Wednesday, April 20, 2005

Escamoles, gusanos, and crema de chile pasilla

Or, from the inedible to the sublime in Mexico City.


Mexico City has to be one of the more daunting places in the world for me. Not that I've been all over the world, but where I've been, I've eaten and enjoyed the food. Chunchon and Seoul, Korea: loved the food. Tokyo: wonderful. London and Paris: saved by museum soup. Madrid: good food but no chile.

I don't like the taste of Mexican food in Mexico. Not Monterrey, except the carne seca, not Guadalajara, especially not Mexico City. Don't know exactly what it is, but I call my recent visit my Mexico City Diet. I go down there for four days and don't eat. Today, I put on an old belt and it fit. Thanks to four days en el D.F.

Except my wife read about Patricia Quintana's cooking at the chef's Polanco restaurant, Izote. Sanborn's serves a tasty coffee shop crema de chile pasilla soup, and enchiladas suizas are darn good eating. So now I can say I've dined in Mexico City and won't go hungry again.

Uau. What a meal. The on-the-house appetizers come with the menus. Fluffy, delicate gordititas filled with luscious, airy, queso fresco. Carrot soup comes in ample measure, garnished with a toasted pasilla filled with more of that soft queso. The waiter recommends I cut it apart to flavor each spoonful of creamy zanahoria.

The chicken breast swims in a light pesto made with puro butter and basil. A sweet garnish, this black paste, has the nostalgic flavor of tuna. I ask one of the attendants si era tuna and he says no, tuna is red. Obviously a city boy, doesn't know his tunas. This is black Sapote. Sapote is white, I tell him. No, that's the bad one, the good one is the black Sapote, he wants me to know. The waiter shows up a short while later, regretting the kitchen doesn't have a fresh black Sapote to show me. One of the pleasures of eating fin refin is stealing the recipes. I steal the recipe for a jamaica margarita.

On our way back to la Zona Rosa, I chat with our driver. "They wanted to serve me gusanos and hormiga," I tell him to get a reaction. "Escamoles!" he exclaims. You fry them lightly with a little onion and garlic and serve with a nice guacamole. Some other time, he can take me to the market where escamol mongers will let me have a quarto or more for a few bucks. Good deal. Good driver.

After turista hours, I started Eric Garcia's novel, The Matchstick Men, but couldn't bear the con games. Turned instead to George Harrar's The Spinning Man. A mystery. That worked better. Garcia improves when read in the EUA.

click the link under the title for a few pix of a demonstration we happened upon ...


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