El Come Taco

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I arrived a little before taquería El Come Taco opened. Luis Villalva, chef and owner of El Come Taco in Dallas welcomed me into the hallway-shaped shop with bright pink walls, a color-changing backlit service counter, mezcal bar, open kitchen, and, most importantly, some seriously good tacos. 

The Mexico City style taquería is coming up on its four-year birthday off Fitzhugh Ave in Dallas, but Luis’s taco making career started as a ten-year-old kid growing up in Mexico City. His family hit some hard times and he started helping out at one of the family's two taco stands in the metroplex, learning the taco trade on the streets of la CDMX.

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As a teen he moved to the US, landed in Dallas and has lived in the same neighborhood ever since. “In high school I went to the Jack in the Box almost every day,” Luis told me. "It was like my house. I really didn't like the Mexican restaurants around here. Everything just tasted like cumin." Let me be the first to tell you that everything at El Come Taco does not taste like cumin. A lot of shops around town claim to have "street tacos" and they are usually anything but. When I eat at El Come, their tacos really take me back to Mexico City, simple on the surface but packed with a ridiculous amount of flavor.  These are tacos that leave you asking two questions: “How does this taste so good?” And “Why didn’t I order more?”

Chorizo and Nopales, Marinada (Marinaded pork), Suadero and Potato

Chorizo and Nopales, Marinada (Marinaded pork), Suadero and Potato

Pastor, Campechano, Lengua

Pastor, Campechano, Lengua

Luis told me that respects what other chefs are doing with tacos, but rightly says that sometimes there are too many flavors in the tortilla and you end up kind of lost. “You don’t have to use five hundred ingredients to make a taco," he said. "It can be simple." And he’s really mastered the technique of using few ingredients and getting every ounce of flavor possible out of them. A great example of this is one of their side items, the cebollitas or grilled green onions. They couldn’t be simpler, but my god, they are delicious. I could eat two plates of those things without thinking twice about it. That said, I’m willing to bet that some things that might be simple for Luis who grew up preparing them are actually pretty complex, like all the scratch made salsas. There is a lot of time and technique that goes into making those salsas, and you can really taste it in the final product.

Cebollitas

Cebollitas

Roasted Tomatillo Salsa, Pulla y Arbol, Tomatillo y Aguacate, Morita. 

Roasted Tomatillo Salsa, Pulla y Arbol, Tomatillo y Aguacate, Morita. 

From CDMX to DTX

I asked Luis what most inspired him about Mexico City and how he translates that to El Come. "It's the freshness of Mexico City," he said. "You know, you've been there, everything in the markets is super fresh, you can walk down the street and get what you need. And we eat grasshoppers and cactus, and people don't know that these things are edible. You still have to teach people how to eat Mexican food, but in Dallas they are learning that it isn't about cheese and chips and salsa."

If you know me, you know I have no qualms about eating standing up on the street corner at night, stray dogs at my feet, or sitting on a plastic bucket on the side of the road if it means good street food. Not everyone is about that, and I get it. That's one of the cool things about El Come Taco, you get the flavors of the street but with tables and chairs in a comfortable setting. It's an entryway, a bridge for a lot of people, to a beautiful (and delicious) culinary tradition, and that's a huge acomplishment. 

Chef and Taquero Luis Villalva

Chef and Taquero Luis Villalva

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As delicious as the food is and how smoothly everything runs at El Come I was surprised to hear that this is Luis's first time running a kitchen. "I'm not a chef, man," he told me. "I'm just a taco guy." Taco guy, chef, as far as I'm concerned he can call himself whatever he'd like, his tacos are some of the best in town and that's a fact.

A family business

Luis works with his family: his mother, his wife, his brother and sister, and it can be challenging. Sometimes we romanticize the family run business, the quintessential "mom and pop" place, but try to imagine working with your family day in and day out. I love my family, but I couldn't do it. Family can be our toughest critics, because they know us on so many levels and they usually aren't afraid to share their opinions. “I never worry about when the health inspector or anyone else is coming, I know everything is the way it needs to be," Luis said. "But when my father comes, if everything isn’t perfect I’m going to hear about it. If today something is good, tomorrow it has to be better.”

House made Horchata

House made Horchata

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We talked a lot about Luis's path to El Come, some of the struggles and challenges he's faced and still faces, so as a final question I asked him what the best part of all of this was; what makes it all worth it? “This place has made my parent’s dream come true," he said. "And somehow I became passionate about the food too.” And that passion, that love for the craft, the food, and the family, that shows. And that's what makes this place truly great. That and the tacos. The tacos are phenomenal.

