Tag Archives: Tacos

Eating and exploring in Mexico

22 Jan

Just back from three weeks in Mexico. Lots of tacos, lots of tequila, lots of avocados, lots of mezcal. Lots of pork. Pork of every texture, shape, taste, cookedness – and coming out of every kind of torta and tortilla.

How many different ways are there of saying tortilla in Mexico? All roads lead back to them – albeit with different levels of crunchiness and shape. Tortilla with eggs for breakfast. Tostadas. Totopos, Tacos. Chilaquiles. Flautas. Giant tortillas covered in frijoles and cheese and eaten with arms outstretched. Blue ones, corn ones, flour ones. Papusas, gorditas, sudados (‘sweaty’ ones – liked them).

It’s all about the maize. Sin mais, no hay pais – Without corn, there’s no Mexico. And I love the way the food traditions of the Toltecs, Olmecs, Mayans and Aztecs have stood firm regardless of being raped by the Spanish. This is a country where you can see the culture, feel its history, in the rhythms of its street-side food prep and life of its markets. The smell of corn tortillas curls up from every other griddle and the slap, slap, slap of the dough being patted into neat little discs accompanies the other sounds that give those places their pulse: cumbia/merengue/salsa, and “elote! elote! elote!” shouted nasally from passing corn sellers, carts rolling past laden with veg and people shouting “Güera!” at you as you get in amongst it.

The vendadores set up from shopping trolleys, carts, baskets, tricycles. One guy had converted his VW Beetle (the Mexican national car) into a sugar cane juice-mobile. I stopped and chatted to him – turns out matey’s been to London and even had burrito action chez Luardos.

Mundo pequeño.

In Tulum town guys hook power to their puestas from nearby electricity lines. Nearly 30% of electricity is stolen in Mexico and I reckon the vendors have got the lion’s share. White light illuminates glistening meats and griddled tacos. The whole of Mexico favours the white light to such an extent that, from afar, cities make the sky glow silver, rather than the low orange of those over here. It’s kitchen-like, functional, a glow under which stuff gets chopped up, racked up, scooped up and sliced up. The street belongs to everyone and the warmth of the night makes you happy to stay and stay.

Watch how the Mexican eat their tacos. So neat. They say you can tell a lot about a person from the way they scoff it. Spot the tourista who’s over-loaded theirs, losing skids of beans through the bottom and meat shards over the top. They say that Mexicans are distrustful by nature but that all falls away when you’re at the stand getting your food on. Help yourself from the bowls of salsa, beans, papas, salads, then pay up at the end once you’ve counted up. When it comes to food the trust is right there – people who don’t know each other sitting like family round the same table.

One day I tried grasshoppers – chapulines – then hormigas – ants. Then they had me try a freaking dried (and very crispy) earthworm. Everyone on the stall stood around me encouragingly as I munched through it, eyebrows raised in anticipation of my reaction. ‘Ricisimo, verdad?’ they’d ask. ‘Mmmmmm!’ I’d reply.

In Mérida I spent the whole day with something to eat in my hand. From the little bags of fried pumpkin seeds that they open and throw chipotle and half a squeezed lime into (seriously delicious), to the corn ice cream (not for me). I troughed tamarind balls, flan, bags of chilli-d fruit and flors de Jamaica. Puerco profundo – the ‘deep’ bits of the pig all roiling and moiling around on a hot griddle, ready for chopping – was super-tasty and the botanas you get in the cantinas keep you loaded with food while you drink. This is tapas, Mexican style. For every beer come three plates of food – chicharrones/potato salad/cucumber salad. Or chopped hot dogs with habanero/macaroni with tomato sauce/frijoles. Kind of made you want to stay and drink all day….

In Laguinilla market in Mexico City we got lost under the yellow canopies. Pure, crazy gaud-fest amongst the 15 Años dresses – folds and layers and frills and ruches of every possible colour of satin for the girls’ big day. Made ‘My Big Fat Gypsy Wedding’ look like a dress rehearsal. Next door people ladled horchata from huge plastic urns into giant polystyrene cups. Further along the cochinita pibil stall lured us in as always. This stuff is the business: achiote and bitter orange marinaded pork, slow-roasted in banana leaves and served in toasted buns with loads of tang. Seriously, when is someone going to start a torta de cochinita pibil stall in London? I imagine one called ‘Porksville’ which gives the tired old hog-roast a run for its money. Spice and lime my pork up, man. It’s the only way to go from now on.

