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Mexico
The city with a face of pink stone and a heart of silver
Zacatecas is the city with a face of pink stone and a heart of silver. Once at the heart of Nueva España's brutal mining industry, today it's a city full of elegant architecture and excellent stew. Our digital postcards capture some fleeting moments from a rainy afternoon in the city.
Rooftop view of Zacatecas Cathedral

Face of pink stone

The persistent drizzle adds a gloss to the grey cobbles and low hanging clouds cast shadows across the dusky-rose stone walls. No untidy looking banners or cluttered store signs will do here, only neat black lettering above every door arch. It’s a uniformity that graces the city with a refined elegance.

 

 

The grandeur of Zacatecas is personified best by its eighteenth-century cathedral. A triumphant looking building, whose ornate, carved facade is a symbol of the wealth this town once had and the power the church used to wield here.

 

The city was built around the brutal silver mining industry of Nueva España, emerging as a cornerstone of the Spanish Empire’s cultural expansion in the region.

 

A hilltop view across the city of Zacatecas, Mexico

 

Situated in a narrow valley, dwellings spill upwards and outwards towards the ridges of the surrounding hills.

 

 

Cable cars dangle overhead, plying a track up and down from Cerro de la Bufa, the city’s iconic, hilltop viewpoint.

The landscape is etched on the faces of the city’s buildings. Crafted from the eye-catching orange and pink hued cantera stone that’s in abundance in this part of Mexico.

 

A pink stone building in Zacatecas

 

It’s known as the city with a face of pink stone and a heart of silver for good reason.

Today, workers are carving open one of the thoroughfares that courses though the city centre to complete repairs, leaving a messy blemish on the otherwise tidy town.

 

White, yellow and orange VW Beetle cars drive down a cobbled street.

 

The narrow side streets that branch off the main roads are full of vendors selling plump gorditas, fluffy tamales and sweet pan de nata.

The spirits of some locals can’t be dampened by the grey weather. Under the handsome, art nouveau arches of the Mercado González Ortega, they meet for an afternoon of dancing. Dressed to impress, the joy in their movement is contagious, causing all who pass to pause and watch.

 

People dancing under the arches in a market in Zacatecas.

Heart of silver

We arrive at the silver heart of the city, the Mercado Arroyo de la Plata. But it’s not silver we’re seeking. We need something to warm our bones and flush out the damp. Today is a day for stew.

In the food area of the market vendors try to entice us to eat at their stalls, calling out their wares, blocking our paths and following us as we pass.

 

Ignoring them all, we head towards an unassuming stall tucked away at the back of the market. The owner doesn’t shout or fight for our attention, but the grin on his face draws us in. He sells one thing only. Birria.

 

A bowl of birria in a market in Zacatecas.

 

The stew is delicious, of course, the confident smile on Jesús’s face intimated that before we’d even taken a seat, let alone a spoonful.

He has been making birria for more than 30 years, so he’s had a fair amount of practice. His in-laws started the stall back in 1967, but he took it over and continues the family birria-making tradition.

We take a seat at the narrow metal counter and our host places in front of us two bowls. Within is a shimmering broth, sprinkled with emerald green coriander and pearlescent onions. Buried treasure – the meat – is concealed beneath. Our spread is complete with a container of piping hot tortillas and a molcajete of chile-heavy salsa.

 

A man selling birria in Zacatecas

 

Today’s stew is with lamb but Jesús alternates between lamb and goat, except on Sundays. On Sundays he cooks both. He infuses the meat with an adobo (marinade), which includes oregano, cumin and plenty of chiles.

Jesús beams as he pulls out a carrier bag full of dried guajillo chiles to show us, they’re one of the core ingredients for his stew.

 

Cooked lamb head in a market in Zacatecas

 

The meat is so tender that it falls apart when he pulls it from the bone and onto the tree-trunk like chopping board to cut up for each order of stew or tacos. He drowns the meat in a luscious liquor, rich with chile flavour, but not overpowering. It’s the kind of broth that makes you want to do away with table manners and lick the bowl afterwards.

 

Cooked sheep heads on a market stall

 

It doesn’t look as elegant as Zacatecas’ famous architecture, in fact birria literally means a mess, but its flavour is every bit as refined.

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