El Come Taco is located on 2513 N Fitzhugh Ave in Dallas, TX. They are open Tuesday through Thursday 11AM to 10PM, Friday and Saturday 11AM to 12AM and Sunday 11AM to 9PM. P: +(214) 821-3738

Dorilocos

We've been doing Doritos all wrong. If you're like me, for most of your life you've just eaten them out of the bag. Just like that. What else are you supposed to do with them?  As a kid I would put the Cool Ranch ones in my PB&Js (I know), and the most I had ever seen someone do with a Dorito in other countries was dip it in salsa. Granted, they do release crazy limited edition flavors (especially in Asia) including gems such as Clam Chowder, Mountain Dew, 3rd Degree Burn Scorchin' Habanero, Fish Taco, Shrimp Mayo, Tomato & Onion Salad, and Crispy Salmonbut we stop there. Mexicans, however, don't stop there. They created something called Dorilocos or "Crazy Doritos".

Nacho Cheese Doritos, carrot, beet, and cumber shreds, curitos, Hot Nuts Fuego, chamoy, Tajín, lime

Nacho Cheese Doritos, carrot, beet, and cumber shreds, curitos, Hot Nuts Fuego, chamoy, Tajín, lime

My first Dorilocos encounter was something like confusion with a side of curiosity and amazement. I was waiting for a combi in Nezahualcóytl, Mexico City and I saw someone eating a bag of Doritos out of the side of the bag with a fork. Later on I saw the carts and tents in the tianguis* dishing these out like nobody's business. Hot sauces, jicama, beats, nuts, carrots, fruit, a seemingly endless variety of stuff all went in the bag, only to come out again at the command of a long plastic fork. So what exactly are these and how did all this get started? To answer that we have to go way back in time to the 1960's with the birth of the Dorito. 

Flamin' Hot con Limón Doritos, sliced avocado, salsa guajillo, salsa Valentina, Churritos Hot, lime

Flamin' Hot con Limón Doritos, sliced avocado, salsa guajillo, salsa Valentina, Churritos Hot, lime

Doritos were invented in Disneyland, of all places, in 1964 as part of their "Mexican" (I use the word very loosely here) restaurant called Casa de Fritos (Fritos referring to Frito-Lay) as part of their Frontierland park. Journalist and author Gustavo Arellano of the OC Weekly explains that one of Disneyland's suppliers, Alex Foods, started making the chips as a way to use up tortillas that were going to be tossed out. They were plain tortilla chips, or totopos, and it wasn't until 1972 that the famous Nacho Cheese flavor was introduced. They also had a vague flavor called "taco" before the Nacho Cheese came out. 

To be honest, Frontierland sounds like my worse nightmare. Just looking at the listed menu items on old posters makes me cringe, and the photos I've seen of the place embody every Mexican stereotype imaginable. I wasn't able to find the exact date when Doritos were introduced in Mexico, I even spoke to a Frito-Lay corporate rep about it who was very polite and wished me luck with my blog but said he did not have the information I was searching for. I imagine it wasn't long before street venders started dressing up Doritos with Mexican flare. After all, the same concept had already been applied to other chips, totopos, and chicarrón in a simpler fashion with salsa and lime. 

Cool Ranch Doritos, Japanese peanuts, pickled red onion, dried mango, salsa Valentina, jicama, shredded cucumber, Tajín

Cool Ranch Doritos, Japanese peanuts, pickled red onion, dried mango, salsa Valentina, jicama, shredded cucumber, Tajín

Truth be told, the first time I saw Dorilocos in all their glory my first though was: "oh my god." Like a lot of things in Mexico, it seemed like too much. Too many flavors, too many textures, too many colors. How could this possibly be good? But Mexico City has a way of pulling off sensory overload in a really sophisticated way, and Dorilocos are no exception. 

Incógnita Doritos, salsa guajillo, candied jalapeños, curry, cilantro. 

Incógnita Doritos, salsa guajillo, candied jalapeños, curry, cilantro. 

Yes, I just said that gas station chips tossed with what seems like the entire contents of the pantry are sophisticated. Let me explain why. The word sophisticated comes from the Medieval Latin word sophisticatus which means 'tampered with', and later in Middle English it referred to something that had been 'mixed with a foreign substance' or 'adulterated'In modern English it has come to now mean complex, shaped by experience, worldly. Dorilocos take a foreign substance (Doritos), tamper with and mix them with local elements and have, over time, been made more and more complex through the experience and influence of one of the biggest cities and cultural centers in the world. Dorilocos, by definition, are sophisticated. 

Salsa Verde Doritos, Avocado slices, Mexico City esquites, cilantro, lime mayo, raw tomatillo and lime. 

Salsa Verde Doritos, Avocado slices, Mexico City esquites, cilantro, lime mayo, raw tomatillo and lime. 

