Monday, 4 March 2013

¡Viva la Revolución! or no quiero Taco Bell

I am not on vacation. I am on my Babymoon. (It's totally a word; look it up.)

I haven't been doing much elaborate cooking since the arrival of Baby MexiGeek número dos, but this is a good opportunity to talk about something that's been happening in the UK over the past few years. Some people are calling it the New Mexican Revolution.

I actually have a bad association with the phrase "Mexican Revolution" as applied to food, thanks to crap like this:

Once at Open Mic Night at the Mercury Café (which is the coolest place in Denver), a Hispanic poet summed up his opinion of this ad with the lines
Your revolución is not my revolución.
Fuck that dog.
And for the record, in 21 years of living in the US, I never once saw a Mexican eat at Taco Bell.

This UK "New Mexican Revolution" is essentially a growing interest in and awareness of Mexican cuisine in the UK. And this time it's legit. I've seen it myself.

When I first moved here, it was still a novelty to get flour tortillas in supermarkets, and they were invariably called "wraps".

Every "Mexican" restaurant seemed to be a fajita factory, and no one I met had ever heard of enchiladas.

I once got excited because I found a jar labelled "guacamole" at Tesco. It turned out to be avocado-flavoured mushy peas.

What is it with you Brits and your mushy peas? Seriously.

Of course, even back then there were some early pioneers.

Lupe Pinto's in Edinburgh has been importing and selling Mexican ingredients for over 20 years. They also make hella good guacamole and salsa.

And the Cool Chile Company in London have been importing dried chiles from Mexico since 1995.

I moved to Edinburgh in 2001, and if it weren't for Lupe Pinto's I wouldn't have survived. I got everything from them: tortillas, beans, spices and seasonings, tomatillos, even my favourite Mexican beer, Negra Modelo.

This one time I got a can of chipotles en adobo and made these awesome burritos. But I used the whole can (plus some other chiles) and they were so hot Mrs MexiGeek could literally see through time, like Lisa Simpson when Apu cooked Indian food.

Good times!

But in 2005 Thomasina Miers won Masterchef. Her cooking had a huge influence from her time in Mexico, and she went on to found the Wahaca restaurant chain and write two excellent Mexican cookbooks.

And in the past few years especially there seems to have been an explosion of Mexican products, restaurants, and suppliers, from chipotles in major supermarkets to recipes for Yucatecan pickled onions in Good Housekeeping to the rare and coveted pasillas Oaxaquenas being available on British soil thanks to Luchito.

The thing is, London is getting a disproportionate share of this New Mexican Revolution, especially regarding restaurants.

The majority of the UK quality Mexican restaurants are in London. They even had the UK's only Mexican bakery, Los Pastelitos, until it closed recently. ;(

As the UK's capital and largest city, you'd expect London to have more of everything, and to get everything first. But I'd still like to see a bit of that action up here in Scotland.

There's a Wagamama on Lothian Road; why isn't there a Wahaca as well?

Obviously, this has to be a two-way street. A browse of the menus of Auld Reekie's existing Mexican restaurants still yields a helluva lot of fajitas. But I'm starting to suspect that, at least in some cases, this has more to do with what the clientele demand than what the chefs want to make.

We, as a nation, need to put down the fajitas and try something new.

(Ironically, this "something new" would likely be a very old dish, like pato en pipián, which is duck in a delicious sauce made from pumpkinseeds.)

As soon as Baby MexiGeek can go on a plane, I need to arrange a trip to London to tour some of these places (Mestizo and Taquería are topping the must-see list so far).

Until then, let's all keep spreading the word about Mexican cuisine and see if we can make this a Permanent Revolution.