Category Archives: Mexican Food and Drink

The price of a piece of cake

On January 7, El Dia de los Reyes Magos, we had a little get-together at our place to partake the Rosca de Reyes (King’s cake). Both my son and I were “fortunate” to find El Niño Dios (the plastic baby Jesus) in our sections. This meant we would be honorary godparents for the presentation of Jesus at the temple on February 2, el Dia de la Candelaria. This is the day that everyone takes their baby Jesus figurine from the nativity scene to be blessed at church.

As godparents, we would be in charge of the mandatory tamales and atole.

Well, there was nothing to it, but get to it.

The same people that gathered for the Rosca were again invited to our home for the tamales. Thus ends the Christmas season in Mexico, finally. Time to start gearing up for cuaresma (Lent) which begins on March 6 this year.

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Do you want to learn more about Mexican holidays and traditions?

Then check out A Woman’s Survival Guide to Holidays in Mexico!

 

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National Menudo Month

Did you know that January is National Menudo Month? Seems only a logical choice since December and January are full of festivities and menudo is a traditional cruda (hangover) cure.

Menudo is typically cooked in the biggest pot the chef has on hand. In 2018, Juanita’s Foods in California made the Guinness Book of World Records for the largest pot of menudo. Prepared in a 300-gallon kettle, weighing 2,439 lbs, 980 lbs. of tripe in beef bone stock, 600 lbs. of hominy and 171 lbs. of spices. Now that’s a lot of soup!

For those that have not had the pleasure, Mexican menudo (also known as pancita–stomach) is usually a beef tripe stew with a red chile base, not the Puerto Rican boy band from the 80s.

Menudo takes hours to cook properly, a true lesson in patience. The tripe and sometimes pancita (stomach) and patas (hooves), a whole onion, salt, and an entire garlic head are added and the soup is cooked another 4 to 7 hours. My husband adds avocado leaves and epazote (dysphania ambrosioidesleaves for flavoring.

The guajillo chiles are boiled and the seeds and stems are removed. Once soft, they are blended along with a handful of masa (tortilla dough) or if not available, a generous dash of flour. The mixture goes through the strainer into the pot.

Menudo is often garnished with oregano, onion, lime and a dash of ground chili pequin and served with corn tortillas.

If the chili guajillo is not added, it’s known as menudo blanco.

While I couldn’t find any particular reason menudo would help with hangovers, tripe is a nutrient-dense superfood, specifically zinc, niacin, folate, B12, calcium, iron, magnesium, phosphorus, manganese and selenium and a good source of protein. If I were to hazard a guess, menudo helps an ailing body mostly because it is a hot liquid (thus reducing the dehydration often experienced after a heavy drinking episode) and the chili pequin spice perks a body up whether you like it or not!

On the other hand, some of the seasonings used have long been considered of medicinal value. For example, hojas de aguacate (avocado leaves) have been traditionally used to a headache and fatigue and hojas de epazote have been used to treat an upset stomach. So there may be something more to treating la cruda with menudo!

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Planning a party in Mexico

Mexico loves to celebrate! You’d be hard pressed to find a family that hasn’t shared their life events with the friends and family in the form of a fiesta! And really, why not? Life events from christening to funerals, all have their own form of celebration.

 

More often than not, parties are not held at the celebrant’s house, but at a rented Salón de eventos (party hall) or cabaña (cabin). The owner will provide electricity, bathrooms and a clean-up crew, but usually not much else.

So the next party stop is to make arrangements with a place that advertises Se renta sillas y mesas (tables and chairs for rent). You’ll request a certain number of chairs and tables and sometimes tablecloths to be delivered to the rented venue shortly before the event. You’ll need to ask specifically whether the chairs and tables will be set up for you, or if you’ll need to have that done by the nieces and nephews an hour or so before the party. Just so you know, most often the chairs are flimsy metal contraptions with not nearly enough seat for your rump marked with the Corona logo.

A lot of people have the decorations made, which adds a personal touch to the event. Weddings and Quinceañera especially have adornments from florerías and tortilla servilletas (napkins) hand embroidered with names and dates from those ladies that sit in the market. Be aware that these are meant to be gifts for attendees, along with the larger table decorations, so if you want one as a memento, set it aside BEFORE the party otherwise you might just find there’s not a single one left.