Dorilocos really don't need a recipe, they are really a throw and go kind of snack, but I put together something for you guys if you want to try these at home. It's kind of hard to define what a 'classic' Dorilocos combination would be, but of all the different varieties I've seen there are common elements throughout and that is what I've put on the classic here. I've also put together a new mix for you guys. That's the fun of Dorilocos, there is no wrong way to do it. Have fun, experiment, use what you have, try new flavors and combinations, and don't be afraid to get a little crazy. 

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* Tianguis are magical open air markets that take over entire blocks of the city on certain days of the week and have everything from produce and meat to tacos and other prepared foods.

 

Coffee Folk

Gina and Brian Milligan's Coffee Folk provides coffee for the people. Their coffee cart officially opened this March and has been gaining traction with Fort Worth locals ever since. They rebuilt a 1974 Coachman Travel Trailer from the axels up, keeping some of the classic lines of the original but expanding the roof and giving it some stylish upgrades. With a pull lever Italian made Ranchillio espresso machine, pour over station, an arsenal of homemade syrups and flavors, baked goods from local bakeries, and breakfast tacos from Fort Worth's own Taco Heads, I could live inside this trailer forever. 

You can find the sleek black coffee cart parked in the Meadowbrook neighborhood of Fort Worth, and it stands out as the only place of its kind. Brian and Gina have done an amazing job of turning their little patch of the neighborhood into a hyper local gathering place. "It's nice being 5 minutes away from work," Brian told me as I sipped coffee inside the trailer. "And it's allowed us to meet a lot of people in our neighborhood.""It's made Fort Worth a little smaller," Gina added. "One of the best parts about this is being able to greet our neighbors in the morning." I sat in the trailer and watched as they greeted many of their customers by name, having their drinks started before they even made it to the window. They talked about work, their dogs, things going on in the neighborhood. 

I have to admit when I first went to Coffee Folk it was because I liked the set up, but I wasn't expecting much from the coffee. Needless to say I was wrong. It's some of the best coffee you can get in the city. The coffee duo learned a lot about coffee at home, but received some training from Andrea Spella of Spella Cafe in Portland, Oregon. Andrea is something of an OG of the coffee world, and has a really classic Italian style to his shop and coffee. Spella Cafe also started out as a coffee cart, and the Coffee Folk crew fell in love with his coffee while visiting different roasters. 

Whenever I go to a new coffee spot I usually order an espresso or cortado to see what their coffee really tastes like. And more often then not, it's nothing to write home about. But when I tasted the cortado at Coffee Folk, sitting outside at the small cafe table, listening to the goings-on of Meadowbrook, savoring the smooth, enchanting espresso, it took me back to my days in Europe, to the little shops and bars on the street, people standing and drinking coffee, no one on laptops working with their earbuds in, just visiting with one another and getting their daily coffee. And I think that's one of the things that makes Coffee Folk special, they've taken the spirit of old world coffee culture, of the neighborhood coffee bar, and added some strong Texas flow. Their attention to quality and love for their community make this a truly unique spot. But don't take my word for it, grab a friend and try it out for yourself.

You can visit Coffee Folk Thursday through Friday 7am to 1pm and Saturday 8am to 3pm at 4147 Meadowbrook Dr, Fort Worth, TX 76103

Keep up with what they're doing on Instagram @coffeefolkcafe or Facebook at Coffee Folk Cafe

CASA MASA

John Hernandez, tamalero and owner of Casa Masa, and I first met because he was making fun of me for taking pictures of my lunch. "Your food's going to get cold if you keep taking pictures of it," he said, looking at me with a 'just eat it already' look. "I know, I'm the worst," I said, all the while arranging things on the table for the photo. Gram or it didn't happen. We got to talking and on my way out John mentioned that he does tamale pop ups. *record scratch* You make tamales? Why didn't you tell me this earlier? 

Jokes aside, John is a truly great tamalero. This summer I've been visiting the Casa Masa pop-ups in Dallas, often appearing at the Double Wide's monthly flea market by the Dallas Farmers' Market, breweries, gallery showings, and other events. When I visited Casa Masa at the Double Wide he was set up inside a classic Airstream mobile trailer slinging six different kinds of tamales. Green chile pork; cilantro chicken with roasted tomatoes; black beans, jack cheese and jalapeños; zucchini, carrots, squash, kale, roasted corn and red peppers; sweat potato, kale, cumin and shallots; ancho chile brisket with queso and pico de gallo. I'd never seen tamales like this before. The choices were overwhelming, so I did what any reasonable person would do and ordered one of everything. He pulled the warm, corn husk wrapped tamales from their steamy beds, and in seconds I was enjoying some of the best tamales I've ever had.

