Trip Report (Bombon, Casa de Samuel, Taqueria Aguascalientes, Sol de Mexico & Chicago Hospitality)
Above anything else... many thanks to RST & Amata for arranging a wonderful afternoon getting to know Chicago's Mexican neighborhoods. RST gave me the tour, and then we meet up with Amata & Family for a wonderful dinner at Sol de Mexico. It was an honor to share the dinner table & great conversation with such knowledgeable, passionate people.
My initial impressions... while the trip was brief & my sample was hardly scientific... there is absolutely no doubt in my mind that Chicago - with just a fraction of the L.A's Mexican population - matches (at the very least) L.A. for bragging rights on best Mexican cuisine in the country... and I would not disagree with anyone who argued for its superiority.
> Marked Provincialism... just driving around it becomes immediately clear that Chicago's Mex population express their provincial / regional identities (via culinary offering) to a greater degree than Los Angeles. Driving around Cicero, 18th Street etc., I was impacted by the proportion of places that specialize in regional dishes such as Birrierias, Michoacan style Carnitas, Teloapan Style Moles, Quail & Cornish Game Hens etc... and their willingness to assert themselves & not get lost in the vast label of Mexican or Latino.
> True Specialties... Not Just Names. I was impressed that the names of restaurant have meaning, and the so many places try their best to deliver the dishes as best as possible. That means a Carnitas place is going to braise, roast, fry multiple body parts (not just the boring chunks of Maciza that dominate California's take on Carnitas)... and they are going to be marinated in the unique style of the town of origin, cooked in a copper pot etc.,
On to the food I sampled:
> We started out at Bombon... and was pleased to find a well regarded pastry chef that could be doing anything else... but is focused on bringing improved Pan Dulce & very nice cakes to the barrio. The Cocada was as good as I've ever had, the pan dulces I had wwer very good (although I let them get fairly stale... but the quality was still evident). At dinner we had a very nice Tres Leches Chocolate from Bombon that RST generously brought for Amata's son's birthday.
> Then we hit Casa de Samuel.... which reminded my of cross between a small town Mexico cenaduria & the classic old cantinas that specialize in botanas. We selected from the botanas menu... the Cecina de Venado (wafer thin Venison steaks) & Charalitos (fingerling smelt from local lakes fried in egg batter). The Cecina was tender with a texture reminicent of very good quality Gyros... and the mildly sweet flavor (for some odd reason) brings me images of Foie Gras. The Charalitos was flavorful yet clean tasting, with varying textures from tender to crispy... not at all oily... very well executed. This dish really brough a smile to my face as I thought about how important small, whole fish (albeit cooked in a different matter) were in Pre-Hispanic cuisine is they were (and in some communities still are) a vital source of Calcium (in a traditionally dairy free diet)... and here they were on a restaurant menu (not just in a snack bag at the grocery store).... again gives you an idea of the local communities ability to stick close to their roots. Casa de Samuel also had some other intriguing dishes to be had on a different trip... like the Rattle Snake, Alligator & others.
Wow... I didn't realize how long it really takes to write a post. I have to run & catch a flight... so I will continue the post later.
