UPDATE: See the reader comments below. It appears this restaurant has closed. A few weeks ago, my friend David mentioned a new Haitian restaurant he’d heard about in Santa Maria la Ribera. I think I’d had a little too much wine, so I crowed, “Oh my god, Haitian food! We have to go! Haitian food!” Not that I even knew what Haitian food was. One thing about Mexico City is, we do not get a lot of ethnic foods. There’s a growing Korean neighborhood in the Zona Rosa with fantastic cuisine; other than that, it’s Mexican and some mediocre attempts at Thai and Indian. I wanted to try Haitian food out of pure curiosity, so David, Jesus and I stopped by the fonda last week. Jesus originally found the place and wrote about it on his blog. It turns out Haitians eat a lot of fried things. Every plate on the menu had some sort of fried meat, fried fish or fried plantain. The food was fine. My favorites were the flaky fried fish, and the spicy coleslaw that accompanied everything. (I later found out the coleslaw contained either habanero or manzano chile.) The service, however, was outstanding. Our waitress Alejandra had a lovely smile, and she asked where we were from and what our names were. She told us she’d been in Mexico for almost 3 years, and that she was a doctoral student at the UNAM. She spoke lilting, French-tinged Spanish. The food wasn’t so spectacular that I’d recommend making a special trip here, based on eating fried Haitian delicacies. But if you’re curious about Haitian food, and you want to support a family that’s getting its first foothold in Mexico City, this place is worth seeking out. The vibe here is comfortable and friendly. Le Bon Gout, a Haitian fonda Manuel Carpio 99 #1C, near the corner of Dr. Atl Note: The entrance is on Dr. Atl. From the corner of Dr. Atl and Manuel Carpio, walk toward the Oaxacan cafe (away from the park). The fonda is just past the Oaxacan café.
Last week over lunch at El Cardenal, one of the restaurant’s owners, Marcela Briz, stopped by our table. Dining with me were some fancy guests -- Penny, two chefs from the States and Ruth Alegria. So Señora Briz graciously gave us each a little present: a lotería game she researched and designed based on traditional Mexican foods. I’ve seen riffs on the traditional lotería game before, but never anything that focused specifically on food. This game is actually quite educational. Each card contains a detailed description in Spanish of a variety of Mexican foods and cooking utensils. There's a metate, comal, molcajete, cazuela, plus prehispanic foods like chinicuiles (maguey worms), amaranto and flores de maguey. And dozens more. If you're not familiar with how to play lotería (I actually don't have much experience), Wikipedia says it's like bingo except with pictures. Sounds easy enough. I wonder if you can play with mezcal? As of now, the game is only available in Mexico City. You can find it the El Cardenal location inside the Hilton Hotel on Avenida Juárez, and at the Museo de Arte Popular. It costs 35 pesos, which seems like a steal for the amount of work that went into this. If you're a fan of Mexican cuisine and you're passing through the city sometime soon, you should pick one up.
It seems like everything I’ve dreamed of doing in Mexico, Diana Kennedy has already done -- which makes sense, considering she arrived here in 1957. Kennedy has worked in a Mexican panadería. She has toured the country befriending fabulous cocineras, and coaxed out the secrets of their prized recipes. She's passionate about preserving traditional Mexican cuisine just as it is. And she hasn’t wavered in that mission, even into her 80’s. Last Friday she gave a book presentation at UNAM’s Jardín Botánico, hosted by the university’s Instituto de Biología. The event honored her new cookbook, Oaxaca al Gusto, and Kennedy was scheduled to give some remarks and sign copies. Afterward the crowd could partake in a Mexican food degustación. The event was open to the public, but the simple flyer belied how star-studded the afternoon actually was. Preparing the tasting were some of the best-known women in Mexico City cooking: Carmen "Titita" Ramirez of El Bajío; Gabriela Cámara of Contramar, and Marcela Briz of El Cardenal. Kennedy herself had brought beans she’d prepared at home in Zitácuaro. ...
