The highly photogenic Mexican stylings of Breddos tacos. Photo credit: Leyla Kazim
Up until recently, Mexican food in the UK was, by and large, not really Mexican food. Bland, processed white tortillas, chewy meat, mystery beans, and maybe a shred or two of wilted iceberg. Appetising, right? But, thankfully, that’s all changing.
The end of 2016 and beginning of 2017 has seen a slew of trendy taquerias opening in London: El Pastor, Temper, Bad Sports Bar, Breddos… all with adventurous and subtly border-blurring menus, but with roots firmly planted in the original approach to tacos and to Mexican food. And Londoners have been lapping it up; with blogs and publications awarding it a top spot on food trends lists this year, Flavour Feed included. But why has this long-misrepresented cuisine so captured our hearts and imaginations?
Part of it is the irresistible influence of the US. A huge influencer in UK trends, Mexican food has long been a mainstay of the melting pot of American cuisine, but with this has come a hefty watering-down (think American cheese in pallid bar-side quesadillas) but also, in pockets of the US, a passionate bid for authenticity, with the taco subsequently emerging as the stuff of great fusion food.
Winning “Korexican” taco fusion from Chi’lantro in Austin, TX. Photo credit: Chi’lantro
The famous pairing of Austin food trucks and now a routine presence on taqueria menus from London to New York is, of course, Asian and Mexican. With similar, now popular flavour profiles – sour, bitter, spicy, umami, citrus, pickled and sweet – fusing the two is often seamless and entirely delicious… we like the sound of Breddos Tacos clam and sea urchin aguachile tostadas spiked with miso, or their char siu pork tlayudas with black beans, habanero and orange. Tacos make a prime canvas for experimentation, and we expect more fusion taquerias (our bets are on Filipino) to grab our attention in London in the coming months.
Looking ahead, Mexican food also has a great tradition of entomophagy, the practice of eating insects. Deborah Holtz and Juan Carlos Mena’s Tacopedia, with a foreword by Noma’s René Redzepi, details how ants, grasshoppers, larvae, worms, beetles and wasps are all fair-game taco filling in Mexico: where they are prized for their protein and appreciated for their taste… with some groups claiming the less it’s cooked, the better.
Grasshopper guacamole from authentic Mexican restaurant Santo Remedio, who are due to reopen this year. Photo credit: Santo Remedio
In London, entomophagy has been slowly crawling into the picture, with Native in Covent Garden serving a Kentish wood ant fudge as a petit four, and the soon to reopen Santo Remedio serving a grasshopper guacamole… whetting an appetite for insects that is only due to rise.
But, above all, in terms of fitting the zeitgeist, authentic Mexican food just seems spot-on. It’s colourful, vibrant, soul-cheering food that celebrates a far-flung food culture and provides an escape. And though there is a (satirical) Taco Cleanse cookbook on the market, it’s definitely not clean-eating food, but it’s not sinfully overindulgent either. It’s accessible, exciting, balanced food that, in its authentic form, is extremely difficult to dislike.
In this spirit, we’ve hand picked a few noteworthy recent stories from our trends platform Flavour Feed that spotlight the trend. Check out snippets of these below – and happy innovating.
Noma goes to Mexico. Photo credit: Noma
In advance of its move to a new urban-farm site in Copenhagen, René Redzepi’s renowned Noma has been taken on the road. The mini global tour has already included a 10-week residency in Sydney and a Tokyo pop-up, and the final destination has just been announced as Tulum, Mexico, running from April 12th to May 28th. This latest incarnation will feature an open-air dining room, with the whole team from Denmark making the journey to run it.
Mexico seems the perfect fit for Noma and Redzepi – its wealth of biodiversity, native ingredients and ancient food culture very much fit in with his ethos. He says in The New York Times: ‘I am a mega-fan of Mexican cuisine. I love tasting the layers of history in the food…the way they grow food here now is the way they grew it 500 years ago. These farms supply all of the markets every day, so it’s astounding to realise that this kind of quality is available to everyone. That makes me extremely jealous.’
An authentic Mexican spread at Hotel Jesus in Melbourne. Photo credit: Hotel Jesus
Mexican food is rapidly becoming one of the most popular on the high street, and according to research by Forward Thinking it has now overtaken Chinese as the most popular ethnic food in the UK. With this growth we’re starting to see a shift away from the watered down Tex-Mex food that has long been synonymous with Mexican cuisine outside of Mexico itself, and a move towards more authentic, regional food – of the sort you might find in the taquerias of Mexico City, Oaxaca or Puebla.
… In Melbourne, the newly opened Hotel Jesus (from the folks behind Mamasita – probably Australia’s first authentic Mexican cantina) brings an Antipodean take to the idea of a taqueria, as they say, ‘… it’s the Mexican equivalent of an Aussie fish-and-chip shop… it’s casual, it’s fast-paced. It’s a place to drop in, have a couple of tostadas or tacos and a beer, and move on.’ They even have a “tacowey” take-away section for those wishing for tacos on the hop! Genius.
Masterful mescal cocktails at London taqueria Temper. Photo credit: Temper
Julian de Féral, drinks director at the Gorgeous Group, says mescal used to be more of a cult drink – the bartenders’ favourite spirit. He says you should think of mescal as an artisanal product, produced on a small scale and dependent on terroir, much like a fine wine or grappa.
De Féral explains that while tequila is often drunk in shots, mescal is usually sipped neat because of its small-scale production, the subsequent cost, and its complex and delicious flavours. Try in London with the Breddos Fizz cocktail comprising tequila, mezcal, peach, citrus, egg white and soda, or Temper’s On the Nose with gin, mescal, blackberry and fennel, and Sage Advice containing pisco, mescal, chartreuse, pineapple and sage.
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