It may not be well-known outside of that region, but that’s the point; going all-in on new (for me) discoveries to share (with you) is one of the cornerstones of Finding Food Fluency.
Today’s spotlight may taste like a coarse tamarind shake — i.e. something sweet and sour — but there’s none of that legume floating anywhere near this Mexican drink.
Tejuino, a Prehispanic drink attributed to the Nahuas people of northwestern and central Mexico — roughly, Colima, Jalisco, Nayarit, and Sinaloa — comes from the Nahuatl word tecuín meaning “to beat/palpitate.” It is used for ceremonial purposes by the Yaqui of Sonora and the Tarahumara of Chihuahua as offerings to sacred deities; you may even see it consumed at a typical Mexican fiesta in Jalisco and Nayarit.
I encountered tejuino for the first time in Culiacán, Sinaloa. Having no idea what it was, I further went down the rabbit hole by trying it at a street stall where everything was baking in the sun.
And yes, tejuino is an alcoholic beverage, though has a low alcohol content.
Although some of its ingredients may vary depending on who’s preparing it, tejuino counts as its staples corn masa — you know, the stuff used to make tortillas, piloncillo/panela — that is, unrefined cane sugar, water, and a small amount of lime juice. Boil it all, let it chill out for a bit, then cover it with something breathable. Fermentation will happen, and then you’re done!
What was a bit odd about this street stall was that after trying it as is, the vendor insisted on adding a little Squirt Soda to the tejuino. Honestly, I wasn’t a fan of it either way, and in that heat I was that much worse off. Nevertheless, I’d try it again … at a restaurant, when not on a 10-mile trek!
I spent several months in Mexico living with a Mexican woman who not only showed me around her country, but also taught me some albures. Albures are mischievous idioms which I believe help make Mexican Spanish so fun and alluring to speak.
For starters, use of the doble sentido, or double entendre, is very popular in casual speech. If you’re with a group of Mexican friends, be prepared to get playfully embarrassed by someone. Chatting in Mexico to me seems authentic … you just have to know the double meanings of some of the words to delight in the good-natured ribbing.
Take this one as an example:
I saw this sign at El Sinaloense restaurant in Mazatlán, one of a number of popular beach resort cities along the Pacific. “Atáscate (ahora) que hay lodo” roughly translates as “get yourself stuck (now) since there’s mud.”
And again, the sign was at a restaurant.
That was your one hint.
OK, here comes the explanation:
Pretend your a swine, curly tail and all. An inauspicious kismet awaits you, but that’s temporarily on hold due to the torrential rains. Your once dry pig pen is now a muddy paradise.
You’re lapping up the mud so much that you get stuck in it.
All of that mud.
Human analogy: you’re one person, but you’ve ordered as if you were three. Look at all of that food in front of you.
The food is the mud, the guacamole is the paradise, and you’re a glutton for punishment.
We’re nearing end of the Ugo Boncompagni calendar, which means I will be sharing my favorite meals of the 2021. Though 2020 understandably didn’t get much love in terms of culinary travel, 2021 flipped that pandemic fear around a full 180°.
Without further ado, let’s go eating around the world – fine, two continents – and discover the best of 2021.
You might be thinking, he’s talking about the soup. He loved the soup.
Actually, whereas the sopa de lima – Yucatan lime soup, and jugo de chaya – a Yucatan variety of spinach – were good, the star of the show was the sikil p’aak, a pumpkin seed and habanero salsa. Both the pumpkin seeds – pepitas – and habaneros were roasted, and mixed with fresh tomatoes and chives from the restaurant’s garden.
I had a lot of salsa this year, but this one might be the winner. Fortunately, tens of other salsas are all tied for second.
From the city of Guadalajara, I took the metro to its satellite city of Tlaquepaque, hoping to see its famous upside-down umbrellas. Nope, sorry, not this time.
However, the day trip wasn’t a complete loss, as I had stumbled across a real hole-in-the-wall by the name of Tlaquebagre.
Seafood was the name of the game, and I was craving shrimp. I ordered an aguachile – “chili water” – a Mexican dish in which shrimp is prepared with lime juice and serrano or chiltepin chilies, and served immediately. Add in avocadoes and red onions, and you’ve got yourself a delectable puddle of briny heat.