Taco Tour, when I saw a chalkboard menu propped up on the sidewalk. Colorful tables and umbrellas had been spread out in a neat row, and baskets of paper flowers dangled underneath the awning. The cheeriness of it all made me stop. And so did the menu. This place offered “tacos guerrerenses.” What were those? As soon as I sat down, the waiter dropped off a little bowl of toasted pumpkin seeds. They didn’t taste like any pumpkin seeds I’d had before. Sheathed in their papery armor, they were crunchy and warm and tasted like the sun. Then came a little bowl of beans, another botanita provided by the house. And then, on the waiter's recommendation, I ordered a mole verde taco. Like the pumpkin seeds, this mole was unique -- herbal, assertive, not subtle as green moles normally are. (Marilau would call these pipianes.) The waiter explained that the mole contained a mix of hoja santa, avocado leaf, pumpkin seeds and something called hoja de mole. Most of the ingredients were brought directly from Tixtla, a small town in Guerrero state. Then this man, whom I'd later find out was Alfredo, one of the owners, volunteered another nugget: his mother cooked all of the food. At that moment, I felt really, really lucky to be living in Mexico. I ended up adding Con Sabor a Tixtla to my Taco Tour, and I’ve since gone back several times. It's right around the corner from my cooking school and Mercado Medellín, so when I'm in the neighborhood, I like to stop and say hi to Alfredo, who runs the place with his brother Juan Patricio. Once I even saw Yuri and Edmundo there -- they're big fans of the place, too. The food, prepared by Alfredo and Juan Patricio's mother Enedina Bello, consistently tastes like it’s been cooked with love and care. The menu focuses on typical items from Tixtla, so they're items you rarely see anywhere else. Besides the herbal mole, there’s fiambre, a mix of marinated meats and crunchy bits of chorizo served with white bread; Tixtla-style tostadas with sweet-and-sour dressing, and pollo enchipotlado, or chicken stewed with tomatoes, raisins and chipotle peppers. And the salsas -- the salsas! The ensaladita de rábano, made from hoja santa stems, lime, onion and radish, waps you over the head with its simplicity. A smoky, creamy salsa de jalapeño con aceite tastes like it contains avocado, but it’s actually just jalapeños fried with onion and garlic, and blended with olive oil. I wanted to gulp it down like milk in a cereal bowl. Con Sabor a Tixtla recently added a list of platos fuertes to the menu, and they do a special pozole guerrerense once a week. But if you go, you must get the fiambre. The meat is falling-apart tender, and seasoned simply but dazzlingly -- the kind of seasoning I wish I could emulate as a home cook. It's served on a bed of lettuce that's dressed the same salsa agridulce that comes with the tostadas. The dressing tastes like something you'd get at an Asian restaurant, which makes sense, considering Acapulco (Guerrero state's biggest city) was Mexico's major port to Asia and the Philippines for 250 years. On my last visit to Con Sabor a Tixtla, my friend Martin and I found ourselves sopping up the fiambre sauce with hunks of bread, even though we were stuffed. Here's the plate before we tore into it. Here are a few more photos of the place. If you're in the mood for a visit, it's located at Manzanillo 45b, in between Coahuila and Campeche. They don't have a website, but they do have a Facebook page. UPDATE: Con Sabor a Tixtla has moved! You can find them now at Chiapas 173, near the corner of Medellín. They're right next door to the pastes shop. The fonda also now has a website. ...I stumbled on Con Sabor a Tixtla by chance. I’d been wandering around the Roma neighborhood, looking for a few new places to add to Eat Mexico’s
hosted my first tamalada in December 2009, I still felt like I had no idea what I was doing. What if I added too much masa? Too little? What if my tamales broke open and fell apart in the steamer? What if my masa turned out too dry? God forbid, what if I spent an entire afternoon making them and they weren’t any good? A few weeks ago, I had a tamale breakthrough. It was during the Día de la Candelaria cooking course. Everyone was working quietly, divided into teams of two and three. I was scooping corn into probably my 20th tamal de elote when I realized... it didn't really matter how much masa goes into the husk. Well, okay, it did -- I couldn't put so much that the masa oozed out. Outside of that, though, the tamal was going to steam no matter what. It would turn out fine. This was a true epiphany for me: The tamal would behave responsibly. I just had to release control, and let it. In that vein, here are a few tips on making homemade tamales, in case you're still battling with the tamal like I was. ...I’m going to be honest with you: the idea of making tamales from scratch used to scare the heck out of me. Even after I
