In order to expand my restaurant and mental horizons this time I made my way to Mexico.
It was an entertaining and gastronomic tour through the country’s out-of-the-way places as well as along its magnificent Caribbean coast.
I am going to move step by step. Starting with the flight. I was getting there from Kiev: on my way there I changed planes in Paris and Mexico City, and on the way back – in Mexico City and Amsterdam.
I was flying with “FRANCEAIR” and “KLM”. The companies provide a pleasant service, but that’s not “wow”, of course. It was striking that the flight crew members were mostly communicating with each other, and the passengers were kind of in the background. In my mind, it looks not very professional. As to the minimality of troubles I liked the French more.
It’s unpleasant that there is not much Russian-speaking material in the media storage. English and Spanish dubbing mainly. That’s kind of natural, because it’s a flight from Europe to Mexico, but I can remember my flight from Dubai to Guangzhou, there was a bigger variety in that sense.
A great feature was audio lessons of Spanish. I didn’t waste time, learned some phrases in Spanish.
The catering was not that good. In both companies. They serve food only twice during a 12 hour flight. Some salad and cold appetizers, a main course (some meat with a side dish), a bun, some butter, cheese and desert are served. Alcohol free drinks are unlimited.
Alcohol drinks – only wine. The French served good desserts. But I didn’t even finish the Dutch ones… it all can be subjective though. I have something to compare with: I have travelled with “Lufthansa”, “Fly Emirates”, “Turkish Airlines”, the situation is better with that there. The Arabs even serve unlimited alcohol drinks in economic class and provide food every three hours.
But it’s good that we landed successfully and our fascinating travel through Mexico started!
Mexicans are sincere and funny people. My friend appointed a guide called Johan for me, whom I named Ivan right away. He was my interpreter, cameraman and a restaurant guide.
As to the nation itself, they never hurry. The main words used everyday are: “Maniana” (“tomorrow”) and “Aurita” (“soon”). We noticed it starting from the airport in Mexico, where we spent almost 2 hours in the queue to Immigration.
For that reason, maybe, Mexicans have 10-hour working day and 6-day working week. But the lunch break lasts 2 hours…
That’s not a secret for anybody that Mexican cuisine is especially spicy. Even too spicy sometimes. Even in those dishes where you don’t expect it at all.
It can be explained from the point of view of physics and biology. Historically pepper was added to products to keep them in order in unbearably hot weather, because even in winter the temperature is not less than 25 degrees. This is the way the national cuisine was formed.
Besides the traditional hot pepper they use really devilish Habanero pepper which looks like our cut bell pepper at the first sight. The traditional Chili sauces (“Roja”) and “Salsa Verde” (made of green tomatoes) are served everywhere as a complement. Using avocados is widely spread; they use it to make their national appetizer “Guacamole”.
Meat is widely spread. Chicken meat, beef, pork, but mutton is less common. Seafood is available and it is pleasant that it is cooled, but not frozen.
The seafood market is divided in a very interesting way. There are venues, which make only cold dishes of it, others serve only the hot ones. Mixed-cookery can seldom be observed. That’s only in fashionable restaurants. I have visited them as well.
Beer is drunk by everybody, all the time and everywhere. It is specially light, not more than 4,2% of alcohol. The most widely spread marks are “Corona”, “Victoria”, “Modelo”.
On the base of the dark beer “Modelo” they make the most popular beer cocktail Michelada: beer, tomato juice, shrimps, the edge of the glass is abundantly smeared with Chili and Paprika peppers. The taste is similar to our kvass.
Coffee is terrible everywhere: both in Mexican and Italian cafes… You’d better take some tea.
Historically, Mexicans are not a rich nation, that’s why for cooking they use those things that even we utilize. In this gastro-tour I had a chance to try some soup made of beef stomach, lemonade made of nettle, dried cactuses and even some crisps made of pork skin (“Chicharron”).
Let’s go through it all point by point.
This small ancient town is remarkable by its old culture and traditions. It is located in the very heart of Mexico. This is the place where I felt what the Mexican winter is like: almost 30 degrees and there is no wind at all… I am afraid of going to Mexico in summer.
We got to Guanajuato on the Independence Day and on this occasion there was an improvised carnival. The atmosphere was wonderful and I hoped to see some kind of a culinary festival, but it was not to be.
The interesting thing that I had a chance to taste was some crisps made of fried pork skin called “Chicharron”. I bought it right in the street. It is served in a roll (in Spanish it’s called “Torta”), some crispy crusts are crumbed inside and poured with red tomatoes and Chili pepper salsa.
The taste is a bit dry and hot. But pork fries (as I called it) – is an interesting kind if snack.