I sat down inside the airstream and tried the first one. Simple but flavorful queso oaxaca, the slightly sweet, mildly smoky roasted chiles, the perfectly seasoned masa, smooth and luxurious. "Damn," I thought. "I expected them to be good, but not this good." I tried the pork. The texture was phenomenal. It wasn't stringy or dry, it was juicy but not soggy. For something made out of masa and pork, it felt light. Then I tried the veggie options. Sweet potato and cumin with kale was surprisingly one of my favorites. I'm so used to sweet potato being, well, sweet. Making it savory with cumin and other spices gave it a whole new flavor. And I know everyone is eating kale these days because it's good for you, but let's be honest, kale doesn't taste good. It's tough and the flavor is strong in all the wrong ways. John makes kale taste good. I don't know what kind of South Texas magic he puts on these tamales, but I'm not complaining. 

John comes from a family of tamaerlos and restauranteurs, learning to make tamales with his mother and grandmother. Making tamales is a passion for John, and his love for the husk-wrapped bundles of masa really comes through in every bite. But more than that, it's a way for John to carry on the family tradition and continue to honor and cherish what his mom and grandma taught him while at the same time making the tamales his own.  

As I snapped a few photos of the last two tamales before devouring them and heading out, an older gentleman outside the airstream called out to me, "You're supposed to eat it, not take pictures of it!" 

I shrugged my shoulders, "it's not the first time someone's told me that." 

He started laughing. "Now listen, the first time I saw people doing that I said 'that's so stupid', and now look at me!" he held up his phone for me to see, "Every damn meal, I'm taking a picture of it!" He smiled, dismissed me with a wave and was gone.  

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Keep up with the Casa Masa pop ups on Instagram @casamasatx and Facebook Casa Masa. Word to the wise, get there early as the tamales routinely sell out before closing time. 

Pizza Al Pastor

You've had tacos al pastor. Delicious. Now take that concept and apply it to pizza.

I wish I had a video of my reaction when I first saw this pizza. Surprise, joy, excitement, all wrapped up together and covered in melted cheese. It was 11PM approaching midnight in Mexico City, I was at my friend's house when his cousins came over. We had already eaten tacos, but they brought pizza. 

"¿Es pizza de que?"
"Al pastor."
"¡¿Pizza AL PASTOR?! No manches."

Even though I was already stuffed, it looked so good I had to eat a piece. It was life changing. When I got back to the States I wanted to recreate it at home. After discussing it with a few friends in la CDMX we settled on the following recipe. The combination of the Oaxaca, Manchego, and Mozzarella cheeses are unstoppable. The sweet and spicy bite of the candied jalapeños and pineapple walk hand in hand with the salty goodness of the chorizo and tender pork al pastor, all brightened up by the fresh cilantro and lime. 

You can marinade and grill your own pork, or find pre-marinaded carne al pastor at most Mexican meat markets.

You can marinade and grill your own pork, or find pre-marinaded carne al pastor at most Mexican meat markets.

Serve with Topo Chico, Fanta, Squirt, Jarritos, Coca-Cola Mexicana, or whatever your heart desires.

Pair with WK Summer Playlist

Taco Libre Dallas

This past weekend I got to hang out at Taco Libre Dallas, a festival celebrating the beauty that is the taco. Represented at the event were 20 plus taquerias from the DFW and beyond.

At the event my taco guides were Michael and Anthony. Michael, aka TacoTeur, is a world record taco eater, currently at 392 consecutive days eating nothing but tacos (that's 3,544 tacos at the time of this writing). Check out his Instagram for daily taco posts if you don't believe me. Ant (Ant Eats) is another taco lover in the area who I will forgive for eating his tacos with just meat (no salsa, no onion, no nothing) because he walked the entire festival with me trying tacos.

There were a ton of amazing tacos to try, here's a quick rundown of what I ate (in the order that I ate them).

Resident Taquería

At Resident Taquería I had their whole head barbacoa taco (check their Instagram for photos of the seasoned beef head they slow cooked). This was some seriously good barbacoa and a great way to start off the festival. The guajillo and green salsas had a great balance of heat and flavor that lent itself really well to the tender and juicy meat.   

Maskaras MEXican grill

 At Maskaras I got the signature Maskara taco with seasoned beef, cheese, guacamole, pico de gallo, and salsa verde. Texas sized for sure, this was the biggest taco I had all day. It was a great second taco, the beef was tender and caramelized with a crispy edge, paired with unctuous avocado and spicy green salsa I could have eaten five more of these.

Revolver Taco Lounge

 I'm a sucker for a good octopus taco, but because octopus is challenging to prepare I'm pretty picky about where I'll order it. At Revolver Taco Lounge they know what they're doing. Topped with a heaping handful of fried leeks and the best salsa verde I had at the event, Revolver's taco de pulpo cannot be missed.

 Urban Taco

Urban Taco was serving up some Michoacán style Carnitas de Cazo and Barbacoa de Borrego (goat barbacoa). They went old school and cooked the goat the traditional way by slow cooking the meat buried in the ground. The texture and flavor of the meat was as beautiful as the presentation.

