Saturday, June 21, 2008

¡Viva México!

Hello blog-world, it's been a while. I apologize for my prolonged absence, it's been somewhat of a hectic year so far... but I'm ready now, I think, after having somewhat settled myself. BUT I have so much to tell you all.

First up, Mexico. In early March, a few friends of mine were heading off to Mexico for a conference and had decided to take the opportunity to travel around the country beforehand for three weeks. I was understandably jealous.. so to send them off before they went, we went to
Taco Bill the night before they flew out for dinner. Now, I realize that of all the Mexican/Latin American restaurants we could have chosen in Melbourne, anything, ANYTHING at all would have been more authentic than Taco Bill. Think Los Amates, Mi Corazon, whatever. But we love(d) how tacky it is, and we just wanted a big ass margarita and some nachos, so Taco Bill it was. It was, of course, your typical pseudo-Mexican affair - nachos with salsa, melted cheese and sour cream; burritos, tacos and quesadillas wrapped with chicken or beef, lettuce, cheese and tomato on rice and beans. Being no food snobs, we loved it, and loved also the huge huge margaritas they serve. Made us all very happy, I should say, though I'm not sure if the staff really felt the same about us.

However, Taco Bill is not the end of my Mexico story. Because by 2am the following morning, I had hopped online, found a space on the same flight as my friends and was packing frantically so I could fly out with them in 10 hours time. The adrenaline was pumping and I was too busy packing and making sure I had everything sorted before we got on the plane, but once I was served my complimentary drink 20 minutes after takeoff, I started to freak out majorly. C did a wonderful job of calming me down though and got my adrenaline pumping again when we got to LAX.. and after that, I was just ecstatic, it was the most spontaneous thing I've ever done and probably the best thing I've ever done as well.
In my 10 days there, we spent a few days in Mexico City, then down to Acapulco, then Huatulco before I boarded a bus to head back to Mexico City to the airport and the girls went onwards. We saw amazing sights, was completely immersed in the whole culture, tried every food we possibly could, saw as much as we possibly could. And good lord, we ate. Things are ridiculously cheap, to the stage where if we paid more than 50 pesos for a meal (around $5), it was expensive. The food is good, the tequila amazing and the beaches almost as beautiful as back home.

So, the food... Mexico City saw us eating at roadside taco stands where I'd love to tell you what was in them, but unfortunately I don't speak or read spanish, so ordering mostly consisted of pointing and thus I don't actually know what I ate. Only that it was good. One of our group was a bit worried about food contamination, but pffth I'm asian, I'll eat most things roadside or not, and frankly, in my opinion, what doesn't kill you only makes you stronger. Other memorable meals included eating at cantinas, which, according to Wiki, traditionally refers to a kind of bar normally frequented only by males for the purpose of imbibing alcohol and partaking of appetizers (bontanas). Apparently, according to Lonely Planet, they often traditionally had signs that expressly prohibited entry to women and children and although some of these restrictions are beginning to fade, it is still viewed as.. not inappropriate, but more, unusual, for ladies to be seen visiting a cantina. However, as I previously mentioned.... no hablo espanol. So in we went, and for 25 pesos ($2.5), the price you pay for a Corona, we got a fish stew, deep-fried whole fish, bread rolls, stewed pork and some rice. Plus a picture with mariachi's. Awesome. If you ever get the chance, take advantage of the tourist thing and do it, it's the real authentic experience and you'll be glad you did it.

Other meals included the more typically known enchiladas and quesadillas (maize tortillas wrapped around chicken, beef or pork, with cheese sometimes, covered with salsas and moles, or sauces); the best tortilla soup i've ever eaten; lots of rice; even more mole and beans. By the end of the trip, I was quite sick of the maize tortillas, but it's true what they say, nothing beats authentic food. No more Taco Bill for me anymore.
Another amazing find was our introduction to cajeta, a sweet caramel made from goats milk, giving it a rich flavour. Traditionally, it's eaten as a spread or filling, but is also wonderful on its own. We were given a little dish of this candy heated up so it was gooey and delicious, and a few spoonfuls each was more than enough to satisfy our sweet teeth.

