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My Gastronomical Travels- Traditional Mexican Food
What kind of Mexican food do Mexicans eat? I recently posed this question to my dear friend Josie. Most of us know the general populace of China does not eat the same food that we gorge on at a Chinese buffet. I figured the same may hold true for Mexican food. Do Mexicans prepare tacos and burritos like Taco Bell does?
Then of course there’s regional variation. Olive Garden gives us a hint about the regional variation of Italian food with their Tour of Italy entrée. The Turkish food at the San Antonio Turquoise Grill restaurant is “Istanbul food”, and different from the Adana, Izmir, and Ankara Turkish food that I know. I recently ate Indian food that my waitress informed me was “South Indian” food, and very different from the North and coastal regions. So it’s probably safe to say that Mexican food varies regionally too.
My friend Josie was raised in Delicias, in the Chihuahua province of Mexico, about 6 hours into the interior from El Paso. Most of her siblings still live there, with a couple sisters living in Juarez, just over the border from El Paso. She and I went “home” for New Years about 8 years ago. We took a gastronomical tour of Delicias and Juarez. Every day we went to another sister’s or another aunt’s for traditional Mexican food. (I’m a big eater, but I couldn’t keep up! I’m still trying to remember where those pictures are. Given my military travels I have amassed a formidable collection of pictures, both in and out of albums. Stay tuned. I hope to post some of my personal photos later.)
Anyway, Josie’s perspective on Mexican food is based on what I guess would be north western Mexico. I’ll share with you what I learned from Josie about traditional Mexican tacos, gorditas, burritos, and chile rellenos, based on her experience. I had fantastic gorditas and chile rellenos in Mexico on our trip. I asked her about fajitas, and she said she never had them or heard of them until she moved to San Antonio!
Josie tells me that tacos “are a lot of work” when they make them at her house. They make the taco shell with corn tortillas. They heat the shell in a skillet or directly on the stove burner. Then they use a fork to make sure the opening remains.
The remaining preparation is fairly similar and familiar. Fry ground beef with onion, garlic, “a tiny bit of cumin”, and “sometimes a little bit of tomato”.
Put the ground meat into the shell first, then cheese, lettuce, and tomato. Use avocado, salsa, or sour cream as preferred.
Gorditas are like mini pitas stuffed with meats or beans. The most common filling for gorditas is picadillo. Josie’s family makes picadillo with ground beef and tiny diced potatoes. Prepare onion, garlic, tomatoes, and Knorr chicken powder in a blender. Pour the tomato mixture over the meat and potatoes for cooking.
When I was in Delicias, we had gorditas with lean roasted pork, pulled apart with forks. Josie informed me that was cochinita pibil, which can be eaten as a meat entrée on a plate, or as a very special filling for gorditas.
This is the recipe of one of Josie’s sisters:
½ block Achiote
1 can grapefruit juice, about 12 ounces
10 cloves of garlic
3 red (mirasol Colorado) peppers
Break off a small piece of a stick of cinnamon (rajita canela), about 1 1/2” long, ¼” wide
Small amount of vinegar
Put all ingredients in a blender. You can strain if desired before pouring over a 2 kg (4 ½ lb) pork rump roast, like top or bottom round.
Burritos are made with flour tortillas. So that’s the same as Taco Bell, right? Beans and cheese is a common filling for burritos. Again, Taco Bell. Past this, let’s see if we detect much Taco Bell.
Josie makes burritos by browning ground beef and adding onions, garlic, tomato, cumin, salt and pepper. She puts a smear of refried beans on the flour tortilla, then adds meat, lettuce and tomato, and sour cream.
Josie informed me that burritos with carne guisada is “the Texas way”. This is chunks of lean beef like stew beef, prepared with peppers, onions, tomatoes, and spices.
A favorite of Josie’s is chili Colorado, which she says can be prepared with beef or pork, in a tomato sauce with spices such as cumin and chili powder. Other sources say that Colorado is always a beef dish, and the pork counterpart is chili adovado.
On our way back to Texas on our New Years trip, we stayed overnight in Juarez with another sister and had homemade chile rellenos with homemade tortillas.
Tortillas are made with self rising flour, water, and solid shortening. Mix into a dough and kneed. Roll out tortillas with a rolling pin or dowel. Cook on a griddle, a couple minutes per side, with a weight on top of tortillas to keep them flat.
Chile rellenos are made with poblano peppers. Roast peppers directly on the stove burner. Peel the skin off the roasted peppers. Cut a slit and put cheese inside. Josie leaves the seeds in the peppers. Dip peppers in egg batter and breading, then fry. Wrap peppers in a homemade tortilla, or serve on a plate with beans and rice. Chile rellenos can also be stuffed with picadillo.