(At this point I was beginning to fully realize that there were no bad tacos at Taco Libre and to wish that I had four stomachs like a cow so I could try them all.)

Ki' Mexico

All the way from Shreveport, Louisiana Ki' Mexico was serving up some great tacos, but what had everyone talking was the Tofu Gringa. Ki's ancho and guajillo seasoned tofu with melted, savory queso oaxaca, jade salsa verde, onion and cilantro on a flour tortillas was absolutely killer. 

El Come Taco

El Come Taco had probably the longest line out of any of the taquerias that I saw represented, and for good reason. By nature I'm skeptical of places that describe their tacos as authentic Mexico City style, but when I bit into El Come's alambre (beef with vegetables and cheese) I became a believer. Maybe it was the sharp sizzle of the beef as it hit the grill, the rapid scrape of dueling spatulas in the taquero's hands, the crowd of people all around, the simple but demanding flavors, but for a second I almost forgot where I was.

WRAPPING UP

All in all, a fun festival with a truly great selection of tacos. If you missed the Dallas event, don't worry Taco Libre Austin is May 15.

Cheers to José Ralat of Taco Trail for curating this event. Looking forward to next year!

José Ralat getting the gram at Taco Libre Dallas

José Ralat getting the gram at Taco Libre Dallas

Labarrère

You guys remember Damián from the last post? Apart from being a phenomenal chef, he's also a brilliant leather craftsman. While in Mexico City he made me the best apron I've ever had.

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Damián hand crafts all kinds of leather goods, ranging from wallets and passport covers to aprons and totes. At the moment his work is only available in Mexico. See more from Damián on Instagram @damian.labarrere and his newly launched account labarrère for his handmade leather goods. 

 
"There are two men inside the artist, the poet and the craftsman. One is born a poet. One becomes a craftsman."
 

Photos by Damián Labarrère. Zócalo, CDMX

Damián Labarrère

Damián is something of a Renaissance man. Multitalented, multilingual, well read and traveled, a calm demeanor, and full of surprises. Walking through the streets of Mexico City, he knew the history of the buildings and who they belonged to, why this kind of tree is found in this neighborhood and how it got here, the stories behind the peoples and foods of Mexico. Our walk to the the corner stand for gorditas was a walk through time and culture. Classically trained in the Mexican culinary tradition, Damián is well acquainted with fine dining and the "alta cocina."And yet the self titled "Ta-Connoisseur" loves to eat on the street. Tacos, tlacoyos, empanadas, tamales, quesadillas, birria, aguas frescas, the variety of food found on Mexico City streets is exciting and essentially limitless. He stretches his arms out towards the bountiful streets as we pass by cart after cart of food, "Éste es México, amigo!" This is Mexico. 

"Eating on the street is one of the greatest pleasures we have in this life," he comments as we walk past dozens of street venders selling everything from fresh fried potato chips with chile and hot sauce, to tacos, huaraches, gorditas, hot cakes, esquites and everything you can imagine. The sheer amount of food available at any given time, wherever you may be, is one of the most striking things about the city. Stuck in traffic? Venders wade through the cars carrying trays of neatly packed clear plastic containers filled with fruit or cakes and other snacks. Taking the metro? Cooks and venders occupy the spaces between connecting lines, filling the hallways with the smell of baking bread and pop corn. Bus stops and street corners are teaming with complex systems of tents and carts, large comals and hot plates. The sharp sizzle of meat on the grill and the gentle thud of the tortilla press surround you as cooks call out specials in the form of the ubiquitous question "¿Qué le damos?" "What can we give you?" In a city that has some 28 million inhabitants, having access to food everywhere at all hours just works. "You have everything here," I say in awe as we pass el Palacio de Bellas Artes in between taco stops. "I know, dude," he laughs. "That's why I'm not leaving."

Ricos Tacos Guisados "Las Aguilas", CDMX, México

Ricos Tacos Guisados "Las Aguilas", CDMX, México

Here in Texas, what passes for Mexican food is often unrecognizable to Mexicans. Tex-Mex has it's place in the culinary world, don't get me wrong, but please take the word "authentic" out of your neon sign. As Damián showed me the different types of food found throughout the city he explained that even in Mexico a lot of what is thought of as traditional Mexican cuisine has it's roots in other countries. "Mexico is the best country to live in," he says convincingly. "But we don't even know what we have here, or where it comes from. We think that chorizo is Mexican, but it's Spanish. Real Mexican cuisine is indigenous, everything else is fusion." And there's nothing wrong with fusion, fusion is delicious, but we should know what we're eating and why. When you appreciate the history, you appreciate the food more. That's one of the beautiful things about Damián's view of Mexico City. He talks about the city as one in love. He knows its past, is aware of its many flaws, and yet he loves it anyway. The city can be difficult and frustrating, but he sees it as beautiful and fascinating, a never ending maze meant to be explored and cherished. When Damián eats on the street, it's not haphazardly. It's not because he couldn't find a decent restaurante to eat at, or due to poor planning or timing, it's because he really loves it. He sees the time and effort and tradition in street food, the elegance of the flavors that are nearly impossible to replicate indoors, and the dignity and transcendent delight of eating with your hands while sitting on a crowded street corner. 