If you take anything away from this post, let it be this: go to Mexico. Delicious and wonderful things, people and weather await you. Despite what some may say about safety and pollution and otherwise... personally, I don't think these things should stop anyone from exploring the world. The world will be what it is and if you don't take chances, you're not going to live life as fully as you can. So be spontaneous, live and eat. Even if the stuff you eat does come from the side of the road.

After coming back from Mexico, I was left with massive wanderlust without the ability to actually do anything about it. I had planned on heading to Europe with C (again) this July, but finances and other factors meant that I'm now in Hong Kong visiting family instead. Capitalizing on the Mexican thing, however, I really wanted to do something with Mexican food at some point. Today is J's birthday, so 2 weeks ago when we were all still back in Melbourne, I invited B & J and a few others around for a Mexican fiesta involving fun and food. We had 10 in total, and since J LOVES tacos (he is American), I decided to make tacos with a little bit more of an original twist. Dinner thus involved a menu of 40 burrito wraps, 20 taco shells, lots of lettuce, tomato and cheese, guacamole with extra avocado, chorizo con queso (chorizo and cheese), a simplified version of chicken mole and kangaroo fajitas. Lots of food, but delicious it was.

I took a look on the internet to see if I could get some easy versions of these recipes. The chorizo dish I got from here, and it turned out quite wonderfully despite me using just normal chilli flakes (albeit quite a lot of it), instead of the more authentic poblano chile. The kangaroo fajitas was basically just kangaroo steak sliced into strips, then sizzled with onions, garlic, capsicum and my own spice mix of cumin, coriander, chilli powder, chilli flakes and a bunch of other stuff I can't remember, but I'm pretty sure I just improvised and it turned out woderfully.

My favourite, however, was the chicken mole, which had a bit of an interesting twist to it. Mole, a Mexican sauce commonly used in many Mexican dishes was first developed in Puebla City in the 1680's, in a convent, no less. Since then, the neighbouring state of Oaxaca has become famous for a particular type of black mole which includes the special ingredients of special spices and chocolate. Mexican chocolate in itself is unique in that it contains large amounts of spices within them, namely cinnamon, nutmeg, etc. In searching for a simpler, but similarly unusual recipe, I found the following recipe. It is very very easy to make, and since it was a sauce, I sort of just went by a chuck-everything-in-in-rough-amounts kind of approach. It turned out beautifully, but I suspect this is a kind of recipe that is hard to mess up.

Easy Chicken Mole
2 tbsp olive oil
6-8 boneless chicken breasts (though I just bought chicken thighs and cut them up into smaller pieces)
2 cloves garlic, minced
1 onion, chopped
3 cups salsa (I used hot)
1 cup chicken broth
3 tbsp chilli powder
2 tbsp cocoa powder
2 tbsp peanut butter

1. Heat oil in a skillet. Season chicken breasts with salt and pepper and brown the pieces in the hot oil in a single layer until golden brown on both sides. Remove from pan and set aside.
2. Pour out all but one tablespoon of fat from the pan and add the onion. Cook until softened. Add garlic and continue cooking.
3. Add salsa, chicken broth, chilli powder, cocoa powder and peanut butter. Stir till blended.
3. Bring sauce to a boil, then return chicken pieces to the pan, covering them in the sauce. Lower heat and cook uncovered, basting the chicken pieces occasionally with the sauce until cooked through and the sauce has thickened.

N.B. The original recipe, found here, says to let the sauce thicken for 30-40 minutes, but I found a mere 20 minutes was quite good with the pan covered. But it was always going to taste good, really.

Yet more to come (really!) - Tjanabi, Sydney and Hong Kong.

1 comment:

Gabriel said...

Very nice blog. I am from Slovakia republic. I have also a blog focused on recipes for cooking. See. You need to translate the Google translate