Mexican Snack Foods – My latest for Saveur Magazine is out now! (The Mexico Issue: August 2012. Issue #149)

Saveur’s “The Mexico Issue” is here and guess who has a featured story on it? Yup, I’m sharing them glossy ‘ol food pages with Gustavo Arellano, Rick Bayless, Patricia Quintana, Diana Kennedy, etc.

This time, I write about Mexican snack food culture and how each and every candy, chip and caramel “is rooted in the spicy, sour, salty, and sweet flavors of the country’s cuisine.” Whether it’s in interbred history of those crunchy Cacahuates Japoneses or the ultra-tary flavor of a Limon 7 powder candy packet — they’re all here. Obleas, Cocadas, tamarind-paste-baed Pulparindos, all that glorious stuff.

So, go to your local newsstand now, whatever that means. Or just click on this link and read the whole thing online. But no matter what, make sure you have a corner liquor store or Mexican grocery market nearby!

Thanks to my girlfriend that was born and raised in Puerto Vallarta, Mexico (who also has an awesome foodblog linking food with ethnography) for being my insider source.

*Header photo by Todd Coleman of Saveur

Pambazos in Mexico City: The Street Food Sandwich To Rule Them All

As soon as I got to Mexico City, I stopped at my friend Edwin’s house. His name on facebook is Edwin “Beerman” so you can only imagine what was to follow shortly thereafter for the rest of the evening.

leon shot
Leon: Mexico’s “Munich Style” Dark Beer

Several innumerable oversized caguamas later, the Mexican beer munchies came a knockin’. Luckily, Doña Loreto, colonia Ahuizotla’s resident nocturnal Pambazonera was located down his street.

doña

She doesn’t even start setting up until 9 PM but there were already people lining up waiting for her shimmering flat top to heat up.

the pambazo scene

She specializes in quesadillas and pambazos, sencillas (as is) or tricked out with a fat scoop of her homemade guisados.

pambazo opened

I opted to order mine with slivered sautéed champiñones (mushrooms) in addition to the traditional stuffing of Mexican chorizo spiked, fried mashed potatoes. I was lightly drooling as I patiently waited for the red-chile-sauce drenched telera roll’s edges to crisp up.

Fortunately, I was beer goggling it sick and didn’t think twice about the amount of creamy, unrefined lard she must have spooned over it, on both sides of the halved pieces of bread of course.

Around maybe seven eternal minutes later, the fried sandwich was finally ready. A pambazo is a unique individual in the pantheon of Mexican street food. Some people describe it, as a “Mexican French Dip” but that isn’t quite politically correct for this day and age, it certainly deserves much more respect than that. A pambazo is a proud sandwich transsexual who wished it were born an enchilada and damned it will be if it lets gastronomy norms get in the way of that.

Who’s to say it has to be tortilla and not a piece of bread that has to be drenched in red chile and griddled in order for it to be stuffed with cheese or potatoes? Hell, let it do whatever it wants. If it wants to have multiple toppings, so be it! Salty, crumbly cotija cheese, thinly shredded crisp iceberg lettuce and thick Mexican crema? Si se puede! Especially, if it’s still soft and moist on the inside while the edges are golden brown and crisp.

pambazo full body
Equality for all!

*Pambazos can be found pretty much everywhere tacos roam in Mexico City

Pulqueria “Las Duelistas”: Drinking it Old School in Mexico City

As soon as you step foot in any part of Mexico you will quickly realize that Mexicans love beer. A cold, frosty chela will be readily available at an airport sandwich shop before you hop on your flight as well as be given to you free of charge aboard a Mexican airline if you ask nicely enough. Furthermore, what we call a “40” oz, they call a “Caguama” and it actually has 22% (1.2 Liters of beer to be exact) more beer than any 40 oz in the U.S. But before there was beer, their was pulque, the ultra-viscous libation of my pre-hispanic ancestors made from the fermented sap of the Maguey plant (Century Plant).

As a coming-of-aging Mexican-American pocho on the quest to find his opposing dual self-identity, I have sought to imbibe this elusive drink voraciously. Perhaps because it is portrayed as the official drink of thick-moustache’d Mexican revolutionaries, the heroes of the modern day literate chicano. Or maybe because it conforms to my punk-rock way of living… an alternative option that a dedicated few choose to produce and drink? Sounds like the perfect alcohol correquesite for a latino that is into punk-rock to me! Whatever it is, I am fascinated with this drink and I treat it as French Romantics treated absinthe, drinking it for deep self-reflection but ultimately, as an homage to my pre-conquista roots.