Tacos campechanos con chorizo verde

Tacos campechanos con chorizo verde

I asked Damián to sum up Mexican food in a single paragraph, and he did so beautifully. It's best heard in Spanish, but I will do my best to translate.

 "Es como una fiesta en la boca, llena de sabores, colores, texturas; pasas de lo sublime a lo emocionante y de lo triste a lo feliz en un solo bocado."
 -Damián Labarrère

Translated: "It's like a party in your mouth, packed with flavors and colors and textures; you go from the sublime to the exciting and from sad to happy in a single bite." I couldn't agree with you more, buddy.

Keep your eye out for more from Damián on the blog in the near future, as well as more posts from Mexico City. 

¡Buen provecho!

 

Pyknic + WERO

It's Taco Tuesday people! And this week I had the pleasure of working with my friends over at pyknic (@pyknic) to create some bomb tacos for you guys!

If you don't know Pyknic, stop what you're doing and go to their site right now. Tacos. Waffles. Brunch. Coffee. All the good life printed onto wearable goodness. 

And if you're hungry go check out the fried queso fresco and avocado tacos we're making. They're vegetarian (you're welcome) but I promise even meat lovers will throw down on these tacos. Full recipe and instructions on the Pyknic blog.

What are you waiting for? Go make some tacos!

Taco Gear + WERO

This week I had the pleasure of working with Taco Gear founder and taco lover Gerald Flores in creating a taco for all you taco lovers out there! For those of you who don't know, Taco Gear is "a brand dedicated to tacos". So basically it's the best thing ever. I've been a fan of Gerald's taco shirts since I stumbled upon it on Instagram not too long ago and had a blast doing this shoot. 

Check out Gerald's blog Taco Talk for the recipe for Tacos Campechanos I put together for the Taco Gear crew as well as other cool taco related stuff! 

Tacos Campechanos for Taco Gear

Tacos Campechanos for Taco Gear

P.S. Huge thanks to Nicole and Katie for being my hand models for this shoot!

The American Melting Pot

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The melting pot is an image that conjures up the ideals of American culture, of the United States as the place where people come from many nations, journeying across oceans and crossing borders to become a new kind of person: the American. You come from distant lands, leaving behind all you once were, your old ways of thinking, your old ways of eating, your oppression, your lack of opportunity, and you are given a fresh start, the much sought after “clean slate”, and the ability to make of yourself whatever you want. The idea is romantic and poetic, but isn’t representative of the immigrant experience.

 It was the French-American author Michel Guillaume Jean de Crèvecoeur who most famously and deeply propagated the idea of the United States as the world’s melting pot. Crèvecoeur was a fairly well-to-do man who was born and died in France, served in the French military, and eventually obtained American citizenship in New York where he lived for some years as a farmer. Two years after leaving America he published a book in London entitled Letters from an American Farmer under the American pseudonym John Hector St. John. In this book he asks the question "What is an American?" 

 What then is the American, this new man? [...] He is an American, who, leaving behind him all his ancient prejudices and manners, receives new ones from the new mode of life he has embraced, the new government he obeys, and the new rank he holds. He becomes an American by being received in the broad lap of our Alma Mater. Here individuals of all races are melted into a new race of men, whose labours and posterity will one day cause great changes in the world.

 I find it interesting that this passage from an affluent French lieutenant turned farmer who never permanently lived in the United States has become the defining identity of the American ethos. Crèvecoeur’s ideas have prevailed into our modern times, but we’ve taken them a step further. The American melting pot is no longer the way things naturally occur in this country; it’s the way things must occur. It’s the new law of what is mistakenly called assimilation.

 When an immigrant comes to the United States, he is expected to speak our language, follow our trends, tend to our schedules, and try to be more like upper class American suburbia. We call it assimilation but in actuality it’s an unrealistic cultural expectation of extreme adaptation. Immigrants are expected to arrive in America as blank pages. If they cling to any strand or fiber of their roots that we don’t approve of they’re accused of not assimilating into American culture and of trying to overtake it with their own. Of course certain cultural traces and traits are acceptable, while others are not. Having an Italian accent is attractive; having a Mexican accent means you don’t speak English well. Wearing traditional African clothes is chic; wearing a hijab is threatening. If you’re from Sweden we assume you have great style; if you’re from Colombia we assume you’re a drug smuggler. The list goes on an on.