I wasn’t an immediate whiz on the Nixtamatic. The instruction manual for my new corn grinder was woefully lean. It basically said, “Turn it on and enjoy!” so I waited until Lola came over to clean, thinking she might have intrinsic knowledge of how the thing worked because she was Mexican. (This seems like a ridiculous notion now, because very few Mexicans in this city grind their own corn. But I was flailing.) Lola looked at the two-page manual, and I did too, over her shoulder. She looked over the parts and I did, too. “I guess we should add some corn?” I said. I had a bag of frozen nixtamalized corn, which I'd defrosted to use a test batch. We loaded it into the Nixtamatic’s collector tube and pressed the “on” button. The plates squeaked and wobbled and corn went flying everywhere, ricocheting off the cabinets and onto the floor Lola had just cleaned. We both squealed and turned the thing off. “Maybe that’s just what happens the first time you use it?” Lola suggested. I agreed, so we loaded more corn in the collector tube. The same thing happened again. ...
Mexico City newsstands lie just about on every block, and they're kind of funny places. Most of the magazines are wrapped in plastic, so you really can't stand and read as much as stand and stare at the titles. The newspapers are often clothes-pinned to a rack so you can only see the front page. Despite that, it's super common for people here to just walk up to a newsstand and stare at what's available. The vendor never rushes anybody, and he doesn't say "Can I help you?" because it's assumed that you're going to stand there and peruse the titles awhile. Usually I don't like to while away my time at the newsstand. But today while walking home from yoga class, I felt so tranquila that I stopped at a newsstand and stared awhile. I bought an issue of Arqueología Mexicana devoted to sexuality in Mesoamerica. ("Have you read this?" I asked the vendor. "Of course!" he said. "What kind of vendor would I be if I didn't read what I'm selling?") And then I asked him if he could take a few recipe magazines out of their plastic. They were the kind of cooking magazines I never buy -- the off-size, glossy kind that look like they came with coupons in the mail. In fact, they're part of an El Universal promotion called "Cocina Estado Por Estado," aimed at highlighting different regional Mexican cuisines. A new recipe book devoted to a different Mexican state is released each Monday. There's 11 so far, and there'll be 21 in all, the vendor said. I picked up the Oaxaca and Distrito Federal mags and both seemed really neat. The Oaxaca one came with recipes for tejate (corn and cacao drink), nicuatole de maiz (a drink, not the dessert), and horchata de melon, plus recipes for mole rojo and tamales oaxaqueños. The Distrito Federal version includes recipes for pambazos, chorizo verde, tacos al pastor, limones rellenos and pan de pulque. I might try out a recipe on Saturday -- the horchata de melon sounds especially good -- and I'll report back whether it actually works. Either way, these would at least be good references for my growing Mexican-food cookbook collection. By the way -- the Mesoamerican sexuality magazine is going to be my airplane reading. I'm leaving for a trip to the States next Sunday.
Wow. I am so amazed by all the comments over the past three days. Y'all shared some fantastic memories, and I felt honored to read each of them. I wish I could give everyone just a little something (and maybe I will get to do that someday, when I'm rich and famous), but alas, the package goes to one winner. And he/she is.... Melodie! The commenter who ate turkey tamales wrapped in foil as a child, even though neither of her parents were Mexican. Melodie, you'll receive the sweets package from La Nicolasa. I'll email you directly using the email address you provided in the comments. Thanks again to everyone for playing.
