Before we begin this story, let it be said that Taco Bell is definitely not Mexican food. What they do is inspired by Tex-Mex recipes, but for some reason folks tend to think they had “Mexican” food once they go to the franchise. Authentic Mexican cuisine is worlds apart from tacos or quesadillas – the country’s culinary is incredibly rich, bringing together the traditions of the natives of the land (Maya, Mixtec, etc) and those of the Spanish settlers who came to the region over five centuries ago.
I first discovered their cuisine when a Mexican restaurant opened in Praia de Iracema, then the Bohemian destination of my Brazilian hometown of Fortaleza (I have heard the area has made a comeback recently – I have to find out when I go there again). I don’t remember exactly what I ordered back then, but I was hooked – I loved how they mixed sweet and salty flavors seamlessly – I mean, whoever heard about adding chocolate sauce to chicken?
Contrary to belief, not all Mexican dishes are spicy – for instance, the aforementioned chicken mole (in chocolate sauce) does take some pepper but it’s only a hint. Quesadillas are often served at breakfast in a corn tortilla so the level of spiciness is close to none. Tortas (sandwiches) only take hot peppers if you ask for them – it is definitely not a rule.
When Renata and I visited Cancún in 2012, we had the opportunity to sample much of the local fare – not only at our all-inclusive resort but also when we went around town and during our visit to Chichen Itza national park. It was hilarious when our group went to a restaurant on the way to the pyramids, some picky Americans were wondering what was being served, and I was glad to help out, since I was already familiar with most dishes.
Here on Staten Island we have two very good Mexican restaurants (there are others, but these are close to home) that we check out whenever we can – Fiesta Poblana (31 Corson Ave,347-855-2668) , a small place with about ten tables with a nice menu that includes many traditional dishes, and also Maizal (990 Bay St, 347- 825-3776), which is a bit more upscale and also has a creative streak that includes chicken cooked with tequila (Pollo al Patron) and a very nice margarita menu.
So next time someone invites you to try the food made south of the border, don’t resist – go ahead and give it a try, it will surely be an unforgettable experience.
From Univision Delicioso
3 tablespoons olive oil, divided
4 (6-ounce) tilapia fillets or other white fish fillets
Salt and freshly ground black pepper
1 small onion, chopped
4 garlic cloves, minced
1 1/2 cups canned crushed tomatoes with juice
1 Anaheim chile, stemmed, seeded and cut into thin strips
1 bay leaf
1 teaspoon dried oregano
1/2 cup pitted and halved green olives
1/4 cup capers, drained
Preheat oven to 350 degrees F.
In a medium saute pan, heat 1 tablespoon of the olive oil over medium-high heat. Season the fish fillets on both sides with salt and black pepper, to taste. Saute the fillets until they are opaque and just cooked through, about 2 minutes per side. Transfer the fish to a glass baking dish where they fit snugly.
In the same saute pan, heat the remaining 2 tablespoons of olive oil over medium-high heat. Add the onion and garlic and cook until the onion is translucent, about 5 minutes. Add the tomatoes, Anaheim chile, bay leaf and oregano and bring the pan to a boil. Reduce the heat to medium, cover and let the sauce simmer until the chiles soften, about 6 minutes. Uncover the pan, add the olives and capers, and cook until the flavors combine, about 4 minutes. Season the sauce with salt and pepper, to taste.
Pour the sauce over the fish in the baking dish. Bake until the fish is heated through, about 5 minutes. Remove the dish from the oven, discard the bay leaf and serve