Also, on Mount Pipila, where we got with the help of a cable car, I tried some Mexican churros. Unlike accurate Spanish churros that I ate just a month before in Barcelona, the local one was huge in size and had softer pastry.
I didn’t manage to visit any restaurant because of the holiday, but my local friends complimented for the place called “CASA MERZEDES”, where one elderly couple works and cooks some great homemade Mexican dishes… eh, it’s a pity, but it means that I will return there one day!
Leon is a huge industrial city not far from Guanajuato. The population of the city is about 2 million people, besides, there is a big amount of guest foreigners, as some large plants are located in the city and its suburbs:”General Motors”, “Kromberg & Schubert” and so on.
It influences the culinary culture of the city. It is geopolitical and there are many places of the “café italiano” style around: pizza, coffee, panini. We started our first morning in a place like that.
At once I was disappointed with the terrible coffee. Although there was a beautiful and expensive coffee machine “ELEKTRA” that took my fancy at the exhibition in Milan, their coffee products left much to be desired.
I was attracted by a bright dish on the menu called “Croissant with cheese and jamon”. “All right, I’m gonna enjoy it now”, – I thought, but I was served our ordinary croissant with some ham and cheese. Nothing to find fault with – you need to study the language in order to know that Jamon – is ham.…
And then it was interesting! I asked Johan-Ivan to take me to the most entourage taco bar.
Taco is a kind of tortilla (corn flour flat cake) which is folded in half. Some filling and sauces are put inside. The portion is small, you need to take 3 tacos at once in order to eat your fill.
Also they were selling burritos (rolled tortilla), enchiladas (thin tortilla rolls with some filling), quesadillas (a kind of tortilla folded like an envelope), tacos dorados (fried tacos).
The fillings are just right in the place where food is dispensed. There are about 15 kinds: meat, vegetable, cheese. The seller just serves what you want. Some Chili salsa, avocado sauce, pickled Chili peppers, limes as well as onion, wine vinegar and Habanero pepper salad can be served as a complement.
The most popular kind of taco is taco with a beef steak, or rather with pieces of it. This kind of taco is put right on the pedestrian area and is sold to go. People often take Chorizo (spicy pork sausage) filling and chicken fillet.
I had a chance to meet the owner of the place – Jorge and his funny team. We talked nicely and he told that they could cook about 50 taco recipes, I even won a bet and ate some devilish Habanero pepper, for what I received a present – a charro.
Charro – this is what we call sombrero. But really, by sombrero they understand any kind of hat, but charro is a Mexican style wide brim hat.
An establishment called “EL PASAJE” is located in the central walking area. As I found out from the conversation, such a tiny café sells about 800 tacos every day. The average price is 17 pesos (about 1$).
If we add some complementary products (drinks, desserts), quite a round sum of turnover comes out daily.
Well, I am glad for Jorge and his team, as they provide not only food, but some positive emotions too!
My whole party with a substantial dinner cost me only 15$…
“EL PASAJE” and Jorge personally get a “like” from me definitely!
BARBECUE RESTAURANT “EL AMIGO CHON”
Do you know the origin if the word “barbecue”? It turns out that this is an old Mexican way of cooking mutton: long stewing at a comparatively low temperature. In Spanish the correct pronunciation of this word is “Barbасоa”.
In general, mutton is a rare kind of meat in Mexican restaurants and if you want it, you should look for signboards with the word “Barbасоa”.
I came to be in a place like that, besides, I chose not the most remarkable place – right near the road to the airport.
“El Amigo Chon” has its feature – they not only make barbecue, but stew this meat covering it with agave leaves.
There are only mutton dishes on the menu, which are cooked right at the entrance: stewed mutton, consommé with beans, various kinds of enchiladas (rolls) with meat.
Meat is served with tortillas and complementary sauces (Salsa Verde and Chili), coriander and lemons. You can make yourself a taco or eat as with bread.
The taste was wonderful, the mutton was moderately fat, and the consommé was just delightful! A good broth is distinguished by its aftertaste, or we can even say after-sensation. A broth that was well boiled down makes lips sticky. That’s the way it was!
What is bad – that’s coffee again. The worst coffee that I drank during my stay in Mexico. It is more like granny’s chicory.
The stuff doesn’t speak any English at all. I had to use the online translator.
The place turned out to be not expensive at all. A good meal for 2 people cost 18$. The conclusion is the following: “like” for everything, but for the coffee and English they get “minus”.
I would recommend them to make an English menu and a stand with pictures. The more so, that the menu is small. The trick with agave was not clear to me. It’s not disclosed anywhere.
MEAT RESTAURANT “ARRACHERA”
Now I can say with a great deal of confidence where I have tasted the most delicate beef. Exactly at the restaurants of the “arracheria” type (I have visited them twice).
