New Books Give Mexican Food the Respect It Deserves

Green Salsa Salad. Source: Phaidon
Green Salsa Salad. Source: Phaidon

It’s a cuisine that is enjoyed around the world without always being understood.

Mexican food is often liked more than it is appreciated, enjoying more popularity than respect.

That’s starting to change as we learn more about the diversity of the country’s regional cuisines and the layers of flavor that exist in authentic cooking.

Two new books should both serve to increase our understanding, though one centers on gastronomy while the other remains rooted in the streets.

First up is “Mexico From the Inside Out” ($59.95/£39.95), by Enrique Olvera, one of the most respected chefs not just in Mexico but also  in the world.

Olvera is classically trained. He was schooled in French cooking at the Culinary Institute of America in New York. When he opened Pujol in Mexico City 15 years ago, he had no in-depth knowledge of his own country’s gastronomy. He’d learned about rich sauces rather than salsas, more about pate than pibil.

Pujol has gone on to become Mexico’s most exciting restaurant, and Olvera the star chef. Pulol is ranked No. 16 in the World’s 50 Best Restaurants awards. He achieved this by connecting with his country’s food traditions: respecting the simplicity of street food while pushing culinary boundaries.

“Tacos, tamales, tortas, tortillas: If it starts with the letter T, it’s like a vitamin to us,” he writes in “Mexico From the Inside Out,” which tells the story of his engagement with Mexican cuisine and features 65 recipes.

If you are trying the recipes at home, you might need to substitute the occasional ingredient. You probably won’t need the detailed description of four types of worm, and you will be lucky if you can source many of the 24 varieties of chile.

One of Olvera’s achievements at Pujol has been to elevate the taco from the streets to fine dining, starting with a better tortilla. He tried about 20 different types of corn, worked out the exact amount of dough for a flat, uniform tortilla and deduced the precise number of seconds it should fry.

“At Pujol, we don’t see the tortilla as a mere base for the taco, but as edible tableware, tailoring the tortillas to what we will top them with,” he writes. Olvera will be serving his tacos in London next month at the Day of the Dead Festival with chef Thomasina Miers of Wahaca.

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SOURCE: Bloomberg