Every time I am in the motherland of my parents, I make it a point to hunt and drink pulque at least once during my short visits. Last year, I was lucky enough to actually witness how it is produced while I stayed at my tio Aurelio’s rancho in Nopala, Hidalgo. I think it was a turning point in my adult life.

First, the maguey plants needs to be “castrated” before any pulque can be acquired, that is, the tall tree-like stalk that grows from the middle of the plant is chopped and pulled off. Where the stalk was, there is now the chamber where the illustrious “Aguamiel” sap water collects. According to my uncle’s friend who drinks pulque daily, the plant produces sap three times a day, perfect for the human dietary meal plan of three meals a day. Coincidence? I think not!

Fresh from the plant, the aguamiel it is not yet alcoholic, at this point it is considered medicinal and tastes similar to drinking fresh unsweetened aloe-vera juice. As bacteria are introduced to it, the fermentation begins. After a few hours it is finally pulque. Fresh, raw pulque is like yogurt and has probiotics actually!

The Modern Pulquero
The pulquero tools
La Aguamiel
Aguamiel chamber
La Resadura Del Maguey
Maguey shavings

Anyways, the pulquero uses what I can only explain as a big-ass pipette that he sticks under his armpit to squeeze and suck up the sap and then empty out in an old plastic bottle. The pulquero must be cautious and wear this leather forearm protector, as the maguey surface around the chamber is highly irritant to the skin. Like anything else a man treasures, he must groom and maintain the maguey. In this case, he uses a sharp wedge to shave the dried surface around the spherical sap chamber. But like everything else in this world, the Maguey does not live forever. After the plant is actually old enough to produce pulque (at about 8-9 years of age), the Maguey slowly dies after each offering of its elixir, lasting only about 1-2 years shortly thereafter. It is pretty sad too, the plant slowly droops and weathers, until its completely brown and decomposed.

Ok, ok enough with my chicano-pulque 101-Dissertation stuff, back to Los Duelistas!

pulqueria duelistas
Pulqueria Los Duelistas: Signage

So, somewhere along my three-year strong twitter neuroticism, I stumbled into the account for @LaPulqueria “Los Duelistas”. They post their flavors daily, one day it would be “Martes de Maracuya” (Passionfruit Tuesday) another day it would be Jueves de Tuna Roja (Cactus Fruit Thursday) and so on and so on. Day after day, I would be tempted by their pulques, only to realize I was thousands of miles away in LA. Well, not today!

The pulqueria is located just down the street from the “San Juan de Letran” metro stop on the green line. The Aztec-graffiti layered façade shows you the new school qualities of the place, while the Mexican saloon-style swinging doors demonstrate traditional Pulquete architecture.

pulqueria ambiance
Hey! Mexico has hipsters too!

At about five pm, the place was hella-cracking with local Mexican hipsters and rasta (dreadlocks) touting brown bohemians alike. Pulque attracts the roots-revering, conscious youth of Mexico. Nobody in the room was above 30 years old. Well, except for the seasoned old servers who hustled the drinks. But even then, the old man pictured on the facebook page sported his stud belt proudly as he reached over to take peoples orders promptly. Only two flavors (out of five) were left: a fluorescent green apio(celery) and a creamy avena (oatmeal). Late 90’s U.S alternative rock favorites were being bumped loudly. A pitcher of each please!

These flavored pulques are known as “curados” (cured) pulques. And they are made by blending the unsweetened sour-as-hell natural stuff with other pureed flavorings and then letting it rest for a couple of hours for the flavors to marry. The first pitcher to arrive was the avena flavored one. After pouring it out into the plastic cups used to drink it, I now knew why Anthony Bourdain best described it as “Ryan Seacrest’s love juice”.

oatmeal pulque
Cinnamon-sprinkled oat flavored pulque at Las Duelistas
pulque viscosity porn
Pulque viscosity porn

The cloudy liquid was as thick as the sickest loogie you ever coughed up in your life but yet tasted so heavenly. It was sprinkled with cinnamon and tasted like a sweet kefir-kombucha-yogurt-adult milkshake-super-drink hybrid. It is served at room temperature so its flavor and signature viscosity is wholly unabashed and thoroughly enjoyed. The celery cured one was a lot lighter and less sweet, I actually preferred it to the oat version for that reason.