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 But why shouldn’t we assume this? Isn’t that the way immigration works? It’s only fair. They’re coming to our country, setting foot on our turf. We’re Americans, why should we adjust to accommodate the outsiders? Because that is what an American does, and has done for most of our short history. When we talk about true assimilation, we see the preexisting culture take upon itself to incorporate the entrance of a new culture. Let me give you an example. The immigrant comes speaking Spanish and eating tacos. Americans find themselves saying "gracias" and add tortillas to their shopping lists. The immigrant comes speaking Farsi and frying falafel. Next thing we know, words like shawarma, kebab, and baklava don't seem foreign but delicious. Assimilation is about an addition, not a subtraction. The dominant culture is expected to adapt to the entrance of the foreign, not exterminate it. America, the burden of assimilation is not on the immigrant entering our borders, it's on us.

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Here’s the bottom line: assimilation isn’t something an immigrant can do on their own; it’s something that we have to do together. America isn’t a place where people come to lose themselves because Lady Liberty isn’t a lunch lady tossing everything from the fridge into the pot and calling it a nation. She is a chef, and a good one. She respects the origin and history of each ingredient and attempts to bring out its best flavors, accent its unique attributes, and celebrates them on the unique menu. America isn’t a melting pot it’s a dinner party where everybody brings their favorite dish to the table. If the immigrants bringing sushi and enchiladas and pho had merely melted into the existing American culture, we would never know about their rich culinary treasures. But they didn’t merely try to “fit in,” they shared their food and culture, rejoicing when we accepted, and remaining stubborn when we refused. We in turn did the same. We assimilated. Together.

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 I'm going to end this post by contrasting Crèvecourer's words with those of Marcus Eli Ravage, a Romanian immigrant to the US. His book An American in the Making: The Life Story of an Immigrant present a very different and I believe more accurate look into the immigrant experience. Written one hundred years ago in 1917, his words are haunting and timely for 2017.

 When I hear all around me the foolish prattle about the new immigration –" the scum of Europe," as it is called— that is invading and making itself master of this country, I cannot help saying to myself that Americans have forgotten America. The native, I must conclude, has, by long familiarity with the rich blessings of his own land, grown forgetful of his high privileges and ceased to grasp the lofty message which America wafts across the seas to all the oppressed of mankind. What, I wonder, do they know of America, who know only America? [...] It is the free American who needs to be instructed by the benighted races in the uplifting word that America speaks to all the world. Only from the humble immigrant, it appears to me, can he learn just what America stands for in the family of nations. The alien must know this, for he alone seems ready to pay the heavy price for his share of America. He, unlike the older inhabitant, does not come into its inheritance by the accident of birth. Before he can become an American he must first be an immigrant [...] try to think of leave-taking –of farewells to home and kindred, in all likelihood never to be seen again; of last looks lingering affectionately on things and places; of ties broken and grown stronger in the breaking. Try to think of the deep upheaval of the human soul, pulled up by the roots from its ancient, precious soil, then slowly finding nourishment in the new soil, and once more thriving –not, indeed, as before— a novel, composite growth. If you can see this you may form some idea of the sadness and the glory of his adventure. Oh, if I could show you America as we of the oppressed peoples see it! If I could bring home to you even the smallest fraction of this sacrifice and this upheaval, the dreaming and the strife, the agony and the heartache, the endless disappointments, the yearning and the despair – all of which must be ours before we can make a home for our battered spirits in this land of yours. 

Candied Jalapeños

I put these on everything. Tacos. Pizza. More tacos. More pizza. There are more options, but these are my two favorites. White people like to put these on crackers with cream cheese. It's actually delicious. But honestly, why eat crackers when you can have tacos or pizza?

There are a lot of recipes for candied jalapeños out there, most of them are pretty similar, I've tweaked mine just a bit and am pretty happy with the results. Most recipes I've seen for these start with two pounds of jalapeños. That's cute. Start with four. Since they need to sit for four weeks, it's nice to have a backup jar waiting for you in the pantry while you make a new batch. Or, like the Meyer lemon preserves, they make great gifts. But only give these to friends you're really fond of, because once your start they will keep asking for more. You're not just making topping, your starting a tradition, so be aware. Another reason to do this is because jalapeños are stupid cheap. I get mine at El Rancho Supermercado and they are usually $0.88 a pound so we're talking about less than $4 here. But that's enough talking, let's make these bad boys. Recipe and instructions below.

Serve with tacos, pizza, crackers, or just eat them out of the jar.

Pair with Left Hand Free, Alt J (Lido Remix)

Wero Kitchen Winter Playlist

Winter has come and Christmas is upon us! This is my favorite time of year. I'm a sucker for cold weather, coffee, and spending extra time with friends and family. I grew up listening to classic Christmas songs by Frank Sinatra and Ella Fitzgerald, and in recent years my Puerto Rican friends have exposed me to greats like Willie Colon and El Gran Combo De Puerto Rico, and the two could not go better together. I've also included a few other artists I've been listening to this December. As always, a list of the songs can be found below, and the playlist can be found on YouTube here. Crank it up, pull out the champaign and enjoy.

