(From left to right: Keiko, Shuna, Jeanne, me, Iliana, Xochitl, Jenni - photgraph taken by Vanessa Toh, courtesy of Jeanne)
Ever since I moved back to the "old world" after living in Mexico, I have been looking for authentic Mexican cuisine in Europe. Wherever I have lived or travelled, I would often seek out the Mexican restaurants to see whether they could do any better than the ones in my hometown. Without much success. It was only last year, I think, that I found Mestizo, where you might find a few things to quibble about (their tacos al pastor being a let-down, for example), but the food is good enough for the entire Mexican population of London to go their for a veritable culinary pilgrimage. So next time you crave chilaquiles, find your way to Warren Street Tube - they've just started to do a Mexican brunch on weekends as well!
In the absence of good restaurants, I decided to cook my own. With some Mexican friends back in Vienna we'd have regular cooking sessions, where we'd get our hands dirty rolling tamales, making our own mole or cooking up a pozole. The ingredients were easy to be had (Casa México), unlike here, as I had to find to my dismay when I moved to London more than seven years ago. You'd think that with a huge Latino population, you'd find a good source somewhere, but no. Apart from CoolChile who cover some of the spectrum, namely dried chile whole and ground, some "kits" (frijoles, mole, pozole, etc) and fresh chiles and tomatillos in the summer, there is really no shop in the capital that would sell the whole enchilada (pardon the pun). No tinned frijoles, no ready-made sauces, no condiments, and, worst of all, no fresh tortillas. (Actually, CoolChile do sell tortillas, but they're just not good enough, I hate to say. What that means for their Taquería in Notting Hill, I can't say).
So when I went to Edinburgh the weekend before last, I was very surprised to find a shop dedicated to Mexican cuisine. Lupe Pinto's (don't be fooled, the owner is a proper Scot, no sight of a Guadalupe as a Mexican co-owner to be found) sell everything from dried spices to cupboard staples like maseca and all the beans you could think of, various brands of sauces, tinned beans and other vegetable preserves, even sweets and cooking utensils. The tortillas will have been pre-frozen, so you'll have to consume them straight away and they reached me quite dry despite being in a plastic bag, but they're the closest to a real tortilla that I have gotten in this country. Their website is not a reflection of the variety of products on offer, so it is best to ring them up and ask if you don't happen to live in Edinburgh or Glasgow. They do next-day delivery all across the country and their fare doesn't cost an arm and a leg.
Also, I just found out that US-based mexgrocer have just opened a UK (online) shop on the 1st of October - still no fresh tortillas, but at least it makes comparing prices and brands easier.
So, with the shopping more or less sorted, I was still on a mission to convince Europeans that Mexican Cuisine is something worth seeking out and, more importantly, that the crap they were being served at so-called "Mexican" restaurants was so far removed from what it should taste like that it wasn't even funny. It was like trying to make them understand that fresh line-caught salmon does taste better than fish fingers. Or convincing someone who'd been brought up on Cadbury's that it's worth paying £6 for a 200g-bar of Valrhona for your mousse au chocolat or £20 for a few select chocolate truffles from an artisanal chocolatier.
And when I finally was introduced to Xochitl a few months back, I knew I had met a fellow food addict who took her culinary heritage as seriously as it deserves. So we were on a mission and determined that we would educate the world about Mexican food, starting with our fellow bloggers. Looking for even more credibility, we sought the assistance of Iliana (the only true-bred Mexican in the round and a good friend of Jeanne's) who was all too keen to spend an afternoon cooking the food she so craves. And this is how, one fine Saturday afternoon, we found ourselves in my kitchen, tucking into sopes for some sustenance, munching on jicama with lime juice and chile piquin, drinking agua de jamaica and discussing an elaborate menu with our 5 eager "pupils" (the aforementioned aside, we had Jenni of Pertelote, Keiko of Nordljus, Shuna of Eggbeater and Vanessa (who hasn't got a blog - yet!):
We'd be making Ceviche, Chiles Rellenos, Frijoles, Machaca, Fish Tacos, Tinga de Pollo, Puerco Asado, Rajas con Queso, Salsa Mexicana, Salsa Chipotle, Salsa Verde and a Flan for dessert.
So with the shopping tips divulged, it won't be long before I get down to individual recipes... so stay tuned!