The feature of the concept is that the main exclusive dish is grilled subcostal beef undercut – arrachera. A thin layer of this kind of meat is located under bull’s ribs stretching from the heart to the stomach, it is as thick a forefinger and that’s why it looks like a piece of a newspaper on a grill… the feature of this kind of meat is that there are almost no sinews in it and it is extremely soft, it just melts.
Arracheria is a wide spread concept, the same as barbecue. Besides meat, one more interesting thing is, as a rule, a buffet. That is you pay 250-300 pesos (15-17$) and get unlimited everything: smorgasbord with cold dishes, hot dishes and desserts. Only alcohol is for additional charge.
This is the place where I tried soaked cactuses as an appetizer. They are like apples.
I took some exotic fruit from the buffet. The thing that I had not tried before was a root called “jicama”, it has something in common with a radish and an apple. The taste is pleasant and soft, but it’s not juicy. It is said that a great smoothie can be made of jicama and melon.
Meat is cooked on the open grill inside and this is interesting.
I liked the concept very much and if I want some meat in Spanish speaking counties, I will look for arrachera.
As I have mentioned before, Mexico is rich in seafood. So rich that restaurants are divided into cold and hot.
One afternoon we visited such a cold restaurant (“PANCHOS”). Although it belongs to the premium segment, and oysters are spectacularly prepared right in the restaurant hall, the interior and the furniture leave much to be desired…
We tried tuna carpaccio, oysters with shrimps, camaron-cocktail (it is more like a cold soup with shrimps, but is served in big cocktail glasses) and escalope in some kind of hard core strew, that I could not speak for about 40 minutes… even lemons didn’t help.
A good meal for 4 people cost 100$.
The most pleasant impression was left by a popular fish restaurant “LOS ARCOS”. This is the place where I tried michelada, camaron-cocktail, guacamole (appetizer made of avocado) and some fantastic shrimps tempura with a side dish made of beans and strawberries.
Such unexpected combination was so delicious, that I will undoubtedly introduce such a side dish in my restaurants. Mango sauce was great with shrimps. We had a great meal and were surprised by the high level of service and the knowledge of English.
And accordingly, the check was high too. A dinner for 2 with beer and seafood cost 120$.
“CARRA VERDE” MARKET
I always look for entourage places in every country. The places, where the locals eat and where food is not expensive but tasty.
These kinds of places are usually in the city centres or at the markets. Being inspired by my visit to “La Boqueria” market in Barcelona, I asked my guide to take me far inside the central market and show me some tasty places. And it turned out there are many of them.
The market rows don’t differ from our worst provincial rag markets: the same rows, the same hanging underpants and shirts. But the catering hall, despite its outrageous insanitariness, is quite an entourage place. That’s what I was looking for.
I started with some beef tripe (stomach) soup. Some spicy tomato broth and well boiled tripe go well together, and the soup itself is cooked behind an open counter and gurgles appetizingly in a big pan.
You can eat the soup with some traditional tortilla which is baked when ordered and carefully covered with a towel.
The process of food taking at the market is not only tasty, but also amusing, as it is accompanied by singing of local musicians.
The hostesses of the “soup” spot were very glad that I liked everything and the dinner cost only 80 pesos (5$).
Then I moved to the one of the oldest spots at the market – to aunt Rosita and her special enchiladas. In general, she offers a lot of dishes: I liked big baked Chili peppers in batter and stewed pork.
The feature of the “spot” is tortilla rolls. 3 kinds of them are presented: enchiladas (with chicken fillet inside), enfrijoladas (with beans) and enmoladas (with sour sweet molada sauce made of nuts and Paprika and Chili peppers).
Rosita told that her business is 20 years old, her husband, daughter and son in law work with her, they are starting to involve grandchildren, and they cook all the wonders of Mexican cuisine and put them out in some entourage clay tubs. Rosita’s favourite dishes are stewed pork and beef.
For desert we had…lemonades! I couldn’t pass by the spot of my new Mexican friend Ernesto. For 35 years Ernesto and his family have been making natural lemonades and sell them at the market. On a good hot day they sell more than 500 portions. One portion is 8 pesos (0,5$).
Fruit base of the drink is exposed in transparent plastic vessels, and while serving he pours some sugar syrup to your taste. There are huge pieces of ice in the tanks.
That is why the “base” doesn’t go bad for a long time.
I had a chance to try lemonades made of the analogue of nettle, hibiscus, pineapple, melon, lime, cucumber and even rice…
I didn’t have any heartburn and other negative effects after visiting the “CARRA VERDE” market. Everything went great and I liked it very much! Look for the places like that let them be tasty for you!