Jingle Bells, Frank Sinatra

Winter Wonderland, Ella Fitzgerald

Aires de Navidad, Willie Colón

Alegria y Paz, El Gran Combo De Puerto Rico

Bomba De Navidad, Ismael Rivera

Medley de Navidad, Twice Música

Gracia Sin Fin, Evan Craft

Come Thou Long Expected Jesus, Kings Kaleidoscope

Meyer Lemon Preserves

Last week we made Espresso Romano using our fresh Meyer lemons. Since we still have a bounty of citrus chilling on the table, let's make some preserves. Preserving fruit has long been a way of saving your bumper crop for use later in the year, and it's pretty easy to do. Preserves also make great gifts and if you make these now, come Christmas they will be ready for use. So let's get to it!

Before you get started, sterilize the jar you're going to use. They always come with instructions on how to do this but basically just boil it in water for about 10 minutes and then let it air dry. Next, cut your lemons into quarters if they are small or eights if they are large (I cut mine into eights because they were enormous) and remove the seeds. Squeeze the juice into the jar and then place the slices inside and spoon a generous amount of kosher salt on top. Repeat this process until you have filled your jar. Seal your jar and let this sit for at least 4 weeks. The result will be a salty-citrusy delicious bite. So what do you use these for? Great question. A lot of North African (Think Morocco) cuisine will uses lemon preserves, but you can use them in a lot of different dishes. Here is some inspiration from Bon Appétit and the Kitchn. Also, Pinterest. You know what to do. 

Spiced Meyer Lemon Preserves

Now, if you want to spice them up a little, you can add some additional ingredients. Same exact technique, but this time with the layer of salt I'm going to add pink pepper corns, clove, cinnamon stick pieces, bay leaf, and crystallized ginger. Don't feel tied down to any or all of these spices; substitute, add, or leave out any that you want. Experiment, have fun, and enjoy! 

Espresso Romano

When life gives you lemons, I guess make lemonade. When your friend gives you fresh Meyer lemons from their garden you should do something better, probably. 

Meyer lemons are native to China and are thought to be a cross between oranges and lemons. They are sweeter than run of the mill lemons and have a depth of flavor that is citrusy with pronounced herbal and floral notes. The skin is thinner and softer, and the fruit is incredibly juicy. The subdued tartness and complexity of flavor makes the Meyer lemon perfect for espresso Romano.

Espresso Romano (Roman espresso) is espresso with a twist of lemon zest and a little lemon juice. Awkwardly, it is actually not done in Rome (or Italy) at all. I asked several of my Italian friends from various parts of Italy and none of them had ever heard of it. The closest thing I found in Italy was moretta fanese which is a coffee based drink that features the lemon twist but aso anise, rum, and brandy. My friend Marco says this is a drink for sailors and seemed to think I'm too much of a featherweight to drink it. He's probably right. 

Preparing espresso Romano is pretty simple. Pull a shot or two of espresso (use a moka pot if you don't have an espresso machine) and serve with a twist of Meyer lemon and sugar. You can also squeeze a bit of the lemon juice into the demitasse and rub a bit around the rim. That little bit of lemon adds brightness to the espresso and softens the bitterness somewhat. It also looks classy. So sit back, enjoy a break in the afternoon, and enjoy. 

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Serve with Perrier sparking water

Pair with Unstoppable, Lianne La Havas

Thanksgiving

This post will be pretty short, I just wanted to say that this year has been full of changes and challenges for me. It's been a bit of a rocky road. But in spite of that, and maybe also because of that, I have a lot to be thankful for. So I wanted to throw a party to celebrate Jesus and friends and family and food and to thank some of the people who have made my arrival to this new place a good one. And this is the result of that. Three turkeys, people from different backgrounds, countries, and political views all at the same table. It was crazy and fun and a lot of work, and one hundred percent worth it, a lot like this life we live. Happy Thanksgiving you guys, be blessed.

Psalm 136, selected verses

Give thanks to the Lord, for he is good.
His love endures forever.
Give thanks to the God of gods.
His love endures forever.
 Give thanks to the Lord of lords:
His love endures forever.

to him who alone does great wonders,
His love endures forever.
who by his understanding made the heavens,
His love endures forever.
who spread out the earth upon the waters,
His love endures forever.
who made the great lights—
His love endures forever.
the sun to govern the day,
His love endures forever.
the moon and stars to govern the night;
His love endures forever.

He remembered us in our low estate
His love endures forever.
and freed us from our enemies.
His love endures forever.
He gives food to every creature.
His love endures forever.

Give thanks to the God of heaven.
His love endures forever.