I’d seen those blue and white boxes and bags being carried around Mexico City’s Centro Historico every day but never knew where they came from. There would be a guy in a suit balancing three pizza style boxes on his head. Then a woman lugging a paper wrapped parcel tied up with string like the Christmas presents from my childhood. But what was inside?
Then one day I was walking to the San Jose market, passing these department store size windows and there, walking out the door, were women carrying those blue and white packages. And on those windows were the words Pasteleria Ideal.
El Ideal doesn’t make it into many Mexici Ciry guidebooks. But it should. Because there’s nothing quite like it anywhere in the world. And it sits within a few short blocks of so many sites that do make it into the travel guides including Plaza de la Constitución, Catedral Metropolitana, Palacio Nacional, Palacio de Bellas Artes and the Church of San Francisco, the first Mexican monastery authorized by the Pope, the site of Hernan Cortez’ funeral mass, and on whose original grounds Pasteleria Ideal stands.
Founded in 1927 and initially known by the English words Ideal Bakery, it began by selling English style white bread. It was next known as Pan Ideal and factory style assembly lines pumped out cello wrapped, pre-sliced loaves.
Today it’s Pasteleria Ideal and it makes and sells just about anything sweet and sometimes savory that comes out of an oven.
The smell punches you in the nose from about two blocks away. Faint scents of apple, sugar, cinnamon, berries, nutmeg, chocolate and cloves wafting under the dominant aroma of biscuits.
You open the door and the smells are accompanied by the sights. You wish that gone but not forgotten Gordie had willed you his elbow pads. Bakery bedlam you could call it.
Armed with aluminum tray and tongs, you plan your attack on the tables. Cookies or flans first? Empanadas or donuts second? Who’s got a birthday coming up?
Campechanas. Besos. Roscas de canela. Piedras. Pan Mestizo. Conchas. Galletas. Orejas. Name any Mexican pastry and I can almost guarantee you’ll find it. Plus a whole lot that you probably can’t name.
You fill your tray with more than you’ll ever eat and head for the checkout. Only to discover that, no, you can’t pay for your goodies yet.
First you must get them gift wrapped in blue and white at another counter. Have them sorted and counted and tidily wrapped in a parcel tied with string.
Then you head to one of the cashiers, all in a row behind tellers’ cages. Hand them your slip and your money and think, this is all so circa 1927. But nice.
You head for the door but you don’t leave. You cannot leave yet. For you haven’t fulfilled the biggest reason to come to Pasteleria Ideal. You haven’t ordered your cake. And you have to order your cake. Or, at least, pretend to.
For that you climb the stairs and enter wedding wonderland. Room after room of cake after cake.
More art here than in some Mexican museums. One layer, two layers, five layers, seven layers. One that’s almost ten feet tall. That weighs 110 kilos.
Call it the creme de la creme. Or the chantilly de la chantilly. It’s available with jam for $15950, with fruit for $18150, or with fruit and nuts for $20350.
In another room there are cakes decorated with virtually anything a cake can be decorated with. Cinderella. Shrek. Steve McQueen. Dora The Explorer. Superman. Batman. Spiderman. Wonder Woman. The Seven Dwarfs. Thomas The Tank Engine. And for an old Abbey Road fan like me, The Beatles.
There may be better baked goods in Mexico City but this is the Palace of Pastries.
Pasteleria Ideal has three locations. The one you want to visit is at Avenida 16 de Septiembre, #18, between Eje Central Lazaro Cardenas and Fray Pedro Ghent in Colonia Centro. It’s open from 6:30 am to 9:30 pm, seven days a week.