An open letter to Mexico
Are you a Mexican food enthusiast? Have you ever had problems locating a decent Mexican restaurant? Here's blogger Sal DeTraglia's gastronomic tribulations in Spain.
I’m damn serious. It’s very difficult to find a good, authentic Mexican restaurant in Spain. I’ve tried many in Madrid and Barcelona and, thus far, have found only one to be worthwhile. The others were about as representative of Mexico as The Olive Garden® is of Italy.
Spain’s lack of good Mexican food would be tolerable if I had the option of making it myself at home. But I don’t have that option. It’s almost as difficult to find Mexican ingredients (e.g., dried/fresh chillies, cilantro, limes, corn tortillas, etc.) in Spanish supermarkets as it is to find them on a restaurant menu.
This fact may be shocking to some people. Especially to the 76% of US high school students who believe that Spain and Mexico share a common border. The other 24% believe that they’re the same country.
It was certainly shocking to me when I first arrived here. I vividly remember the day that bitter reality set in.
It was 1999 and I had recently moved to Barcelona. I invited a couple of friends —one of whom was from Mexico— over for dinner, and I wanted to make the Lomo de Puerco en Adobado recipe from Rick Bayless’s “Authentic Mexican” cookbook. The key ingredient for its all-important sauce was chiles anchos.
Chiles anchos are easy to find in the US. So easy, in fact, that they’re probably dispensed from gumball machines in certain parts of Chicago and Los Angeles. But no such luck in Barcelona. After combing the city from end-to-end, I remained empty-handed.
So I entered a popular Mexican restaurant in the city’s Grácia neighborhood, and engaged its owner (not Mexican, of course) in the following conversation:
Her response: “What’s a chile ancho?”
[Cheeks dropping to my pelvis.]
“It’s a dried poblano pepper.”
Her response: “There’s no such thing as a dried poblano.”
“AND THERE’S NO SUCH THING AS ‘MEXICAN FOOD’ IN THIS RESTAURANT, MADAM!!!”
Of course, I didn’t say that. But the sudden onset of a twitch in my left eyelid must have conveyed the same to this apron-clad charlatan —or, at least, revealed me to be a member of Charles Manson’s gene pool.
Now, you may be tempted to ask, “Aren’t Spanish and Mexican foods similar?” This is indeed a popular misconception, to which the answer is… NO! Spanish and Mexican foods have as much in common as do matzo balls and chicken vindaloo.
That’s not a slam against Spanish food. To be fair, I believe —and, in fact, have stated many times in writing— that Spanish food is great stuff. Few nations could make a goat taste so good. But Spanish cooks have one bias that is polar -opposite to their Mexican counterparts— they disdain spice.
The typical Spaniard’s spice rack more resembles a book rack, in that it contains one jar of sea salt and a bunch of rolled-up “Hola” magazines. No cayenne. No garam masala. No oregano. Even black pepper is black-listed and often treated with the same contempt that a Mississippi farmer directs toward a boll weevil.
Now that we’ve established that Spain is a Mexican food-challenged nation, we must ask…WHY?! Why is Spain so deprived of Mexico’s exquisite cuisine?
The answer is simple: It’s because Spain has few Mexican immigrants. But…but…but…Spain and Mexico speak the same language –kind of. And the weather here is much closer to Mexico’s than is, say, Chicago’s —which has an enormous population of Mexican immigrants (and, not surprisingly, an enormous population of great Mexican restaurants). Why, then, aren’t there more Mexicans living in Spain?
Again, the answer is simple: Mexicans won’t move to Spain, because SPAIN DOESN’T HAVE ANY GOOD MEXICAN FOOD!
Maddening, isn’t it? That’s why I’ve written this open letter—hoping that this vicious circle might finally be broken.
In the meantime… I’ll just have to survive on chicken vindaloo.
Sal DeTraglia / Expatica
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