Re: "marked provincialism"
This phenomenon of regional differentiation has been noted in hundreds of posts over the years on this board. And the "provincialist expression" does not merely follow political boundaries, i.e. those of modern Mexican states. I have argued for instance that one of the richest strains of Mexican immigration to Chicago has its source in an extensive network of cities and towns extending more or less from Ciudad Hidalgo in Michoacan and extending past Celaya, Moroleon, Acambaro, as far north as Leon, Guanajuato. (This also explains the success of the daily non-stop Chicago-Leon flights on AA). I have written extensively on the centrality of Guerrerense cuisine in Chicago, specifically the foodways of the area of the tierra caliente of Guerrero (i.e. the towns of Iguala and Teloloapan et al). But the tierra caliente really extends much farther into Michoacan and into the state of Mexico; and we find actually follow the tracks of immigrants along Hwy 51 west to Arcelia and Palmar Chico in Mexico state, into Ciudad Altamirano, up to Huetamo, as far north as Susupoato (there is for instance a restaurant at 4070 S. Archer called Tierra Caliente whose owners are from Huetamo). These broad geographical divisions are a way to categorize, but certainly political loyalties are also important: so we also have restaurants proudly offering specialties associated with their states of origin: the sarandeado preparations of the Las Islas Marias for instance (so successful in this city-you now find sarandeado even in non-Nayarit restaurants, cf the mariscos restaurant on Pulaski at about 50th), the cemitas houses (Cemitas Puebla on North Ave, Cemitas China Poblana on the south side-4231 S. Archer), Veracruzan specialties, the gorditas like those of Gorditas Victoria in Aguascalientes or that very specific (and very delicious Aguascalientes-style barbacoa of Calvillos at Maxwell Street market) and so on. On a scale smaller than this, we have expressions from distinct regions within states. And on the smallest level, we have small towns that are not afraid to assert their culinary independence. This is how this restaurant can distinguish itself from that homogenous entity called "Jalisco":
Birrieria La Barca Jalisco
4304 W. 26th St.
This restaurant specializes in one thing only: the birria tatemada which is the specialty of this town. In addition, one has the option of enjoying this birria tatemada (birria refried on the grill before serving) with machitos (knotted stuffed lengths of intestine). The only other option on the menu at this small bustling restaurant is guilotas in salsa verde.
This is also possibly the only place in all Chicago (in the entire US) where one can get tacos de guevera de pescado (stewed fish roe). It's on the menu-although available only during the season-summer). Tejuino (w/ piloncillo) is also available.
We think of "Jalisco" as one undifferentiable mass-but in fact, in Chicago, we see gastronomic multiples. Birria and barbacoa are in fact not just one kind of birria or barbacoa, but multiple birrias and barbacoas: lamb, goat, the delicious veal barbacoa (barbacoa de ternera) of El Barzon (3002 S. Pulaski) as well as that place on California just down the street from Hot Doug's whose name escapes me at the moment...
Adding to your post....
1) The immigration from the pan-Tierra Caliente area has some very good motives namely.... Global Warming has brought on extended draughts to fragile ecosystems, Post-NAFTA imports of subsidized U.S. foods like Corn, Milk & Beef.... increased Violence vis-a-vis the strengthened Drug Cartels & the skirmishes between Left Wing Insurgents & the Government.
2) I was quite pleased that the Guerrenses from Tierra Caliente aren't pandering to outside groups by including dishes from the much more wellknown cuisine of the Costa Grande (Acapulco, Zihuatanejo etc.,) which is what most other Mexicans would identify as Guerrense cuisine.
Picking back up after a quick trip to San Diego and 5 too many drinks....
> The Cecina was served with the omnipresent side salad of shredded lettuce, tomatoes & onions (the use of Iceberg was a little disappointing as the traditional lettuce grown & consumed in Mexico... the Lechuga Orejona seems to be a hybrid of Romaine & Butter... and I think Samuel could do better with locally available ingredients)... & decent handmade tortillas (i was impressed to learn from RST that these are the rule not the exception, and that most are made from fresh ground masa instead of masa harina). We had earlier been served a smooth Tomato-Jalapeno salsa with some very forgettable (and irrelevant) chips.
The Charalitos were served with wedges of lime & bottled Piquin salsa (common practice at the grassroots places).
> We made a quick stop at the Taqueria Aguascalientes market to sample a gordita. The poached Nopales looked great but we opted for the Pork in Guajillo Sauce (similar to the ubiquitous tamal filling you would find throughout Northern Mexico & Southwest U.S.) The sights & aromas were quite sublime... I can't remember the last time I saw 20 hand patted gorditas being griddled at the same time.... the result was significantly better than so many places where they are a reheated after thought. Their gorditas are fairly equivalent to what I've had in Aguascalientes proper (although like RST mentioned... here they are stuffed significantly fatter... so the proportion of masa to filling is a little bit off... one of those is plenty whereas in Mexico you would have two or three.... depending on their diameter).
