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Tapatio - The Heart of Guadalajara

LOS ARCOS GUADALAJARA: Erected in 1942, Los Arcos or The Arches was modeled after the triumphal arches around Europe.
“Tapatio Hot Sauce was created by a Tapatio,” my tour guide Gus Melor told me about the product that is a staple in just about every American kitchen, including mine. “Tapatio is the nickname for a person from Guadalajara.”

When Jose-Luis Saavedra, Sr. emigrated to Southern California from Guadalajara, he created the “saucy sauce” with a nod to his homeland. He began by selling five-ounce bottles in 1971. Today, still family-owned, Tapatio is sold around the world, including three-ounce bottles in holsters for travelers who can’t be without their favorite hot sauce.

It’s only fitting for a Tapatio to bring happiness to all who partake. After all, hospitality is the motto of Guadalajara, Mexico’s second largest city and the capital of the state of Jalisco. It’s world-renowned as the cultural capital – and the Silicon Valley – of Latin America. At the entrance to the city, the inscription, “Guadalajara, a hospitable city,” can be seen on one side of Los Arcos (The Arches in Spanish) modeled after the triumphal arches around Europe. The other side reads, “A pleasant stay is a guarantee of return.”

Guadalajara is also the birthplace of mariachi, the romantic music genre dating back to the 18th century. Originally called “son,” it was performed at countryside haciendas with indigenous instruments. Guitars, harps, violins, and woodwind and brass instruments – as well as new musical forms like polkas, waltzes, and salon orchestras – were introduced by Spanish settlers.

Mariachis in traditional charro suit perform romantic tunes at Hotel Villa Tequila

After the Mexican Revolution, musicians left the haciendas and roamed between towns performing in small groups for a fee – and the name of the musical form changed to “mariachi.” They brought news of the day, they sang of the revolution, and their simple white shirts and pants and leather sandals were replaced with the handsome charro outfit that we see today – fitted pants for men, long skirts for women, waist-length jackets adorned with embroidery and ornamentation, a bow tie, a sombrero, and boots. Today, the small groups singing heart-tugging ballads of love, joy and hardship are the standard at official events, weddings, birthday celebrations and funerals – a distinction recognized as a UNESCO Intangible Cultural Heritage in 2011.

A popular venue for early mariachis was the fashionable village of Tlaquepaque, 20 minutes from downtown Guadalajara and a renowned pottery and arts town. El Parian with its iconic gazebo is the heart of the town where mariachis still sing. While on an afternoon excursion here, I’m stopped in my tracks to watch handsomely dressed couples dance elegantly underneath the canopy.

Nuestros Dulces candy factory and store in Tlaquepaque
The architecture, the colors, and the cobbled streets of Tlaquepaque transport me to the charms of Old Mexico. These attributes – along with its friendly people, and local traditions like candy-making at family-owned Nuestros Dulces factory, including tastings of Mexican chocolates at Cristina Taylor Chocolateria Artesanal – earned Tlaquepaque “Magical Town” status by the Mexican government in 2018.

This program recognizes small towns near major cities that offer visitors authentic cultural experiences through local history and culture, natural surroundings, local cuisine, and warm hospitality.

Guadalajara has bragging rights for another Magical Town – Tequila, the birthplace of the spirit tequila. Like champagne is made only in Champagne, France, tequila can only be called tequila if it’s made in Tequila, Mexico.

The journey to Tequila starts onboard the luxury Mundo Cuervo Express at Guadalajara train station where I join other guests for tequila tasting as a tequila expert offers a fun minicourse on the spirit that comes from the blue agave plant grown at the foot of Tequila Volcano. According to legend, an agave plant caught fire when the Goddess Mayahuel sent a lightning bolt to earth and happy villagers drank the sweet syrup oozing from the plant.

Every weekend the sleepy town of Tequila comes alive with visitors eager to see the agave fields and tour La Rojena Distillery, the oldest and longest-operating distillery in Latin America still run by descendants of Jose Antonio Cuervo, the first to cultivate agave for making tequila – today one of Mexico’s main industries.

In October Day of the Dead, a favorite holiday, is celebrated throughout Mexico to remember the lives of loved ones who have passed. I’m amused by the lively group of locals dressed in Katrina costumes complete with smiling sugar skull-painted faces, a fantastic folk art.

I can’t leave Guadalajara without immersing my senses in the vibrant atmosphere of Mercado Libertad, Latin America’s largest indoor marketplace that opened in 1958. Wandering the labyrinth of seemingly endless stalls, I smell the rich leather of gorgeous boots, belts, and handbags, while friendly vendors eagerly share the features and quality of their wares. I’m overwhelmed and entertained by countless aisles with everything else under the sun: traditional Mexican crafts and souvenirs, shoes, clothes, and food. Third floor vendors sell computer equipment as well as imported goods and clothing.

In the marketplace’s outdoor courtyard, I stand at the top of the steps to take in the fresh air and to watch people. Then a man smiles and points to my scruffy boots. Within seconds, I’m sitting in a chair as the gregarious man meticulously cleans, polishes, and shines my boots until they look like new.

Before rushing off, I pay the happy Tapatio not only for the shoeshine, but for making my day. Now, whenever I lace up my scruffy boots, I think of that spontaneous moment at the marketplace in Guadalajara.


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