  Marcus Nilsson Jan 17, 2014
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Finding Mexico City

Bar Mancera. A cantina in the historic center of Mexico City.

It all started after a fairly simple question: Where should we go next? Having previously focused an entire issue of Swallow Magazine, the anti-foodie magazine, on the Nordic countries, and then dedicating one entirely to the Trans-Siberian express, it would be hard -- nay, almost impossible -- to find something to compete (especially hard to compete with a weeklong train journey that meanders across Russia, Mongolia and, finally, into Beijing).


Finding Mexico City

Mexico City from above. Torre Latinamerica.


The answer was under our noses. After weeks of deliberation, Mexico was initially dismissed as being too close, too familiar, and too expected. But the truth, really, was a reluctance to engage with a country and cuisine quite literally thousands of years old, and enough information to fill 20 issues alone. Enter Mexico City. A condensed slice of the country -- hectic, chaotic, polluted, and dangerous -- the capital certainly had its reputation cut out for it. We booked the first flight out.


Finding Mexico City

Mexico City is filled with Cantinas; traditionally a kind of bar frequented by males for drinking alcohol and free food. The cantina's golden age was in the 1940s and 50s and they are slowly disappearing or being renovated. This is El Gallo D’oro, founded in 1874.


Upon arrival, it quick became clear that Mexico City’s reputation, while true in parts, was much exaggerated. While parts held the lure of illicit pleasures, others promised tranquility and sophisticated elegance. The once-faded Roma neighborhood, with its Belle Époque architecture, was the image of turn of the century Austria set in Latin America. And Condesa, green and leafy, and dotted with Deco, was quite the urban planners dream. Mexico City was clearly not what we thought it might have been.


Finding Mexico City

U. de G. A cantina specializing in roasted goat.

The reality is that Mexico's capital is, at once, full of chaos and also calm. A sophisticated metropolis of urban extremes. A city where the old, the new and everything in between could, would, and always do, meet in the middle. Following a brief encounter with the city's chief architect for municipal works, we were promised a helicopter ride with the Mexico City Police Department to see the full extent of the city's sprawl. In for a penny, in for a pound as they say. Arriving at the police headquarters on the edge of the historic center, we were quickly ushered through to the heliport. Waiting in the sun sat a sparkling blue police chopper, blades slowly whirring. We got in...


Finding Mexico City

El Mirador. A cantina where women are still prohibited from visiting the bar area.

The ascent was brief and without any turbulence, and we headed towards the city center. Our aim: to shoot the iconic (and Empire Stateesque) Torre Latinamerica for the cover of the magazine. At first glance, readers might associate the image with New York, but after a closer look it's clear that before you lies a different entity all together. A city no less exciting than the Big Apple, and much, much more unexpected.


Finding Mexico City

Left: Strange fruit from the Central de Abasto wholesale market. Right: A cook from Nico’s in Colonia Azcapotzalco, a restaurant with only women in the kitchen.


Marcus Nilsson is a photographer based in New York City. Born in Sweden, Marcus attended culinary school and worked his way through the industry to be an executive chef before moving to New York to continue his food career. In 1999, he gave up cooking for art school, where he was introduced to photography after taking an darkroom class the second semester. Marcus’ work has appeared in various food publications including Martha Stewart Living, Food&Wine and Bon Appetit. He can be found on Instagram sharing his daily snapshots.

Marcus is part of The Opener, an exclusive, invite-only contributor network that will bring the best food, culture, and innovation writing to the pages of Coca-Cola Journey.