I should mention that I caught a quick glance of the produce section and spotted impeccable specialty items like Guaje pods, Quelites, round Calabacitas etc.,
> Before we made our way to Sol de Mexico we stopped at several Guerrense markets to try to score some Tamales Nejos and other regional delicacies from the Tierra Caliente region.... unfortunately these wouldn't be offered until the weekend. But my quick glance noted some very nice looking specialty items... at one of the markets the butcher was actually fileting out some nice, watermelon hued beef Cecina (which in Guerrero's nomenclature doesn't refer to sun dried meat but rather a wafer thin Flank steak... very similiar to what is referred to as Tasajo in Oaxaca).
> Sol de Mexico... a quaint, byob, mid level restaurant in the barrio that does some serious cooking. As the Chicago hounds probably already know it is the brain child of Topolo graduates... and there are many similar dishes (some of which were taught to Bayless by Geno Bahena's mother who runs the kitchen here). Unfortunately.... the conversation was so intriguing, engaging & pleasant that I took some attention from the food but my general analysis.... everything was compotently prepared, the selection of mains was intriguing & satisfying with a heavy presence of regional specialties from Tierra Caliente (and the town of Teloapan in particular). We started with the Sopecitos (4 small sopes with different fillings... I remember a Guacamole, Mole Rojo Teloapan, Mushroom?, & Black Bean.... and we also had their regional take on Tlacoyos (which reminded me of a cross between Oaxacan Molotes & the Tlacoyos around Tula, Hidalgo). For the main I went with the Quail in Creamy Chipotle sauce... and it was exquisite. Two subtle yet richly flavored birds smaller than the palm of my hand, propped up by intensely flavored Pork Picadillo... paired with Roasted Vegetables and the whole sitting on a Mirror of creamy, tangy Chipotle sauce. Even though I felt like a Toad about to burst at this point - I remember this dish is being a real winner. Other mains ordered where the Duck Breast in Guasmole, Tilapia Enchiladas & the Teloapan Mole?... a quick taste of the other sauces... proved everything to be executed deliciously.
I should point out that Quail / Cornish Game Hen are among the various nomenclature controversies. At Sol de Mexico they refer to the Quail as Codorniz, and the Cornish Game Hens as Guilota. In other places its the opposite.... so whenever you are ordering either dish make sure to ask for a description of the bird.
Overall the food was great, the services was extremely friendly (although its not fair to judge since Amata & RST are well liked regulars). Prices seemed very reasonable (although I may be biased by living in a hyper expensive place where hole in the wall taquerias offer $12 Camarones a la Diabla). Ultimately, Sol de Mexico is very comparable to mid level places in Mexico City like Los Danzantes... and there are only a handful of places in California I would describe in such a light (Manhattan places like Rosa Mexicano aren't even close). Its seruiys cooking that is fairly creative... but isn't quite on par with 7 Course Tasting Menu, Extensive Wine List places like Pujol, Aguila y Sol or Izote.
A more useful comparison might be.... superior execution relative to Topolobampo, at Frontera Grill prices, in a dignified, barrio restaurant setting.
That was me. It was a happy coincidence that we all converged at the same place on a wednesday night. If I had known you were on a quest for Tamales Nejos, I would have picked some up from a neighborhood Guerrerense place on the way. Actually, it would have been interesting to compare their coarse and crunchy moles with the refined and smooth moles of Sol de Mexico (next time).
You could not have been in the hands of more competent tour guides. I am amazed you saw (ate) so much in so little time. Please hurry back, there are many other unique and wonderful places to explore, including the amazing Maxwell St. Market.
Many of us Chicagoans are just beginning to discover the wonderful regional Mexican specialties that lurk beyond the burritos at our neighborhood restaurants and mercados (for instance, I just discovered my neighborhood taqueria offers conejo in guajillo sauce). It is great to get the opinion of an expert, such as yourself. We would love to get your take on some of the other places that were recommended (like Xni-Pec, Pozoleria San Juan and Cemitas Puebla).
re: Roger Spark
I believe Richard's contention is that Chicago might have the most diverse Mexican offering outside of Mexico City... I think the its a strong case.... even in major Mexican cities like Guadalajara & Monterrey you don't have the diverse immigration from other Mexican regions like you have in Chicago (and lately to Los Angeles).