On the other hand, there are places that rent themed decorations for events. These are NOT meant to be taken as souvenirs. The decorator will charge you for missing items so make sure your guests know the decorations are rented. You might be able to rent nicer tables and chairs from these party planners as well.

 

You will be able to hire a DJ (sonido) and servers (meseros) at places that advertise those services. Often the chair and table renters can refer you to a cousin that will be able to meet your music and serving needs.

The food is ordered from an establishment that specializes in that particular food preparation. Carnitas are the most common party fare so you would make arrangements with one of the regular carnita sellers to fry you up some pig during the day so that it will be sizzling hot when lunch/dinner is served. Usually, the food preparer will make arrangements for delivery, but it’s best to check. The same is true for cakes from the pastelerías.

Tortillas are also ordered ahead of time from a Tortillería. My sister-in-law often gets orders of 30 kilos or more for events. The host (or person in charge of the food for the event) places and pays for the order and she makes arrangements for her ladies to come at a specific time so that the tortillas will be piping hot for the event. She wraps them in tin-foil and keeps them hot in a cooler. She doesn’t deliver, so someone needs to make sure someone picks up the tortillas at her establishment before the party.

More luxurious parties might have a hired bartender or maybe el primo de su tía handling drink orders. Most parties have 2-liter soda bottles scattered along the table and people serve themselves. Many party guests bring their own alcohol as well, occasionally bottles are provided by the host in the spirit of self-serve.

Plates, cups, napkins, and eating utensils, even at most fancy dancy parties, are desechables (disposable) and purchased in bulk by the host, not the meal preparer at stores that sell desechables.

If your party calls for a piñata, make sure you fill it up with a mixed selected from the Dulcería (candy shop), otherwise, the whackers will be sorely disappointed when nothing but confetti falls out.

Many salones de fiestas (party halls) have a children’s play area. You can also rent inflables or brincolines which are those inflatable slides or jumpy castles to add to the fun. Make sure you have an extension cord long enough to power the inflator.

Make sure to book a videographer for pictures and a video montage of the event. Most foto estudios offer this service.

Make-up and hairdressing are done at a salón de belleza (beauty salon) or you can hire a beautician to come to your home prior to the event for some beautifying. Manis and pedis can be set up at places that offer Aplicacion De Uñas (nail application).

While women often buy their party outfits, men often have the option to rent their suits or mariachi costumes. These however often require tailor fittings beforehand, so check with the establishment on making arrangements.

Financing an all-out shindig comes from the pockets of the padrinos (godparents). Take, for example, the Quinceañera. Every aspect of the event has a specific madrina/padrino.  It’s important to acknowledge the contribution of each and every madrina/padrino publically so as to avoid offense. In fact, best to thank them several times in front of an audience over the course of the event. For the most part, these “contributions” make up the “gifts” to the celebrant rather than a pile of wrapped boxes. If you are asked to stand as madrina/padrino for a life event, make sure you know exactly what you will be responsible for.

I’ve seen a few invitations for events but for the most part, attendees are invited personally or brought along by someone who was invited personally or is a madrina/padrino for the event so don’t be alarmed if there is a sizable section of people you don’t know at your party. There’s always enough food and drink and if not, there’s always someone willing to go find more.

If you are dead set on invitations, you can make a master copy and have them printed out or copied at a place that advertises Se Hacen Copias (Copies made here). I wouldn’t recommend printing them on your own printer because printer  ink is extremely expensive.  Then you can spruce them up with sparkles or colors.

Parties quite often last long into the night and maybe part of the early morning. Somebody will bring the Café de olla (pot coffee) to keep you awake. The important thing is to remember is that you are making memories commemorating these transitional life events and not to be too fussed about those little annoyances (or that loud-mouth sister-in-law) that come up. Now go and have fun!

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Eateries in Mexico

I know you’ll find someplace delicious to eat with the money jingling around in your pocket in Mexico. Eateries abound. It helps to know what type of food each type of establishment specializes in, in order to satisfy that craving you have though.

Breakfast is pretty thin fare in my area. The best you can do is head to a juguetería (juice shop) for some freshly pressed juice or licuados (milky concoctions). If you need a bit of umph to your morning, you can get a pajarete (milk and liquor drink). There are a few cafes now, nothing so fancy as Starbucks, but they don’t open as early as I like to have my breakfast. You can also stop by the panadería (bakery) and pick up some sweet breads and carton de leche (carton of milk).

