I go to El Globo to buy a croissant for breakfast at 11 pesos, almost a dollar. (They’re on sale now for 9 pesos, as El Globo is celebrating 130 years.) This is a treat, and not a daily habit, but something has to make me spring out of bed in the morning. The pastry shop is high-end, a chain that has shops here in Queretaro, Mexico City, and other cities, with an array of cakes and rolls and cookies and breads that are enough to put pounds on just looking at them.

El Globo: A Mexican institution of sweetness for 130 years.

El Globo: A Mexican institution of sweetness for 130 years.

It’s a love-hate relationship I have with all that goodness, but in the end, I have to love it. Over the months I’ve lived here, I’ve tried the low-fat croissant (now there’s a concept–It doesn’t taste low-fat), the wheat croissant, the gooey, nut covered horn, and the absolutely delicious muffins.

And the bread, the country loaf that is dense and chewy, the French bread with sesame seeds (a favorite that does not make it home without a gouge at the end), the olive and cheese bread with a zing to it, the multi-grain that makes me think I am doing myself a favor. I do myself a favor if I don’t go to El Globo–or any of the bread and pastry shops that are on every other street. (The little shop down the street from El Globo is half the price, but at Globo, I can drink coffee in the corner and look out at Constitution Plaza.)  Mention must be made of La Dolche Vita at Cinco de Mayo and Najera in Queretaro, a shop that needs no explanation–and no sign on the front. At 4 o’clock in the afternoon, it opens, and before they can unload the racks, people are lined up at the counter for the cheese cupcakes, tiny crescents with coconut and nuts, and about another dozen or so sweet loaves and breads that are killer. I just left there with two croissants, a coco roll and the cupcake for 22  pesos (about $1.50).

At La Ideal in Mexico City,   the staff are smiling, and running, with trays of goodies to supply a bustling crowd.

At La Ideal in Mexico City, the staff are smiling, and running, with trays of goodies to supply a bustling crowd.

El Globo and La Dolche Vita  reflect the sweet tranquility of Queretaro. To see the real crazy passion for cakes and such,  I took a stroll through the Centro Historico in Mexico City and stopped in at La Ideal, a presence since the 1920’s with three locations in the city. It is a bakery experience like none other. One observer compared the lines going in and out to ants carrying goodies. On the sidewalks all around La Ideal, Mexicans carefully tote their boxes wrapped in the disitinctive Ideal paper and string. But inside the shop, the perfume of sugar, the smiles and bustle over baked goods and the obvious delight of the staff that serves their public are not to be missed in a visit to La Ciudad. I had to try a croissant, breakfast or not. Yum. And then I had to get out of there. Quick.

Mexico has a sweet tooth, and viva la fiesta. At the office, when someone has a birthday (including me), the staff sings “Las Mananitas” and brings out a huge cake (from El Globo). Mine, which was months ago, is unforgettable, a white cake with strawberries and fancy cream frosting, topped with curlicues of white chocolate shavings, not overly sweet, a treat that stayed with me all day–and forever. The famous Mexican Tres Leches is exactly that, a memorable layer cake with three kinds of milk poured into the baked layers, and then topped with nuts and creamy frosting for the chocolate variety and peaches for the vanilla.  It is a favorite that has made it across the border safe and sound, with much appreciation en el norte.

A fancy Tres Leches: Here, the best of both worlds, chocolate and vanilla

A fancy Tres Leches: Here, the best of both worlds, chocolate and vanilla

For most of my life, I’ve been brainwashed that sweets are bad, but by now, my brain is washed of that notion. Too much of anything is bad. I usually look but don’t touch all that cake, but I do eat some of it, sparingly. At lunch yesterday, after a chef salad and my disappointment over Argentina’s loss in the World Cup, I studied the tray the waiter brought to the table next to me: a brownie (in any language), tiramisu, flan, coconut cake, a spongy two-toned chocolate, cheesecake, and several other things, including tres leches. The cheesecake was very good at stamping out the bitterness of defeat. And it was Sunday, after all. Once a month, maybe twice, I go to the Gramlich coffee shop to get a cappuccino and a piece of cheesecake with raspberries on top. It is a wicked thing. I can hear my mother: “A minute on the lip and a year on the hip.” So, I run home. Not.

To go with all that cake, Mexicans don’t hold back on the sweet drinks. They are number one in the world in the consumption of sugary drinks (sodas, fruit juice, energy drinks), according to a new study by Yale University’s Rudd Center for Food Policy and Obesity. Mexicans consume a staggering per capita 43 gallons a year. This study, and others, have been published in tune with the Mexican government’s new tax on soft drinks. The tax only amounts to a few pesos, but that is a lot when you are counting pesos. My student, Jose Angel, lamented that the children are getting fat. But, he said, “They will buy the drinks anyway.” A United Nations report says the number one reason for obesity in Mexico is its overwhelming consumption of these drinks.

Well, cakes be spared. And rolls with sugar all over them. In the evening, many children eat a soft roll, often toasted on the stovetop, with sugar on it–you can purchase rolls like this in the bakeries, too. (They don’t keep….I’ve tried them, and I feel like I’m eating a dinner roll with sugar on it.) You can’t get away from it here, sugar on everything. It’s a sweet place, Mexico! So we will stop and smell the sweets, and then eat them, but, like my dad used to say, in moderation. Somewhere in the middle (with a donut in your hand) stands virtue.

The views expressed here are mine and do not necessarily reflect those of the Peace Corps–Nancy Nau Sullivan, University English Specialist, Mexico.