The last time I spent a substantive time in Madrid, in 1998 and 1999, the Mexican foods I missed the most were chips and salsa. I couldn’t even find tortilla chips in the grocery store, which boggled my California mind. When my mom came to visit, she smuggled me in a few bags, along with tortillas and canned enchilada sauce. One night we cooked enchiladas for my Madrid host mom, a loving, generous woman named Maria Rosa.
A few weeks ago I went back to Madrid, and I was lucky enough to stay with Maria Rosa for a few nights. I told her about Eat Mexico and showed her my blog. She said: “You’ll cook us a Mexican meal then!” I nodded vigorously. Of course I would.
Crayton looked at me like I was insane, because what woman cooks a huge meal on her vacation? But I couldn’t think of a better gift than cooking for this person who looked after me during a key period in my life.
So one afternoon, I went to the Mexican grocery store in Madrid called La Canasta Mexicana. I spent $25 Euro on masa harina, dried chiles, tortillas, queso fresco, canned black beans, chipotles enlatados, and canned whole cactus paddles. I went to a separate grocery store and bought cilantro, white onion, chicken and oregano. Then I came back to her house and cooked — chicken tinga, refried black beans, chipotle-cascabel salsa, and tlacoyos.
The latter gave me some trouble. I didn’t know how to use masa harina, and I didn’t follow the directions. I tried to remember how the tlacoyo ladies folded them but I couldn’t get it quite right. The dough was too thin in some parts, and beans spilled out. “The tlacoyos might be a toss up,” I told Crayton. (Which in itself was very Maria Rosa — she always used to worry that her dishes lacked salt or seasoning, when in all actuality they were fabulous.)
When it was time to eat, at the madrileño hour of 11 p.m., I plated the tlacoyos with their diced nopal, cilantro, onion and crumbled queso fresco. I heated the tortillas and wrapped them in a dish towel. Put the salsa in a little bowl, and the extra refried beans in another bowl. Maria Rosa uncorked a bottle of cava and I introduced each dish. Everyone was wide-eyed. Tla-whats? Tinga?
In the end I shouldn’t have sweated the taste, because I was surrounded by people I loved and it showed in every bite.
Do you ever have one of those meals where you feel like your heart is going to burst when you sit down? That was me. I wish I would have taken more pictures, because I don’t want to forget that meal.
Who is Mija?
Mija is Lesley Téllez, a food writer and culinary guide in New York City. I spent four years in Mexico's Distrito Federal, which launched my deep love for Mexican food and culture. In 2010 I co-founded the tourism company Eat Mexico.
Be kind, ask permission!All photos on this site were taken by me, unless otherwise noted. If you'd like to use a photo, please email me.
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