Then to cool down your inflamed mouth afterwards, a choice from the sorbet pallet of ice cream flavours in the trolleys going by. Those colours! Mirroring the houses and signs everywhere and calling ‘try me! try me!’.

You end up trying everything because it all looks and smells so good. This is not a country of slimmers, avoiding the bad stuff, this is a nation of proper eaters who don’t care who knows it. This is lusty, healthy, proper eating and its streets would be ghostly without it all.

I’m a fan. Bring on the next trip over there…

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#16days is over – but The Meatwagon is here to fly the flag

1 Jun

So our #16 days rolling residency at The Rye is almost over. How great to meet so many of you down in SE15 over the last two and a half weeks – and we’re delighted by the response. We even drew the attention of TimeOut, Daily Candy and The Evening Standard. (And special mention to the wonderful Tehbus for creating a little eat.st button on his blog. ‘I’m supporting 16days’ was such a nice touch).

And of course big thanks to Scott of Capital Pubs, Paddy at The Rye, Jocasta for designing the flyers and Yianni for inviting everyone along.

Organising something like this did a have one or two hiccups, Biblical deluges and Bank Holiday confusions so apologies to anyone who arrived to find their chosen hawker not ready yet (or soaking wet). We hope you all got fed!

And we were so sorry not to have Wholefood Heaven join us yesterday for their spot under The Rye’s street lamp – the trouble with these fly older vehicles is that sometimes they don’t want to play ball. Looking forward to having them with us for the next eat.st excursion. (Angus – well done that man for turning up to save the day at the last minute).

Here are a few pics of #16days going down…

Week Two was a flurry of Mexican food – a spice pallet of sabor that tropicalised the Peckham night. New kids Toma Mexicano (Sol and Sabrina) brought along their flautas and beef fajita tacos on Day 8. As soon as those tacos hit the griddle, sending the hot whisps of maize out of the gazebo I was hooked.

We loved Buen Provecho so much that we invited them back for Day 15 as well.

Simon from Luardos brought Jesus along on Day 9 for a rare crossing of the river. Tacos and quesadillas were slamming.

 


And when it was my turn to bring Choc Star back for Week Two well, the rains came down in a way that might inspire any number of blues tracks. It was ridiculous. I couldn’t help but go running around in it then had to warm up with Street Foodie’s kimchi sliders.

Congratulations to those brave enough to still turn up on that night!

Now that Yianni has returned from the wild woods of South Carolina the Meatwagon Crew are ready to assume their rightful position back in SE15. From TODAY they will be taking over the kitchen at The Rye and doing wild things in the beer garden all summer. Hold onto your sides – ride’s about to get wild!

Masa Revolution – this documentary needs YOU.

19 Apr

I’ve just found out about the Masa Revolution happening over in L.A. Synchronicity is a funny thing. There I was, writing an essay for my Masters about the dualised street food scene in Los Angeles and its socio-spatial implications, when an email arrives for me talking about just that.

Award-winning journalist, Patricia Nazario, has produced, directed and self-funded the first stages of Masa Revolution, a documentary about how inexpensive Mexican street food inspired a pop-culture gourmet phenomenon. L.A’s social, cultural and economic cleavages are shown through the lens of food vending on its streets – who has the right to the city, how Latino cultures have ‘tropicalised’ public space and now, how the new-wave movement has been mediatised and harnessed for its creative pull.

It’s fascinating stuff and is destined for great things at independent film festivals. But it won’t be completed unless they can raise $20,000 for post-production – by the 4th of May.

Is this up your strada? If you’d like to help contribute to making this almost-completed project a reality then head to Kickstarter.com and pledge whatever you can – every dollar helps!

