I’ve reached a point in life, I’ve realized. There are only so many cities and towns and villages that I can visit and wander around the streets snapping photos of plazas and churches and statues and historic spots. Not a physical limit, though I suppose that exists, but an intellectual one, a spiritual one, an I’m just not as interested in all that as I once was one. My passion is food, drink, and cultural events that get the blood pumping. And so when Henry decided he was off to spend a month with his family, and having just been there in August I just couldn’t get up the excitement to do it all again, I decided to focus on my interests.
I figured there must be some interesting food or wine festivals going on somewhere in the world during the month of March, and indeed, there were actually a lot of them in various places. Taking into account time involved in getting to and from, costs, and what each involved, I settled on the COME Festival de Sabores in Guadaljara, Mexico. It starts later this week, and I thought I’d come in a few days early and check out the city a bit, especially the food… and tequila. I put the word out, and am going to be meeting up with various people during the trip, which will continue after the festival to Mexico City, where I haven’t been in roughly 30 years, though I used to visit it regularly. And, I asked around to see if anyone knew a great chef or home cook who might offer up some cooking lessons on local cuisine.
I ended up with a contact to Chef Iván at The Men’s Club, basically just what you might imagine, but with amazing food. I haven’t been to a stripper club (with women anyway) since my 18th birthday when one of my closest friends took me for a tequila shot fest at The Anchor Inn, in Dexter, Michigan, a night best left in the darkness of four decades ago. Back to Chef Iván, and we set-up a three day series of classes covering some of the more specialized dishes of different regions around Mexico. I’m going to leave this, and the following posts, day by day, heavy on photos and light on text, so this is the most reading you’ll have to do for the next couple of weeks.
We made both mole poblano and mole coloradito, respectively with chicken and rabbit. Interestingly, I’ve always sort of avoided mole poblano, because everywhere I’ve had it, it was sweet, and fairly chocolatey, so I was looking forward to “the real thing”. Turns out, the sweet chocolatey sauce is the real thing – it’s supposed to be. At the same time, this was far more balanced with spices and chilies than any version I’ve had before. And the coloradito has a lot of fruits in it, giving it a very interesting flavor.
I’ve never seen black sapote before – it almost seems like a fruit that’s been left to rot and turn into a sticky, caramelly sweet goo. But it’s actually the way the fruit grows. And, chapulines, a type of grasshopper. We made a vinaigrette from the sapote, dressed some mixed greens with it, added some oranges, roasted grasshoppers, and sesame, for a really interesting, tangy sweet salty salad.
I learned how to actually make tortilla masa and then the right way to make the tortillas. And another totally new ingredient, escamoles, the pupae and larvae of a type of ant – an ingredient that’s apparently ridiculously expensive and only available at certain times of the year. And quelites, which is a catch-all name for different wild greens. We made tacos with the greens and the escamoles, and since we had extra grasshoppers, some tacos with them too. Topped off with a spicy tomato sauce that we’ll be making fresh tomorrow.
And finished off our lunch with spiced, candied papaya and atole champurrado, basically the traditional Aztec precursor to hot chocolate, made with roasted cocoa beans and Mexican chocolate (which is infused with almond, cinnamon, and vanilla).
Now, it may seem like a lot, but we were sharing these plates around the kitchen, so for the most part, just a few bites of each dish. As evening rolled around, I started casting about for somewhere close to the hotel to eat local fare. I got little sleep last night, having arrived quite late and having to get up early for the class, and I wanted to both eat early, and eat, more or less, light.
It quickly became clear that one of the “must do” favorite recommendations in the neighborhood was Tacos Chino Jr., Av. Faro 2412. What wasn’t clear, was that it wasn’t a taco restaurant, but a taco stand, bordering on a food truck. They offer up an array of different taquitos – each with a little double tortilla, maybe 2-3″ across. Each time someone approached the stand, the guy in charge would rattle off different meats available – often completely different from the spiel he rattled off mere seconds before. As best I could tell, and I probably missed a few, or he may not have gotten to them, there were traditional “al pastor”, tongue, tripa (intestines, not tripe, what in Argentina we call chinchulines, and in the US, chitlins) either stewed or fried, lips, cheeks, head meat, ground meat, pastrami, and brains. I ordered up four to start, the fried tripa (which I’d been told are the best in town), pastor, tongue, and head – topped with onions and cilantro, and a choice of three sauces from non to medium to fairly spicy. I’m not going to say they’re the best tacos I’ve ever had, but they’re up there. I’d go back again without hesitation, and probably will once more while here. Six tacos plus a refresco de jamaica – a hibiscus flower drink – all for 78 pesos, plus a 10 peso tip, or, roughly, $6. Can’t beat that.