What to do with a couple cans of sardines? Do what the people from landlocked Aguascalientes do: make the tastiest empanadas. Over the past dozen years, I have been amazed by so many things, as I’ve ventured into a deep exploration of Mexico’s cuisine to share it with the world – or whoever will listen. Its richness, its diversity, its depth, its accessibility, its generosity… One thing that has also stood out, everywhere, is the resourcefulness of its people.
My grandpa was the first person to introduce me to this 50-year-old fonda. I’m not super keen on waking up at 5:00 in the morning, yet will wake up without a problem just thinking that I’ll soon be wrapping a fresh tortilla around all the different guisados. They open at 5:30AM and that’s when everything is the freshest. This early in the morning you’ll be bound to encounter people who sneak in a quick breakfast before work…
I don’t know if I have shared this with you before, but I am obsessed with eggs. I just love them. In fact, many of my dear childhood memories have eggs in them. Like sitting next to my mom before she left for work, so many mornings, as she ate her usual scrambled eggs with ham, always cooked until tender, along with a piece of black toast with a thin spread of honey.
Now-a-days, pan francés (French toast) is commonly said in Mexico City’s culinary neighborhoods thanks to Chef Eduardo García, one of Mexico’s most creative and admired chefs, highly known for his product-focused philosophy. Lalo (Eduardo’s nickname in Spanish) grew up as a migrant worker in the US, he gained valuable kitchen experience from Chef Eric Ripert in New York.
My first formal job, after switching careers from political analysis to cooking, was as chef and cooking instructor of the Mexican Cultural Institute in Washington DC. This was 2007. A year before, I had created a curriculum that aimed to open, one class at a time, a window into Mexican cuisine, history and culture for anybody living north of the border. What I didn’t know, when I began preparing it, was that classes were to be for a crowd of 100 people…
Large clay casseroles filled with some of the tastiest guisados in Mexico City crowd this tiny taco shop on one of Colonia Condesa’s major avenues, Amsterdam. Small and narrow, with only a refrigerator to grab a cold drink and a small table outside, Tacos HOLA is the most popular taco shop in the area. Since 1968, Tacos HOLA has been making traditional guisados, which are delicious stews that can be made with different types of meat, fresh vegetables, grains or any combination of the three with one or another kind of salsa.
A cuisine as rich and diverse as Mexico’s needs for us to make an effort to preserve what has been passed on. But, you also have to keep an open mind to new ideas that may in turn become classics. In that sense, I find the kitchen to be one of the most humbling places because food is always growing and evolving and taking you along, if you let it. You get to constantly learn, apply what you learn, share it, and then start all over again. Take tamales for example. I have made countless kinds from all regions of Mexico and from different historical times.
In Mexico, there are infinite possibilities between two slices of bread. Mexicans are very creative. We’ve come up with all sorts of combinations. From a simple telera filled with mayo, beans, ham, quesillo and rajas to a more complex torta, which involves grabbing a whole different dish, such as tamales or chilaquiles, and incorporating them into the torta. The torta is part of Mexican culture. It’s difficult for a Mexican to go through a day without saying, thinking about or eating one.
I have been to Oaxaca countless times. Yet, for all the times I can count, none have been enough. Right after I get back home, I am dying to go back. No wonder I had been eager to bring the crew to have them experience all I kept telling them about. And mostly, so they could help me capture it to bring it to you.
During the summer months, which is the rainy season, gigantic blackberries take over the culinary stage in the town of Valle de Bravo, Mexico. They can be the size of a plum, bursting with wine colored juice that is at once sweet and tart and addicting. Literally every morning, women come down from the mountains and valleys to the town’s market with buckets of these fresh picked gems. What to do with them? One of my favorite things is to use them as a topping for cheesecake.