I quickly guzzled mine and ended up drinking my friends leftovers of their’s too. Not to mention still ordered an uncured and unsweetened aka. ultra-sour “blanco” pulque to taste. They wanted to progress to the next bar already and drink beer already but I could care less. I ended up going with them and drinking three “Leon” caguamas through the evening. But even the dark, Mexico-only “Munich” style beer was no match for my pulque-lined stomach anymore…

otro pulkito?

Pulqueria Los Duelistas
Aranda 28, Col
Centro (entre Ayuntamiento y Puente Peredo)
Ciudad de México, Mexico
Tel: 5513940958
Twitter: @LaPulqueria

Huaracheria “El Huarache Veloz” (Mercado Ahuitzotla, Mexico City)

We touched ground at a little past midnight on Monday night. My dad had proposed sleeping at the airport until sunrise to go to Don Aurelio’s. “Ya va estar dormido” he contested, he didn’t want to be rude. Surprisingly, I convinced him to at least buy a phone card and try calling the guy to see if he was still awake. He was, we took a taxi, arrived and slept in beds actually. It was nice.

The next morning I woke up feeling weak and famished. My dinner the night before was a pack of roasted seaweed I packed as a snack, a complimentary shot of Cuervo aboard the airplane, and a banana with a ripe Mexican guava at Aurelio’s pad. But before I was to go hunt for streetfood. I had to go say wassup to Edwin “Beerman”, a friend I had made in the previous years of coming here. His mom has an estetica (hair salon) and I went in for a haircut three years ago…I’ve been friend’s with his family ever since.

Fortunately, Edwin and his mom hadn’t eaten lunch yet so she closed shop and invited me out for some huaraches. We walked down to el Mercado where these type of tasty eats–along with many other delicious others–gathered usually.

menuage
El Huarache Veloz Menu

Located on the corner space of the Mercado was an exclusive, little Huaracheria where the locals came to eat. They only sold huaraches, with whatever fresh topping ingredients they could get their hands on for that day. Today, they had salchicha (cut up grilled-wieners), bisteck (beef sirloin), Quesillo (Oaxacan unpasteurized string cheese), ham and fried scrambled egg. Along with the minimalist Sencilla, that is, only topped with only crumbly, salty wet cotija cheese and salsa of your liking, that is it.

The huaraches came about five minutes after ordering. I settled for the egg one since I never had seen that topping on a huarache before. Beerman went for the salchicha and sencilla.

huaraches

Huaraches can be found just about anywhere in this city. It is probably the most typical Antojito and makes a satisfying, quick wholesome lunch or dinner. Though, these huaraches were not the oversize, sloppy East LA ones I had been raised with. These were delicate thinner corn cakes, about 1/3 the size at least, golden-brown and crispy all around not just around the edges. They were stuffed with a scant layer of black bean puree, showered with a moderate portion of a salty, moist cotija cheese and then splashed with controlled amounts of tart-tomattilo green salsa and a Morita chile red salsa. Finally, it was crowned with a fluffy two-egg scramble.

huevo huarache
Fried Eggs riding a Huarache at El Huarache Veloz

I inhaled mine almost immediately and tasted some of beerman’s. I wanted to order one more but if its one thing I learned on these Mexico City trips it is to be frugal. Mexico-only treats loom everywhere in this part of city and I knew that Edwin and I had a lot of catching up to do for the rest of the evening. Meaning, many, many caguamas and Pambazo’s were in my near future…

edwin munching
Edwin Beerman Munching

Mercado Ahuizotla
Naucalpan, Estado De Mexico, 53000
Naucalpan De Juarez Centro

glistening: A Study in Mexico City Street Food (Epic)

I haven’t traveled much yet, but where ever I have been to, I’ve noticed that street food really tells a lot of its country. Here in the U.S, capitalist land of permits and taxes a plenty, street food is a scarce commodity. It’s tasty, wholesome and most importantly–affordable, probably would do wonders nowadays. Don’t see why it has to be such a condemned offense (some of the vendors cited get ridiculous fines). To those courageous few, the vigilante vendors willing to risk their life’s bacon-wrapped, chile & lemon doused investments get trashed (literally, right in front of their faces when caught), I salute you, thanks.

Mexico City on the other hand, maintains its Survival of the Fittest a tad more tribal. The population here brims at 19.2 million people, 3rd largest in the world, and our economy’s recoil has back lashed to a “Crisis” (Spanish pronunciation) of their own. Against the odds, vendor’s feed their families through the specialized selling of any good, mostly foodstuffs.

It’s pretty much impossible to walk anywhere without getting bombarded with inaudible decibels of specialized chants slanging anything from pure ‘Nestlè’ milk chocolate bars to Mexican boxed cookies.