As you guys know from my thread 'Mexican Coming to Chicago.... " I was specifically searching for the Guerrero Tierra Caliente cuisine because otherwise you really have to go there (or Mexico City) to experience it.
Re: Richard's contention that Chicago might have the most diverse Mexican offering outside of Mexico City
I first made that claim many years ago on the ff and similar threads. This old post was one of the opening salvos of a project to assert the importance of Chicago-Mexican, a project that lasted many years and encompassed hundreds of posts documenting various aspects of Mexican cuisine in Chicago on this board. I remember how that claim was greeted by incredulity and even scorn by the regulars back then. Time has since proven me right. Today, many years and many heartbreak later, I still stand by that original claim.
(Incidentally, this thread has a fascinating back and forth discussion on the exact nature of guilotas vs cordorniz-and also on bagre/mojarra)
Re: the cuisine of Guerrerense tierra caliente
The cuisine of the Costa Grande (and this is replying to EN's point below) is certainly well-represented in Chicago even in restaurants owned by folks from the region of Iguala/Teloloapan such as the La Condesa restaurants, the La Quebradas, and even in new places such as La Roqueta on 31st just west of Pulaski.
The renowned Chilapa region of Guerrero would be the second area to come to mind when one thinks of Guerrerense cooking. This region is best represented here by the pozole verde which can be found at Pozoleria San Juan. But the richer version still remains that of the storefront which used to be called Asi es Guerrero. The new owners of this store (whose new names escapes me) are no longer Guerrerense, but they inherited and kept the recipe for that wonderful rich pozole verde and still make it available everyday (not just on Thurs-pozole verde day) for its legions of Guerrerense fans.
But the foodways of the region around Iguala/Teloloapan finds its greatest expression here so far away in Chicago. Nothing prepares for the sheer specificity of the offerings of such a business:
Well, I did make it to Sol de Mexico tonight and I (as well as my shirt) enjoyed the wonderful Pork Chop in the Manchamanteles Mole -- outstanding. But my favorite trips to SdM are always with larger groups when I have the opportunity to sample so many dishes. Sadly, there were only a handful of tables occupied tonight -- I wish more people would discover this place. In any event, a great dinner and this post has provided me with quite the education -- thanks RST and Eat Nopal for taking the time to provide such well written and informative posts.
thanks for the wonderfully detailed report. I really enjoyed our dinner too -- and I'm so glad that you had a good time seeing some of the neighborhoods.
My dish at Sol de Mexico was the one with the red Teloloapan style mole, paired with ostrich. Oh, and the fourth of the sopecito assortment had roasted plantains with crema.
Now, what about the next day? :-) Were you able to stop somewhere for lunch before going to the airport?
Yup... thanks for remembering the 4th sopecito. Unfortunately the next day, I ended up at a Potbelly with some colleagues so I missed out on Health Food? (Lithuanian).
Fortunately it seems that I will have reasons to get back to Chicago more frequently... and I really look forward to chowing my way through the great offering there.
I regret that there wasn't enough time to see more since we only had three hours from 4 to 7 to do the touring on the way to meet Antonius, Lucantonio and Amata at Sol de Mexico.
But I regret even more that I could not fulfill the request expressed on the original thread for torta de huauzoncle.
I was able to acquire huauzoncle at Maxwell Street market the Sunday before and had brought it along with me to Sol de Mexico, hoping that Sra. Clementina Flores could prepare it (at the last minute) for us. But I had forgotten that she mans the kitchen the entire day and leaves at 7. The huge bunch is still there-probably a bit old by now-but if anyone is interested, you could certainly ask Anabelia if Richard's huauzoncle is still there, and if it could be prepared...
