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…
Oaxaca is one of Mexico’s most interesting states, rich with culture, ingredients and tradition, and is home to a small and simple eatery that a big part of the country’s foodies talk about. Itanoní is basically made up of plastic chairs, tables, colorful decorations hanging from the ceiling, clay comales and señoras who have a lot of experience cooking on them.
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.
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.
My favorite mango, by far, is the one called Ataulfo in Mexico. It also goes by the name of champagne or honey mango in other countries. When ripe, its meat is intensely golden yellow with a nice thick bite. It is juicy and has a lightly tart, yet intense, sweetness that is hard not to love. Different from other mangoes, it is not fibrous at all.
Over 140 years ago, the Guizar family opened a small candy shop in the heart of Mexico City’s historic downtown. Dulcería de Celaya was located on Plateros Street, which is now Madero, a rarity in Mexico’s downtown core because it is only open to pedestrians. Today, the dulcería is located on Cinco de Mayo Street. This dulcería is like a hidden jewelry store that sells some of the tastiest and most delicate candy in the city.
Ok, yes, hot dogs are originally yours, America. But we Mexicans have found a way to make them our very own, too. We love hot dogs so much that they have also become part of our street food. This isn’t something new. Not even from a decade ago. Hot dogs have existed in Mexico for at least a century. So right next to a taco stand, you are likely to run into a hot dog stand.
More like a pound cake, pan de arena’s texture is really perfect. When you slice it, it feels like it came from a professional bakery. With just the right amount of moist and just the right amount of crumbly. It may be that because the texture is so evenly moist and crumbly throughout, it got named after sand. Its taste is also so well balanced. Just enough sweetness and a buttery taste that gets nuanced, but not over powered, by lime zest and lime juice. Yet it doesn’t taste citrusy at all.
Seven years ago, bread maker Hugo González opened up what is known to be one of the best bakeries in Mexico. As you walk along Chihuahua Street in Colonia Roma, a vibrant and historic neighborhood, the strong aroma of freshly baked bread will lure you over. Hugo studied culinary arts at Universidad del Claustro de Sor Juana, a highly esteemed culinary school in the south of Mexico City and completed his thesis on bread fermentation…