Beautiful corn in every single way imaginable, mother grain. And of course, chile’s of all kinds will be in almost everything.
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Rusticity is the key word.

A whole ear of corn, unadorned, un-husked and corn silk in tact, simply grilled on wood. Powdered chile, fresh lime and salt, ’tis all.
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My personal favorite is anything combined with this:
divine
Huitlacoche, the divine fungus parasite that sometimes infests a fortunate few stalks…is treasured here. Mostly used in Quesadillas and as a topping on stuff, it is one of the more pricier options.

When dehydrated, rehydrated and mashed up, maize turns into a more filling doughy mass–masa in Spanish. Based on it’s treatment, this is transformed into a plethora of wholesome delicacies. A staple ingredient guaranteed to be at least a little apparent (yes, it is that swoon effect) every where though will be luscious pig fat.
masa

Tlacoyos are one way.
tlacoyo
This torpedo shaped treat is common among central Mexico, receiving its roots from the native Nahuatl tribe. Traditionally made with purple Masa and stuffed with pureed Fava beans or pinto beans. These are griddled up, topped with requeson, a tangy Nopal salad and red or green chile.

The more famous Huarache also got its start in the streets here.
huarachon
Roughly the size a more girth-y clown shoe, here, topped with squash blossoms, dried queso anejo (like Parmesan) and dried seasoned meat.

Traditional, cake-y textured, corn-husked, green or red chile Tamales are commonplace.
bad ass tamales
Most Tamales run out by early morning.

Banana Leaf wrapped Oaxaqueños are gaining popularity, bigger and more moist.
oaxaquenos!
Due to recent health concerns (and price) chicken prevails over pork in most fillings now. A recent method of rationing them is to Sandwich one between a freshly baked, split Bolillo roll.
pan!

Taco’s, of course, are the foundation of Mexican Street Food, Mexican cuisine as a whole really. In fact, the noun of “un taco” (a taco) has come to mean eating any type food/nourishment, even if there isn’t an actual taco involved.

The infrastructure of Mexico: The Tortilla
mother
Traditional fillings are basically any cut of meat from a cow. Many types of offal has become more popular because of recent economy stuff. Al Pastor though, marinated pork that is naturally tenderized by pineapple’s acids, roasted on an open fire spit..will never die.
al pastor

Barbacoa, whole lamb that is cooked in moisture-retaining Maguey leaves in a hole-oven about 6 feet deep in the ground, overnight until it is god-like, is the tribal archetype of Mexico city tacos.
godfood
Traditionally reserved for Sunday mornings (most run out of the stuff by 11AM), they are becoming more and more quotidian and common. Albeit, those daily vendors tend to conventionally cook it and ration it out throughout the week.
head

Seafood is a rare delicacy, always loved. But to most chilangos (native term), it is not habituated, thus usually forlorned.
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Ceviche de Pulpo (marinated raw octopus)

An ancestral treat universally seen through out all Mexico is roast chicken and other fowl (turkey legs, quail etc.). Just simply brined and served with steamed tortillas, not griddled. Those potatoes that are usually underneath, where all the rendered fat droplets accumulate…are worth the extra cost.
fowl
As you may have noticed, fat is not feared here, at all, as seen in the plethora of steaming kettles seen through out the provinces.
deep fried
Deep fried Gorditas, stuffed with either cheese, beans or braised chicharron (fried pigskin)..
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Flaky shrimp Empanadas (“turnover’s”) get the fryer treatment.

Flautas (“flute’s”) aka ‘Taqito’s’, ideally showcase this cuisine’s take on contrasting textures, creating a textural epiphany with julienne crisp Iceberg lettuce, dry shredded cheese and goopy sour cream.
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Mexico city have their snacks down, reaching perfection with it’s endless selection. Typical Frituras (fried things) include fresh cut potato chips and Papa’s Francesas(french frys) using the most widely available spuds: Yukon Gold’s. Along with a myriad of fried flour things (cheese puff things, green puff things, Churros etc) and fried chili-ed legumes (Fava & Garbanzo beans, Peanuts, Peas).
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A Fava bean with an edible peel.