Here is an old post from 2002 on huauzoncle and other Mexican herbs:
Huauzoncle could be found in many Mexican supermarkets and is always available at Maxwell Street Market-even deep into the winter. I know-bec I got several manojos there last Nov. There are two stalls that always carry it-both are owned by Guerrerense from the area of Iguala/Teloloapan. Both are located at about where 13th Street would be (i.e. just south of Dominick's): one faces east and the other faces west. Both stalls also offer bins full of ciruela (Spondias sp. = hog plums), nanches, fresh guayabas, large wheels of queso de sincho (a hard cow's milk cheese formed with a sincho de petate, a band/belt of woven palm: this is a cheese unique to this part of Guerrero), guaje pods, and even bunches of papaloquelite. The latter stall is well-known among aficionados of the market for its empanadas de arroz.
Today, huauzoncle is no longer as obscure in this country as it was in 2002. Diane Kennedy has made it well-known with a recipe for the beloved torta de huauzoncle in her From My Mexican Kitchen: Techniques and Ingredients (p 173).
Torta de huauzoncle has been discussed many times on this board, notably in threads about lenten specialties (comida de vigilia or comida de cuaresma).
Annieb and I organized a long elaborate all-Guerrerense dinner at Sol de Mexico last year and the torta de huauzoncle was one of the featured dishes on the long menu.
I vividly remember Dr. Bruce Kraig (of the PBS series) who was seated next to me exclaiming in a momentary fit of excitement that this might just be the greatest dish on earth. (Well, I don't know if I would go that far; but yeah, it's pretty cool!)
Diane Kennedy makes hers with a pasilla sauce. Sra. Clementina serves it with a guajillo sauce instead-and it was a thin and light, slightly watery sauce as Diane Kennedy says it should be.
Annieb spent the entire day in the kitchen with Sra. Clementina and was able to observe the making of several of the dishes on the menu. She says that the huauzoncle is cooked in water first (with onion in the water). This is the only step that differs from Diane Kennedy's version.
If I remember correctly, Sra. Clementina used queso fresco, although other kinds of cheeses might also be used.
Magdalena Casarrubias of Chilapa has a recipe in her cookbook that intriguingly has a stuffing of cooked rice folded with tomatoes and cheese (ripe tomatoes "broken" into and "steamed" in the heat of just-cooked rice). But the rest is the same: yolk separated from the white, whites beaten "a punto de turron" (this is your "stiff peaks"), yolk added to make the capa and so on.
I remember annieb mentioning what a chore it was for her and for Sra. Clementina to divide the huge stalks into 28 diff portions which was the number of people expected for that dinner.
The way torta de huauzoncle is eaten is a bit tricky. I know several people at that dinner found it a bit challenging to eat. The sprigs should first be cut (with fork and knife) off the torta and the sprig then drawn through the teeth as one would enjoy artichoke.
It is a spectacular very ancient dish and I hope to see it become even better known here in Chicago in the future!!!
Regarding the nanches...I was at the market on Sunday and tried one at the request of a friend. I believe it was from the same stall you are referring to because I recognized the huauzoncle after doing a little search. Are nanches somehow treated or preserved to give them their distinct texture and flavor? My first impression of the nanches was reminiscent of a sweet olive. Just curious as to how these are handled?
Tonyg from the Western suburbs? Hi Tony. When are we going to Amanecer Tapatio again?
Fresh nanches for nibbling, probably from the exact same stall at Maxwell Street Market where you got yours, were the very last item on the long menu at the Sol de Mexico dinner that Annieb and I organized last year. The fruit has a dry, sandy texture and someone remarked that the taste is curiously cheese-like. Nanches can be eaten raw or can also be used to prepare "ponche"-a "thin" fruit compote or if you wish, a hot fruit soup.
The ff website has pictures of three of the "American" fruits featured on the dessert portion of that dinner: nanches, jocotes and ciruelas.