Eating seafood on the beach in Mexico. Yep. And I’d do that all day long…eat seafood, that is.
Mc-Fisher, unusual name notwithstanding, was something else– Stingray soup, octopus with melted cheese tacos, marlin tacos, a taco with all three of those ocean dwellers, SHRIMP and beans. My only complaint was that the tortillas were meh, but I was pretty sure that the rest of the country could make up for that.
If you want good seafood, you want Mc-Fisher.
Over the summer, I had a long layover in Chicago. Having already tried the adopted Chicagoland favorites – deep dish pizza, hot dogs without ketchup, and my pick, giardiniera – I looked up hyperlocal spots.
All the way in South Chicago, Calumet Fisheries opened in 1948, and became known for smoking fish on oak logs, in a smokehouse adjacent to their shop.
An order of sweet potato tots complimented the deliciously smoky, melt-in-your-mouth hunk of salmon that I ended up eating as if it were an apple. It needed no extra flavoring, and would be most welcome as a Christmas gift sent directly to my plate.
Don’t get me wrong, that mixed seafood tostada on the right was a treat. It’s Contramar, after all, one of the more well-known seafood restaurants in Mexico City.
But I must say that their eggplant tostada – tostada de berenjena – was my vegetable dish of the year. Or, berry dish?
It was buttery, yet you could still discern the mild sweetness of the eggplant. Specifically, I ordered it since I seldom notice eggplant on menus in Mexico. If Contramar, or any other Mexican eatery would do a grilled eggplant/meat combo, that would likely be on my list for 2022.
(On closer inspection, there’s no meat on this list. That has to change.)
The cashier said they don’t “normally allow shrimp as an add-on,” so I reminded me that they worked on tips. A fistful of dollars later, and I had my slice of the year– breaded eggplant, shrimp, and ricotta cheese.
Next time, I will see if they could put all of that stuff in a calzone.
It’s my first time in Paris in 23 years, what am I going to eat?
Cheese, butter, and pastries, obvi.
Hey Paris, where’s “the best” pain au chocolat? Hard to say, but Blé sucré is one recommendation.
So, I take my walk to the 12th arrondissement – district – and queue up for my first ever Parisian pain au chocolat.
However, as I stared at the empty space where that would have been, a baker whips out a tray of something even more tantalizing (in the photo, on the left). I don’t know the name of it – perhaps you could help out – but it was a flaky, buttery, frangipane-filled viennoiserie.
Was there a more decadent dessert eaten in 2021? Perhaps. Was that decadent dessert more delicious? It’s not on this list, now is it?
After meeting some affable Mexican folks in my travels – including through becoming an impromptu translator in China – I started traveling more throughout their country, increasing my awareness of regional Mexican cuisines. I will cover more of these food discoveries stories in later posts, but for now, we’re going to take a look at the tlayuda, the Oaxacan specialty affectionately known as the “Mexican pizza.” Hmm.
Tlayuda are eaten either with granulated sugar, or with any number of savory ingredients…
Savory tlayuda are first, smothered in a mix of refried beans and pork lard, the latter called asiento. Then…whatever! For the one above, I ordered it with ground chorizo, squash blossoms, quesillo (Oaxaca cheese; roughly similar to mozzarella), radishes, avocados, tomatoes, and a couple of flora unique to the region.
On the left, the green pod is called guaje. Although the pod is inedible, the seeds have an eclectic flavor profile, something of a grassy pumpkin seed. More importantly, the guaje, being plentiful in the region during the time of Cortés, lent present-day Oaxaca its name. Since the Spanish couldn’t pronounce Huāxyacac, the Nahuatl word for the plant, they abridged it to become Oaxaca. So much easier, right???
And on the right, pipicha, or chepiche. Does it bear a striking resemblance to tarragon? Yes…but the flavor is more like a citrus cilantro, with a hint of minty licorice. Used by Aztecs and other ancient tribes to treat the liver, pipicha also are high in antioxidants, and can be used to cleanse the palate after a meal. I felt that the flavor was quite strong, so I would recommend using it sparingly.