Every year in late summer and early fall, the chile en nogada makes its brief run through Mexico. The star ingredients, walnuts and pomegranate seeds, are not available any other time of the year. So it's a festive time. Restaurant storefronts become festooned with "We have chiles en nogada!" banners. Pomegranates glitter at the tianguis. Mexican Independence Day is right around the corner (on Sept. 16), and the dish is pretty much the culinary centerpiece of the celebration. To me, the most interesting thing about chiles en nogada is that it's a living piece of Mexican history. Puebla nuns invented the dish in 1821, to honor a visit by Mexican General Augustín de Iturbide. The dish featured the colors of the Mexican flag: a poblano chile stuffed with dried fruits and nuts, covered in creamy walnut sauce (white) and sprinkled with pomegranate seeds and parsley (red and green). The Mexican flag was unveiled around the same period, so you can imagine the patriotic fervor. Today, the chile en nogada sounds awfully baroque. Fruity meat? Pomegranate seeds? Who would eat that? At the time, however, nogada sauce was popular. And so was the idea of combining dozens of ingredients to create a complicated, tedious dish. (The Pueblan nuns also invented mole.) Chiles en nogada is not an easy dish, and it's not meant to be. That's part of the tradition. Walnuts must be peeled. Spices assembled. Raw and dried fruit, chopped. Even after assembling your chile, you must dunk it in egg batter and fry it. In the olden days, the nuns didn't have blenders, so they ground the walnut sauce on the metate. As someone who has done her fair share of metate-grinding, I can tell you that it had to take entire days of grinding to get the texture they wanted. Let me repeat that: days of grinding. ...
It's tough to find a beer in Mexico City that isn't produced by one of the country's two giant beer companies. With few exceptions, restaurants and bars serve the same four or five beers -- the only question is whether an establishment will carry FEMSA brands (Sol, Indio, Bohemia) or Modelo (Victoria, Pacifico, Negra Modelo). That's changing lately. A Mexican craft beer trend is sweeping the city, with independent, non-monopoly produced brews suddenly popping up in bars and restaurants. Many of these beers are made in Guadalajara, but some are produced in Mexico City. While craft brews have been popular in the United States for a while, this is staggering news for Mexicans and expats. More brews mean we have a choice now. A choice! Probably the best new craft-beer bar is El Depósito, which opened a few months ago in Condesa. They stock around 140 beers from around the world, including Shiner Bock. I think my heart stopped beating when I saw Shiner's distinctive yellow bottle -- Shiner was the nectar of my 20's, along with Silk Panties shots at Cosmos in Dallas. El Depósito also sells Belgian lambics, smoked German Rauchbier and other bottles that are hard to find in Mexico. And they carry eight artisanal Mexican brews, including Cucapá, Poe, Malverde and Minerva. Crayton and I snagged the last table a few Fridays ago, around 8 p.m. It's an open, airy place, with shelves of beer and fridges on one side, and a bar on the other. Music videos played on mute on flat screens. Guns'n'Roses "Don't Cry" swept out of the speakers, launching us into a discussion about the great power ballads. At the register, I ordered a Cucapá Clasica for me and a Poe for Crayton, both of which are Mexican brews. We munched on popcorn and people-watched. (If you're hungry, El Depósito also sells burritos.) The super-hip waitress reminded me of the chola girls who used to intimidate me in junior high -- feathered bangs, straight hair, big hoop earrings, heavy black eyeliner. Funny how things change because now I liked her look. Everyone else was in jeans and T-shirts. We each had two beers and then had to move on to meet a friend for dinner. But I'd definitely go back. It's a casual place without any of the pretentiousness that sometimes comes with Condesa. Plus it's great to see a place that supports the independent beer scene in Mexico. If you're in favor of opening up the Mexican beer market to something other than Victoria or Indio, you must pay them a visit. You can even pick up a six pack to go -- the price is slightly cheaper than drinking it there. INFO El Depósito Baja California 375, near Benjamin Franklin Phone: 5271-0716 Check them out on Facebook.