There was a specialist of Aztec studies on the guest list and Annieb and I wanted to honor her presence and the presence of Americanists like Amata by keeping the menu as purely nahua as possible. Naturally, it was impossible to do completely without post-Cortez foodstuff like cream or cheese or techniques like frying in hot oil (cf the torta de huauzoncle). But we were as rigorous as possible in avoiding items like pork (or chicharron!) or European-style sweets, and tried to emphasize local seeds and herbs as much as possible.
The dessert portion was as pure as we could get it.
First we started with CALABAZAS EN DULCE large chunks of earthy sweet sugar-roasted pumpkin. Later, we saw Sra Clementina enjoying a bowl of this with milk poured on top. When served with milk, the calabazas en dulce are called CHACUALOLE
TAMALES DE CIRUELA which I have described on my old "maroon van" posts. These are the yellow sour hogplums on the website linked to above. Earlier we had guilotas in a sour hogplum sauce are one in a series of entrees. That sauce was made with frozen ciruelas which are widely available in Chicago at groceries catering to immigrants from Morelos, Guerrero, the tierra caliente of Michoacan. The sweet tamales however are made with dried (i.e. raisined) ciruelas. The atole de ciruela of the maroon vans are also made with dried ciruelas (available at Los Sauces, Sol de Gueerero, Luciano's, La Guerrerense, Iguala and other places).
Then a PONCHE DE JOCOTE, the jocote fruits coming from the sma estall where I got the huauzoncle. These are fruits that have been frozen then defrosted. Not good for nibbling, but excellent in a ponche, which was delicious paired with a good mezcal (alas not from Guerrero, but this one from Oaxaca)
Finally, nanches for nibbling.
I will try to recreate the entire menu tomorrow.
Here is a quick run-down of the menu of Sol de Mexico dinner from last year. Note that almost all of the items on this menu were specially requested from Carlos Tello and Sra. Clementina Flores. I really doubt that this menu could be replicated again in its entirety now that the restaurant has become very popular and can no longer dedicate its entire staff to the task of elaborating so many unusual items.
This is an all-Guerrerense menu, designed to showcase the very best of the cuisine of the region of the state surrounding the cities of Iguala and Teloloapan. All the rare and unusual ingredients were acquired a few days before by annieb and by me at those stalls mentioned above at maxwell Street market, at La Guerrerense on Armitage, at Los Sauces and Sol de Guerrero.
Various HERBS arranged in flower vases set in the middle of the long table. I was hoping for papaloquelite but it was a little late in the season for that. But chepil, oregano and verdolaga were represented. The nibbling of herbs is a practice I observed at the pozole stands of Chilapa market, where herbs and guaje pods were set out on table for nibbling before and during the meal.
FRESH GUAJES (both the red and the green types) strewn all over the table, again for nibbling before the meal.
SEMILLAS (toasted squash seeds) two types: the chinches (AKA "fleas") as well as the pepianeros. I have written many times before (see maroon van posts) about how Guerrerenses from this area bring out semillas (instead of "chips") as a kind of opener. This was done at the lamented El Imperio de Memin (owned by the same extended family that runs the "maroon" vans) as well as at El Mexico Inquieto.
There were pitchers of melon/ground melon seed agua fresca for those who are not drinking wine.
SALSA DE JUMILES Y TOMATILLOS MILPEROS It was a little early for live jumiles and these frozen jumiles didn't quite give the same intensity of flavor and heat. But the spectacular thing about this salsa is really the tiny tomatillos milperos (tiny wild tomatillos found in cornfields) annieb found at La Guerrerense. These are NOT the round purple and green Physalis (labelled milperos) that could be found in many supermakets throughout Chicago (Andy's on Kedzie/Lawrence has them for instance), but tiny hard fruits the size of a large pea or a small marble. They're available very rarely at the above listed groceries.
SALSA DE GUAJES (using not fresh guajes, but dried guajes) according to annieb's notes: dried guaje seeds, lime juice, onion garlic. That's it.
SALSA DE VERDOLAGA This was one spectacular salsa, of which more in a little bit.
And then there was also an ENSALADA DE NOPALITOS Y VERDOLAGA, dotted with queso fresco (I think) which I didn't really get to try-so it's a little hazy to me.