However, around 9, no matter what the season, it’s a good season for soup for breakfast. Yep, hot soup. Friday through Sunday you’ll see people carrying plastic handled buckets with foil which means they’ve gone and picked up their menudo or pozole for the morning.

During the week, the local birriería (place that serves birriria) is the place to be. Consomé (broth) with carne de chivo (goat meat in guajillo sauce) or montalay (vegetables, usually potatoes, carrots and peas, and ground meat bits in also in guajillo sauce) is one of our favorite morning delights.

Around 10, you might be able to find some places that sell desayunos (breakfasts) or buffets (pronounced bu-fet) with servings of huevos rancheros.

After 11, you can stop in at places that specialize in tortas (sandwiches made with bolillo) or huaraches (larger corn tortilla quesadillas about the size of your huaraches –shoe–hence the name). Loncherías or it’s Spanglish variant luncherías serve a variety of items. We even found a place that only serves tacos de canasta (basket tacos)–delicious!

Rotiserías sell rotisserie chicken and the fixings often include rice, mole, some sort of bland pasta concoction and salsa. Fried chicken can be found at places that sell Pollo Familiar and come with pretty much the same fixings.

The pizzería (pizza place) opens around 1. Don’t be surprised if your pizza comes with ketchup and hot sauce. Apparently it’s the way Mexicans enjoy their Italian pies.

A little later in the day and you can stop by places that sell comida corrida which is the Mexican version of fast food. It’s like a buffet setup with a daily set menu. You can order 2 or 3 guisados (servings)or a la carte to go.

Our town has both a Japanese and Chinese restaurant. The food offered isn’t what you might expect. It has a decidedly Mexican flavor. Spicy chili fried rice? No, thank you. However, as they are both run by people from those respective countries, if you know what to ask for, you can get a damn good authentic meal.

You’ll find some seafood dishes at the ostionería or un restaurante de mariscos or marisquería or even a coctelería. Try ceviche or coctel de camarón there. These establishments do brisk business during Lent when beef and pork are prohibited.

Restaurantes familiares often have a play area for the kids, giving the parents a bit more time to enjoy their meals. Cenadurías are simillar to the loncherías but open later in the day.

Taquerías also open late in the day. Don’t expect to get a taco before noon. Some open around 3 pm while our favorite taco guy doesn’t set up his stall until 7 at night. Tacos are served late into the night, but you need to get their sooner rather than later for tacos de tripa in my experience.

A kermés or quermés are those random side-of-the-road tent establishments that aren’t always there. Typically these spots are run by a few families that donate their proceeds for a cause, like one of the children needs a liver transplant or diasysis treatment. There is usually a sign indicating who will receive the proceeds, or there is supposed to be. These are not regular eating establishments and do not require a restaurant permit. They do have to present their cause to the presidencia (town hall) to get a permit to sell food for the day. The menus is whatever the volunteers cobble together.

On the other hand, there are regular roadside vendors which a variety of menu options. Some in shacks, some under lonas (tarps) and some with carts. Check with locals to see who offers the best food and best prices. We have enjoyed many a good meal perched on wobbly plastic chairs along the side of a dusty road.

Some eating establishments have a Servicio a domicilio (delivery service). Remember the tip rate in Mexico is 10% which is expected for this service. When in doubt on whether you should tip, ask a local. Quite often you can find a jar marked propinas (tips) near the register.

Eating out does have its risk. We’ve had mild food poisoning on a few occasions and not from those roadside stands, but established eateries. Allowing the Garcia effect to keep us safe, we no longer those items that have made us sick at any restaurant. Moctezuma’s revenge has never been an issue, however. Water is sold sealed in a bottle. Ice is made from ice vendors and isn’t any dirtier than the ice from soda dispensers found throughout the US.

Should you wish something other than a meal, you can get ice cream from the nevería, popsicles from the paletería, or gaspachos from the gaspachería. Other vendors sell jugos (juices), cacahuates (peanuts), raspados (shaved flavored ice) garbanzos, elotes (corn ears) and esquites (corn in a cup). You can find mobile fruit vendors with tasty cups of in-season fruit, or mangos with chili powder on a stick, churros (fried dough in long bendy tubes covered in sugar), tamales, camotes (sweet potatoes), churros de maíz (long thin fried corn sticks served with tomatoes, cabbage, and hot sauce) and kettle fried potato chips served with limón, salt and hot sauce.  All for just a few pesos. Who needs fast food when you can have freshly prepared delights every single day?

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