Frutero’s (fruit vendors) and Jugueros (juice vendors) are life savers, literally a crucial counter against everything else.
fruter
Papaya’s a natural digestive, and Mamey’s–a tropical cousin to a Cherimoya–just taste heavenly, a super rich caramel, sweet potato-y flavor.
mamey
Mamey
Jugueros are people that juice and liquefy just about everything, notice those quail egg’s (believed to be a natural cure to impotence)
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More yang for all this yin are the indispensable accouterments guaranteed to be available along side. Minced up Cilantro, Onion, Red & Green chile, Lime Wedges and the occasional Nopal salad.
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pollo to balance
Beet juice and Vinegar marinated onion’s and a super-smoky red chile; this assortment is usual at places where they offer poultry.

These things enlighten all food here, with it’s ethereal refreshing and fat-cutting qualities.

And as my hereditary sweet shows it, portable sweets are the most available, running wild in this food haven.

My favorite being the plethora of paleta’s made available through a monopolistic Michoacana brand, Michoacan, another state, claiming to be their birth place. All natural, still, just fruit pulp, sugar and water or cream, that’s it.
paletas

This guy though, is the epitome of street food. He has this portable wood oven that he totes around, yes, as easy as a tote-bag, but one that slowly smokes sweet potatoes and ripe plantains to sweet serenity. I remember I was lucky enough to run into him the last time I came, around two years ago. Who knew “The Secret” would actually work? It was pure sweet, creamy destiny that our path’s crossed again. Served with a choice of condensed sweetened milk, honey or strawberry jam.
camotero

Street food god’s were on my side: a Mezcal vendor was passing by behind me, another rarity. Mezcal is the liquid extracted from the Maguey plant, basically virgin tequila. Intensely rich, the cut up pieces of it’s huge stems–when cooked–creates this fiercely, smoky, sweet amber chewable treat, it is inedible, so the juices are just sucked. But I must of merited my karma highly, he also had the edible heart of the Maguey plant…mmmm, sacred food.

mg src=”http://i12.photobucket.com/albums/a222/spex_727/Mexico%20Bible/mezcal.jpg” border=”0″ alt=”Mezcal”>


The heart is where the light is , seriously, a ray of light was on the heart pieces!

Like Maize, Amaranth grain dates back to Aztec time, amazingly nutritious as well, just not as celebrated. Available widely as a quick, rice crispy-granola type pick me up, called Alegrias.


amaranto

If you are really, really lucky…you might find yourself face to face with this:


donkey meat


Deep Fried Donkey Meat that is cured with red chile, known as Chito, by local’s. Tough, overly stringy with a different gamy bite, I just had to smuggle a mouthful back in to the states. It is waiting in my fridge, I am still not ready for all of it.

Of course, there is A LOT more, but for right now…this concludes my analysis, pheew.

From Elago to a Purple Tlayuda: La Gastronomia del Mexico D.F

My dad decided to have a last minute vacation to Mexico City, if anyone was wondering. And in an attempt to make it a REAL vacation, I left my laptop at home.

Y la gastronomia? (the food?)

Well, I didn’t really eat in an actual restaurant much seeing how there is so many artisans vending truly comida casera(homemade street food.) From purple corn Tlayudas, a kind of Gordita stuffed with either lard seasoned pureed fava or pinto beans and topped with stewed nopal strips (cactus strips), mesquite grilled fresh ears of corn sold off of carts with little bbq’s on them or even smoked sweet potatoe’s sweetened with Pilloncillo (brown sugar). And of course the occasional chapulin(grasshoper) here and there.

But when I did decide to eat out…I ate out, in Elago of Chapultepec. Apparently, Mexico’s most expensive restaurant! (should of done more research!). The food was….well…sadly overlooked. It is more a case of lexury, extreme lexury might I add (For the first time, I truly felt out of place here; my scraggly, long haired self in a restaurant of that stature). The plate of Barracuda Tikin-Xac(Barracuda marinated with Achiote and Roasted in a Banana Leaf) was definetely not worth the 2+ hour expedition it took rummaging the forest of Chapultepec for it, the Chilaquliles Dulces were interesting though.

Tao on the other hand was a whole different strory. Mexico’s only fully Macrobiotic establishment, the japanese style and all. I thought I had that whole “enjoy every morsel of food” thing down, but then I came here-the relaxing japanese music, the low Kotatsu tables just inches away from my face, the different courses of TOOTHSOME healthy food, not “cardboard” -easily my new favorite restaurant at the moment. Especially for that chewy, Pastel de Higo (Fig Cake), incorporating both fresh and dried figs for t that perfect texture and sweetness.

Oh Mexico, when will I be back.

Elago Restuarante
Chapultepec Lake, Chapultepec Forest
Mexico D.F

Centro Macrobiótico Tao Cozumel
76, Col. Roma. Mexico, D.F.
06700