DOBLADITAS DE HONGOS DE CAZAGUATE The service for this was perfect! Carlos and Anabelia came out of the kitchen in relays and slipped each diner one of these large mushroom tacos, which were for me one of the crowning glories of the dinner. I had hoped to bring along foraged maitakes for this-but Leon Shernoff (who was there) couldn't find any to bring-so we made do with store-bought Pleurotes (oysters). This is entirely appropriate as hongos de cazaguate (cazaguate being the name of a tree that Pluerotes are most often found on in Mexico) are well-beloved in the states of morelos, Mexico, Michoacan and Guerrero not only bec they are foraged but also bec there are government project to encourage the cultivation of oysters in rural areas. I think that the mix of mushrooms also included hon shimeji and perhaps also some fresh shiitakes from Clark Market (the Korean store on Kedzie). Carlos urged everyone to eat this dobladita with the salsa de verdolaga. It was indeed a marvellous salsa for this!
An ATOLE DE CALABAZA which brought on ooohs and aaahs. Sra. Clementina taught Rick Bayless this recipe for this pumpkin soup. The addition of a little nutmeg is a trace of his influence in turn, I think. The soup has an alternative name of AYOMOLE (which is a complicated subject bestleft for another post: there are many types of ayomole in Guerrero)
TLAXCALES These almost inch-thick masa cakes are a specialty of the area and could be made at Los Sauces and other places. there are sweet and savory types (we had the savory). Tlaxcal is the Nahua word fopr the myriad forms of what we would call tortillas today. Were tlaxcales of this thickness and size what the Spaniards first saw, which is why they called the food "little tortas" instead of flatbreads?
TAMALES DE ELOTE (tamales made with fresh corn kernels) I have written about this in maroon posts)
TAMALES NEJOS (see my many posts on this rarety)
More later. Have to run.
TAMALES NEJOS SERVED WITH MOLE VERDE I have written extensively about this delicacy. To show how localized the cuisine of this part of Guerrero is, I remember that when I first wrote about tamales nejos many years ago, there was absolutely NO hard information on it anywhere-not on the internet, not in reference books-it is not even listed in Iturriaga's De tacos, tortas y tamales. My sources were those folks here in Chicago who made and offered this specialty, who kindly and patiently put up with my probing. My maroon van post was almost certainly the first time ever that this tamal was properly described-at least on the web. Today, we know of at least 12 diff places throughout Chicago that offer tamales nejos. This form of tamales (which should be categorized in the family of corundas and other tamales cooked with ash) is not known in other parts of Guerrero outside this specific geographic area (although it can be found in other parts of the tierra caliente specially in the state of Mexico). It might possibly not be found anywhere else in the world except Chicago and again, it is quite amazing how one very localized foodstuff in Mexico finds possibly its greatest expression so far away, in our city. As Anabelia reminded me, tamales nejos served with mole verde is associated with a famous historical event (the " abrazo" of Acatempan); although I made the trip to the dusty little town of Acatempan earlier this year and found not one example of this. The rare, very unusual word "nejo" is very localized and is possibly used only in this part of Guerrero (it cannot be found in any of the great Spanish dictionaries). Maria Kijac, the author of the South American cookbook, who was at the dinner, asked me if I had made a mistake, and if I didn't mean tamales negros. Nejo actually comes from the nahuatl "nextli" or ash. When Anabelia tried to explain nejo to me, she indicated that it meant a color and seemed to describe this color as "tawny" or "dirty yellow". This website however indicates that the "grayish" is a more appropriate meaning:
neja. (Por último, del náhuatl nextic 'gris, de color ceniciento', de nextli 'ceniza'.) f. 1. Tortilla. || 2. Tortilla grisácea.
nejayote. (Del náhuatl nexayotl, literalmente = 'sustancia de agua de ceniza', de nextli 'ceniza; cal' + atl 'agua' + -yotl 'sustancia, cosa'.) m. Agua de cal o de ceniza en que se coció el maíz para las tortillas.
nejo, neja. (Del náhuatl nextli 'ceniza'.) adj. Sucio.
