Wednesday, November 10, 2010

Mexican food

One of the most misunderstood areas of culinary interest is, I think, that of Mexican food.

I freely admit that the first time I was in the Southwest, back in the 1960's, the only Mexican food I had tasted was that from some cheap t.v. dinner.  It bore no resemblance to the tacos I tried at a drive-in restaurant somewhere around St. George, Utah.  But neither, I learned many years later, was truly Mexican food.  Take, for example, what is generally thought of as such in the United States today.  Tacos, enchiladas, flavored rice and refried beans, begun initially with chips-and-salsa and accompanied by a Margarita.

That is what is more well-known in the Southwest as Tex-Mex or border food.  It's good but it's only faintly Mexican food.  I know because back in the middle 1980's I moved to Mexico, anticipating the joys of an early retirement.  We lived, variously, in villages along the north shore of Lake Chapala and in the big city of Guadalajara for nearly five years.

You might be surprised to learn that perhaps my favorite restaurant in the city was Chez Pierre, a French restaurant, where I dined many times on steak poivre (pepper steak).

But that begs the question.  What I learned from my Mexican sojourn was that any cuisine has a wide, very wide, variety in tastes and sensations.  For example, seafood is very popular in Mexico . . from one of SWMBO's favorites, Red Snapper Veracruzana,

to the grilled fish (complete with heads and tails) we used to enjoy at a small place in Guadalajara.  Octopus is popular in Mexico, though I never tried it.  Shrimp, of course, in many preparations.

A favorite country restaurant we used to go to had a huge fire pit with various types of meat on re-bar roasting vertically.  My favorite was roast suckling pig and, darn it, I can't remember the Mexican term for it.  Incidentally goat is very popular in Mexico and this restaurant had a large goat pen adjacent to it!

Another favorite was Queso Fundido con Chorizo - basically a small pot of melted white Mexican cheese with chunks of chorizo sausage, to be spooned out into a quarter of a tortilla and eaten. 

 Incidentally, flour tortillas are more common along the U.S. border and corn tortillas more common in the bulk of Mexico.  Or so I found.

Another favorite we discovered was dark mole from Oaxaca.

This was doled over chicken and it was delicious.  The one we had at a Oaxacan restaurant was actually jet black.  I remember one of our friends who refused to touch it.  Her comment?  "I don't eat black food!"

Quite obviously, as I sit here drooling over my keyboard, I could go on and on.  But I'll stop.  Just remember: Mexican food is a lot more than tacos, enchiladas and chimichangas.  (I've heard that last one was invented in Los Angeles!)


quilteddogs said...

You might enjoy Barrio Cafe in Phoenix if you have never been.

Please recommend a good Mexican place in Prescott. As far as I can tell, a good one is woefully absent.

Catalyst said...

Y'know I've been trying to get there. The last time we were in Phoenix we went by around 2 on a Saturday and found it didn't open until 5, I think.

As for Prescott, Casa Sanchez out on West Gurley is pretty good (recommended by a Hispanic friend) and we like the Casa Bonita chain. But it's still pretty much all border food up here.

Kay said...

i'll have me some fresh guac, fried plantains and some rice and beans (with a little heat) any ol' day... mmmm mmmm.... (pero no carne parla me) :)

Catalyst said...

Ah, we loves them fried plantains!

Margaret Bednar said...

When I was first married, 20+ years ago, we moved to San Antonio, TX. The casual Tex-Mex restaurant near us, named something like Los Palapos, was my husband's favorite. Fish was amazing and on Tuesday evenings the food bar was all you can eat. The place was packed like a can of sardines. A northern girl, I at first preferred Taco Bell. But I learned quickly how much better it was and there are quite a few wonderful places along the River Front. As a side note, I noticed Kay mentioned plantains in the previous post. I had my first dish of them at a Cuban inspired restaurant in Asheville, NC a few weeks ago. Amazing! Your photos are wonderful - even the "black" stuff. I found that to be quite funny.

Catalyst said...

Margaret - SWMBO (She Who Must Be Obeyed) some years ago tried curried plantains to accompany Jerk Chicken. She has since switched to curried bananas, which are somewhat milder. I forget where she got her recipe. And by the way, "my" photos are all lifted from the Internet, not mine at all. Thanks for reading my silliness and enjoying it!

Steve said...

Enjoyed the post, but it made me hungry.

Catalyst said...

Good! :)