I’m excited about this project and hugely impressed by what’s been done so far. Follow that Revolution and learn about how a city is enlivened and challenged by the determination of its people to serve food in the open air.

Follow Masa Revolution on Twitter HERE.

San Francisco Street Food Festival

4 Sep

I heard about the 2nd Annual San Francisco Street Food Festival some weeks ago. Amazing, I thought. Then it nudged up against me again – probably in the form of a Tweet or some other such fleeting message. Then came the news that it would be followed by an entire two day conference on the subject – all organised by local business incubator La Cocina. Arghh! I wanted it – real bad. It played on my mind for the next couple of days until eventually I gave in. My gut urged me to go – both for the comida buena I would surely encounter, and for the dizzying array of great people who would be speaking at the street food summit.

More on the mind food later, but now onto the scoop on that three block section of the Mission district that, on Saturday 21st August, became a-throng with thousands of people, all wanting to get their grub on – and no one seeming to mind a bit that this meant serious queuing and hardcore shoulder rubbing…

After my three hour volunteer shift finished (I love a bit of box shaking in front of a sea of strangers – good window into the general and varied demographic pouring into the place too. And how clever of me to have known to wear hot pink jeans. No chance of avoiding me!), I hit the streets, having breakfasted abstemiously on one solitary banana.

Damn, do they like a bit of sweetcorn in San Francisco. One of my favourite snacks, elote, Mexican style, is only served in very few places in London. Covered in chilli, lime and Mexican cheese, you pretty much don’t care that it has your teeth all trussed up with spicy kernels – you just want to devour it whole. Rows of corn occupied almost every grill at the Festival. I got mine from Los Cilantros.


Next, my eye was caught by 4505 Meats. Meat experts supreme – and purveyors of the lightest chicharrones I ever did taste. I ordered my Zilla dog and squealed as it arrived garlanded in the things! Good, toothsome ‘dog, deep and tangy kimchie sauce, marinated scallions in a bun with those suckers crowning them? Gave me plenty of energy to return to the crowds with vigor.

Past the Roli Roti guys with their ‘flying pieces of pork shrapnel’ and onto El Huarache Loco – one of La Cocina’s great success stories. Here I went for a taco Alhambre. I love tacos and must have eaten at least three a day whilst in San Francisco. This was full of that great combination of smoky charred meat, good rich salsa and pricked with the sublime tang of cilantro and lime.

And straight into the arms of another of my favourite things in the world – ceviche! Famed Peruvian San Francisco restaurant La Mar were kicking it with the street traders – playing by their rules – and much in demand for their sudden accessibility to all.

Of course this meant that I missed this…

Yes, it’s a fish taco trike. Wild. The guy has a grill at the front and pieces of fish in a refrigerated box. Once given their food punters can go to the table at the back of the bike and tuck into their snack. He also has a handy beer bottle holder to his left. I stood and watched for ages. This is classic street theatre – an interactive fun-mobile that does more than just dole out food. I want them in London. (Why shouldn’t we have them in London?)

As the sun came out those crowds showed no sign of abating. A band played, people strummed guitars, the replete began to dance and places rapidly began to sell out.

Gutted.

But hope was on the horizon – a gourmet S’more proposition. I dived in as though I hadn’t eaten in weeks…

This little sandwich of joy was from Kika’s Treats. I love how, unlike every single other stall, this one operated a trust system where no ticket was issued after payment. They figure that if you’re prepared to queue to pay and then queue to get your treat, you must be a good sort and tickets are therefore redundant.

After this latest mini-splurge I felt replete myself. I walked through the rest of the Festival sucking up the airborne bonhomie that seemed to be everywhere – even in the penned-in drinking zones (now that is a bit odd). The fact that people’s days were spent almost solely on standing in line didn’t seem to matter. What felt right and good about all this was that it brought together people who love to eat (i.e. everyone) in one space. This space felt like it belonged to us all. Nobody told us where to stand or queue or eat – we negotiated this amongst ourselves.

This is what a satisfactory urban experience feels like. It feels like you’re in amongst it. And this is a true mark of a city’s character. La Cocina, San Francisco – we salute you.