The form in Chicago is fairly consistent: it comes as a banana-leaf-wrapped flat round disc, some tamales nejos however are bigger than others (the biggest and most luxurious one is my favorite, the one from Los Sauces on Diversey). When I was in Teloloapan in Feb earlier this year, I also found a very rustic version in the Iguala Market being eaten for lunch by an old peasant (who was hawking something else) who promptly invited me to share his lunch of this tamales nejos which was (unusually) wrapped in hojas de milpa (dried corn leaves) and eaten with a little delicious stew of beans. I also found tamales nejos studded with flor de suchipal. Tamales nejos are often eaten with a green pumpkinseed sauce, called mole verde in this area (and Sra. Clementina made a distinction between mole verde vs pepian, which is also a ground pumpkinseed sauce but in a diff proportion of ingredients). The best such mole verdes made with pumpkinseed are thick, rich, oily and are heavenly with that gorgeous heady aroma of ground pumpkinseed. Kurbiskerno(")l (pumpkinseed oil) the famous specialty of Styria (Austria) which became so fashionable at some of our top restaurants (Tru et al) circa 2000 is very similar to this. Kurbiskerno(")l can be bought at a number of local gourmet food stores. To try it in a salad, ask Michael Mikusch of Austrian Bakery in Lincoln Park to make you one with this wonderful oil on it.
Quickly, the rest of the menu, just to wrap up this account:
(continued from above)
TAMALES DE ELOTE
CHILEATOLE WITH "PANILE" (described in my maroon van posts)
TORTAS DE HUAUZONCLE (see above)
Then followed the second courses:
which were preceded by two dishes of beans:
FRIJOLES COMBA a spectacular bean from this part of Guerrero, bought at La Guerrerense. This is one of the most delicious fresh bean to be found in all Chicago. It could not have been more than a couple of weeks at the most off the vine-so tender was it. I have seen black as well as all-white combas in Iguala, but these were the white "freckled" type. This was personally for me one of the revelations of the dinner. According to Annieb, Sra. Clementina gave her a simple formula: 5-5-5-5-5. Five guajillos, five chiles de arbol, five clavos, five pimientas and five cloves of garlic.
AYOCOTE The famous large purple beans of Central Mexico.
Then the SECOND COURSES
GUILOTAS IN SALSA DE CIRUELA (frozen ciruelas from La Guerrerense, which Sra. Clementina was very happy with)
PUERCO EN HUAXMOLE (huaxmole = a guaje sauce that is very typical of Guerrero)
VENISON IN THE MOLE ROJO OF TELOLOAPAN
CALABAZAS EN DULCE
PONCHE DE JOCOTE
TAMALES DE CIRUELA
Various wines were passed around and shared. I saw a Nero d'Avola among other things. I brought a selction of wines by Emilio Bulfon inclg his piculit neri which is one of the wines I love the most in the world.
Am I missing anything? Reconstructed the above from memory. Might have missed something. That dinner was a year ago.
Opplicario (at) yahoo.com
"I vividly remember Dr. Bruce Kraig (of the PBS series) who was seated next to me exclaiming in a momentary fit of excitement that this might just be the greatest dish on earth. (Well, I don't know if I would go that far; but yeah, it's pretty cool!"
=) For all the Alta Cocina Mexican restaurants around DF.... I have always thought that the $2 Tortitas de Huazontle served by one of the stalls at Mercado La Merced... rivals any dish for best in city. Those ladies from Xochimilco (where they grow their own Huazontle) do some serious cooking... on the spot (every order is made from scratch).
Incidentally, Dr. Bruce Kraig is one of the early pioneering explorers of Guerrerense cuisine in Chicago. The book that he co-wrote with Chef Dudley Nieto (late of Xel-Ha) has a fascinating account of their trip to Guerrero state (the coast plus the city of Taxco, though they didn't make it to Iguala or Teloloapan).
Here's the book listed on Amazon: