Tamales are not just masa and meats wrapped in corn husks, a whole experience is wrapped into tamales, they are full of flavor, family, friends, memories, traditions, and history!
The tamale is recorded as early as 5000 BC, possibly 7000 BC in Pre-Columbian history. The women would make tamales for the hunters or when in battle would travel with them, the tamal is a filling meal and holds well for traveling.
Over the centuries tamales remain as one of the most traditional foods in Mexico, and also in Central & Southern America. There are so many variety that are often distinguished by the region of Mexico, the technique for the masa (corn dough) making is fairly consistent, however the fillings have a huge variety. One thing for sure, they are labor intense and time consuming to make, thus now they are so often only made during the holidays or special celebrations.
What I enjoy most of tamales, besides eating them, is the event itself of making the tamales, the tamalada, which is the assemblying of the tamales (soaking the corn husks, spreading the masa, filling them, wrapping them, and cooking). I guess it’s similar to getting together and making Christmas cookies. It’s really quite an event to make the tamales, most often entailing 2-3days of preparation for the shopping of ingredients, preparation of the mole, preparation of the masa, then the assembling, and finally the cooking. If you are making tamales from scratch, and most likely making several dozens, it requires, and is much more fun when family and/or friends participate! The holidays are a great time for a tamalada, growing up my mom and the tias (aunties) and cousins made everything from scratch. And if you are planning on making tamales from scratch and it’s your first time, I highly recommend to have at least one experienced person assisting you so you to get perfect tamales, everything from the masa to the sauce to the cooking process has it’s tricks- trust me! I’m lucky I have El Burrito Mercado to get the prepared masa and tamales fillings so all I have to do is assemble the tamales and cook em up!
Four years ago we held our first tamalada class and people look forward to it now, this weekend we had our 2016 tamalada in our newly expanded La Placita Room and it was a success! Everyone had a great time, my mother, our matriarch, shares some really fun stories and a plethora of information all about tamales while the class sipped on cocktails and ate dinner. Then, the last half of class everyone assembles their tamales, learns about tamales cooking techniques and then enjoy dessert & ponche navideno, each person walks away with a swag bag full of goodies.
Here are some pictures from our 2016 tamalada:
We are offering another tamalada in January, this event is open for kids too, 12yr and older, it’s a wonderful cultural experience, eat delicious authentic dinner, learn the basics about tamale making and then assemble your own to take home and freeze to later cook for your Superbowl party or for any event! Registration is now open and limited capacity, register soon, makes a great holiday gift!
So you see, tamales are not only masa and meats wrapped in the corn husk, also wrapped into each tamal is history, tradition, flavor, memories, and experiences.
Cheers, to your Tamalada!
I recently overheard an elderly couple in El Burrito Mercado standing in front of the counter in the carniceria (meat shop), both very entertained and with big smiles as they observed the fast, skilled carnicero (butcher) slicing cecina. They were curious what it was, so I approached them and gave them a brief explanation, they excitedly bought some. This is not an unusual scenario at our place, and I embrace each of those opportunities to share about our foods with adventurous people like this. Maybe you too are curious to try something new, not to ‘out there’, and easy, so I’ll elaborate a bit with you on what I shared with them regarding cecina.
Cecina is thinly sliced, salted and partially dried sheets or strips of beef or pork. The technique of making it requires an extremely sharp knife, considerable skill, and patience. A large piece of boneless beef is lightly folded into a continuous roll of thin slices by deft cutting, back and forth, within the mass of muscle. Not every carniceria has cecina, especially this far north it’s quite challenging for Mexican meat shops to have experienced carniceros, so we feel pretty lucky that we have a couple of the best carniceros (specialty butchers)and are always stocked!
In Mexico, Spain, and Latin America, after cecina is sliced, it is salted and dried by means of air, sun or smoke, or stored, depending on the region. And here in the USA, due to health regulations, the beef is stored in controlled refrigerated temperatures.
Many of our customers are unfamilar with a lot of the specialties we offer in our carniceria. And because cecina requires special skills, it’s probably one the most unique meats a-typical to American butcher shops. In Mexico, it’s the meat you’ll sometimes see in the carnicerias hanging to dry or laying out to dry in the sun, and it’s eaten like beef jerky, or used in cooking. When it’s cooked, like when purchased from our carniceria, it’s most typically either grilled or pan cooked.
I personally love that it cooks quickly, no seasoning needed, and it can be enjoyed in a variety of Mexican favorites such as tacos, tortas, and commonly served with chilaquiles for breakfast. In Mexico there is a breakfast dish known as Aporreadillo (aka machaca in most areas), it’s the shredded cooked cecina scrambled with eggs, onion, and peppers. These options are served for breakfast at El Burrito Mercado’s El Cafe Restaurant!
(Note: Carne asada is a general term used for ‘grilled meats’, however most commonly people inadvertently reference only beef (like ribeye) as carne asada. However, cecina, pork, or even chicken can all be lumped into the general term ‘carne asada’, the most accurate way is to reference a meat as “carne para asar”, so for example, cecina is a carne para asar, “a meat to be grilled”. Cecina is very commonly used for carne asadas, however to eat it in a taco it needs to be chopped after cooking, it’s texture makes it tough to bite from a taco in a whole piece.)
Next time you are in our mercado and if you are unfamiliar with cecina definitely give it a try, it’s the #1 thing I recommend to anyone that is unfamiliar with our meats and want to try something different but easy to cook. It’s simple, basic, and so enjoyable! If you’re lucky, like the elderly couple I met, you’ll catch a carnicero at work slicing cecina.
I think Mexican food is the best comfort food especially for cold weather, it’s tasty, hearty and the spiciness not only adds flavor, it feels good especially on a chilly day.
Spicy food is proven to boost your metabolism thus, literally heating you up! Many salsas and sauces help heat us up because of the capsaicin found in peppers, capsaicin is an active chemical compound component of chili peppers, which are plants belonging to the genus Capsicum. It is an irritant for mammals, including humans, and produces a sensation of burning in any tissue with which it comes into contact.
One can measure the spiciness of peppers the brave, riskier, and much more macho method and actually taste test the peppers. Or, you can use the ever so clever Scoville Scale as a guide.
What’s the big deal with the spice? Well, spicy foods is proven to boost your metabolism, so you get a double whammy benefit, warm up and burn calories!! And for spicy ethnic food lovers, we’ll agree that spice makes bland food better, turn a plain ol baked potato into a taste bud delight, roast some peppers, chop them up, top the papa with sour cream, the peppers, and cheese, or, mix a spicy salsa into the sour cream before topping. One of my favorite ways to spice up food? A sprinkle of a few freshly chopped serranos (yea, my level on the Scoville chart maxes at about the middle), into rice, beans, eggs, pasta, and salads, and sometimes, it’s just a sprinkle of good ol tabasco sauce on eggs or pizza, or Salsa Valentina on potato chips & popcorn.
Mexican foods are are hearty, filling, and can be spicy, but not all Mexican food is spicy. From stews, cheesy chile rellenos or enchiladas, to tasty hearty soups, the options for Mexican dinner night at home can convert to nightly Mexican dinners! Below are a couple of my favorite comfort Mexican foods and links to some excellent recipes.
ENCHILADAS ROJAS, (and I must mention the bragging rights of our enchiladas rojas to our winning status in City Pages 2010 friendly ‘street food smack down) For this recipe, I recommend our ready to use Enchilada Sauce available by the jar in our deli., and the simple recipe to make these with our sauce, all ingredients available at El Burrito Mercado:
Heat up some oil in a fry pan, heat up oven to 350degrees
1dz corn tortillas (we prefer Sabinas brand for this)
2cups of your favorite shredded cheese (we prefer Supremo Queso Chihuaha or shredded chicken- or mix them together)
1 jar of El Burrito Mercado Salsa para Enchiladas
Toppings of choice, we recommend: Supremo Queso Fresco, shredded cabbage or lettuce, and Cacique Crema Mexicana.
Step 1: Place the tortilla in hot oil (use tongs), for a few seconds on each side, just until tortilla is pliable, place on a plate with paper towel to drain.
Step 2: Pour sauce into a fry pan, simmer low.
Step 3: Grab drained tortilla, dip into the salsa, place onto baking pan.
Step 4: In the baking pan, grab the cooked tortilla, add about a tablespoon of the salsa to center of the tortilla, add about 2tbsp of filling, roll tightly, place along the inside of edge of the baking pan, repeat with all the tortillas.
Step 5: Pour half of remaining sauce & spread sauce evenly over the enchiladas (leave some extra), place in oven for about 20min.
Remove from oven. Serve onto plate, add more sauce, crumble queso fresco on top, garnish with crema and lettuce. Want to make your own salsa roja? Try this recipe: http://thelatinkitchen.com/r/recipe/red-enchiladas-chile-guajillo-sauce-enchiladas-rojas-de-chile-guajillo
My favorite soup- really any time of the year, Caldo de Pozole Rojo or Verde (red or green pozole) Pozole soup is made with pork shoulder or shanks, red chiles, and lots of hominy corn. (Pozole is actually hominy, hominy is dried maize kernels, when used in cooking, it goes through an alkali process, known as nixtamalization, loosens the hulls from the kernels and softens the kernels. The process can cause the kernels to double in size, sometimes the lime is replaced with lye or wood ash for processing.) Traditionally pozole is made for special occasions (and actually in my family it still is a tradition) but it’s a fairly common soup that you will find on many Mexican restaurant menus, including ours, but only on Fridays because we have other exquisite soups every other day of the week like Caldo de Albondigas (a meatball & rice soup), Caldo Tlapeno (the supreme chicken soup), and Menudo amongst others.
Funny story, when I was first married, I wanted to impress my husband with an authentic traditional Mexican meal (mind you he comes from a family of EXCELLENT cooks on all Mexican foods) And, we lived in California at the time, so my mom was no where near me to help. So, I took on the challenge to make him pozole rojo (it’s actually a very simple soup to make), I made a 4qrt pot of what ended up as huge pot of water, tough meat, and seeds from the peppers floating everywhere- it was a disaster! None the less, my darling hubby gave it a try and smiled, and asked me “did you forget to remove the seeds and strain the sauce?” I almost cried I was so embarrassed, but he praised my efforts and we tossed the huge pot of pozole. Since then, I have learned to make a decent pozole, (and now know to remove the seeds from the peppers and strain the sauce into the soup) I still prefer my in-laws pozole the best! (they add pork feet which gives it a flavor I LOVE!) Try this recipe from Mexico in my Kitchen, I’ve reviewed Mely’s recipes and they are very authentic, I recommend following her for other delicious recipes and you can find the ingredients at El Burrito Mercado. http://www.mexicoinmykitchen.com/2010/09/how-to-make-pozole-como-hacer-pozole.html
TAMALES (a mesoamerican dish made of corn dough spread onto a leaf or corn husk, filled with a variety of meats & sauces, steam cooked)
And the mother of all cold weather Mexican food, TAMALES! In Mexico, in the early cold winter mornings, you will encounter little crowds of people gathered at street corner buying tamales & atole (hot corn- and masa-based beverage of Mexican, Guatemalan, Honduran, and El Salvadoran origin) from street vendors. Another experiencia mexicana that El Burrito Mercado offers you from Mexico, tamales and atole as a daily breakfast special, we are open daily at 7am with hot, authentic Mexican breakfasts and bakery variety. Here are a couple recipes for making atole, as for the tamales, I recommend you grab a siz pack or dozen (and freezeable) from our deli to heat and eat at home. Tamales are a very time consuming process, but, if want to try it from scratch, try Mely’s recipes and mark your calendar to join us on December 6 for our Tamalada class (details to follow). And, for a simple and still fun way to make tamales, we cut the labor in half for you, this holiday season, just come buy the ready to use ingredients from our grab n go deli ready to assemble and freeze or cook, corn husks, masa (corn dough), filling, and the special pot to cook them in.
GUISADOS (stews based from variation peppers cooked with pork, beef, or chicken)
Guisados are good year round, but like any stew, especially in the cold weather, a steamy, spicy guisado hits the spot every time. This time of year we especially like to make guisados with corn, zucchini, and chayote (a green pear-shaped tropical fruit that resembles cucumber in flavor). Guisados are available in our grab n go deli, and in case you didn’t know, this is what we are most known for in our El Cafe Restaurant y Bar, we offer a steam table filled with at least six variety of from scratch, homemade guisados! This fall when you visit us, be sure to try one of our daily specials inspired with fall ingredients in mind, and extra spice to heat you up!
This season, venture into the hearty and tasty flavors of Mexico, and add peppers or hot sauces to your everyday foods for some heat! Visit our grab n go deli for convenient guisados (stews) and explore the many unique ingredients in our mercado for inspiration and ideas to create your own experiencias at home.
Tis tamales making season… at least in recent centuries. Though, historically,
Tamales have been traced back to the Ancient Maya people, who prepared them for feasts as early as the Preclassic period (1200–250 BC).Maya people called their corn tortillas and tamales both utah[utah].Tamales originated in Mesoamerica as early as 8000 to 5000 BC.Aztec and Maya civilizations, as well as the Olmeca and Tolteca before them, used tamales as portable food, often to support their armies, but also for hunters and travelers. Tamale use in the Inca Empire had been reported long before the Spanish visited the New World.The diversity of native languages in Mesoamerica led to a number of local words for the tamal, many of which remain in use. The Spanish singular of tamales is tamal. The English word “tamale” is an American back-formation of tamales.http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Tamale
In Mexico tamales are on street corners and in majority of the mercados, commonly served for breakfast because it’s filing and warm! And in the US, especially in highly populated Latino demographic areas such as California, Texas, Illinois, one can find a variety of restaurants selling tamales. Here in Minnesota, El Burrito Mercado was one of the first to sell tamales from a restaurant/market in St. Paul, MN, and because of it’s labor intense process, many restaurants won’t make them. It’s a grand commitment and I imagine the Latino population isn’t quite extensive enough to support the variety and competition in MN to justify the commitment, at least not in the same way that other business’ flourish in other populated parts of the country. None the less, tamales has made its way into Minnesotans tummies through El Burrito Mercado and other local successful Latino business’, such as La Loma Tamales whom sell from their restaurants and manufacture and distribute tamales into mainstream markets.
Tamales are a time consuming process, and though the most popular of tamales in the USA are Mexican tamales, they are not exclusive to Mexico. In Venezuela & Colombia for example theirs are known as ‘hallacas’ also filled with meat varieties, the corn flour is distinct of the Mexican preparation and they are wrapped in plantain banana leaves. Here, Adriana Lopez from PicaPica does an amazing task of breaking down the hallaca making recipe! Venezolanos and their cuisine has a special place in my heart, one of my cousins married a gentleman from Venezuela and we all became very close, his name was Jose, (he died at a young age a few years ago, RIP). I was very young child when I met him, and growing up with Jose in my life, is a blessing! He was one of my greatest influencers for my now deeply established appreciation and enjoyment of salsa music, Venezuelan food, and Latino culture as a whole! Besides Puerto Rican food, Venezuelen food (especially arepas) is my other favorite latino cuisine.
ABOUT MAKING TAMALES FROM SCRATCH
There are many, many recipes on the internet for making tamales, and they are all very similar with slight variations in preferences, the most traditional is the pork in mole rojo (pork in a chile ancho red sauce). I am not including a from scratch recipe in this blog, so for making tamales from scratch and if you don’t have your own, here are a couple recommendations to consider: Rick Bayless Tamales Recipe, Diane Kennedy
Also, as a reference, Maseca has some great recipes on their website of a variety of Latino tamales! Maseca is one of El Burrito Mercado top selling items year round and especially during the holidays! It’s a corn flour used to make the ‘masa’, the corn dough for spreading onto the corn husk for Mexican tamales. It’s also commonly used to make tortillas and other delightful recipes. If you are new to the entire tortilla making or tamales making process, Maseca is a great an option, or you may also want to consider purchasing ‘masa preparada’ (prepared corn dough ready to use) from our deli, we source from a local tortilleria and you’ll appreciate the real ground and fresh corn flavor!
For those of you wanting to immerse into the full tamale preparation and tamalada experience, remember the above recommendations or find your favorite recipe, and please do keep in mind El Burrito Mercado as your source for all your ingredient needs, also contact us with questions, we are glad to help!
TAMALES MAKING EXPERIENCE
My primary focus is to emphasize the experience of making tamales, the memory of it all. As a kid, like all kids, I looked forward to the holidays because of the gifts, the cookie baking, the holiday parties, and I cherished the time spent with family making and eating tamales. My tamales memories are of being together with family, the noise and hustle bustle of everyone squeezing into the kitchen or wherever we could fit tables and chairs to begin the assembly… aka the TAMALADA!
“The tamalada is more than a cooking session—it is a family reunion, a party in itself, a chance for the kids to play and the adults to catch up on all the news about the aunts, uncles, cousins and family friends. It’s the warm-up session for the family celebrations to come. ” http://www.focusonmexico.com/News-and-Views/Articles/2008-Newsletters/February–Articles/La-Tamalada-Mexican-women-share-holiday-tamale-making-tradition.html
So yes amigos, you will need several items even for the ‘easy’ tamalada gathering, by easy, I am referring to obtaining the ready ingredients at El Burrito Mercado so that all you need to do is get your friends and family together and assemble! Here is the list:
- Family & Friends
- Specialty holiday cocktails strongly encouraged
- Fun, Mexican & Latino background music
- And nice size dining table and/or counter space!
And, you’ll also need (all available at El Burrito Mercado):
1. Prepared Masa (prepared masa ready to spread on the husks)
2. Hojas de Maiz (corn husks), these need to be soaked in hot water to make pliable and easy to spread the masa onto.
3. Carne en Mole (meat & sauce, cheese, chiles, or other filling options, available at El Burrito Mercado’s exclusive Mexican deli)
4. Tamalera Vaporera (the pot to steam cook your tamales)
Other items you may consider: spoons or knives to spread the masa, or this new convenient tool, Tamales Spreader which will be available for purchase at El Burrito Mercado this holiday season!
Here is a video on how to use the spreader, I have yet to try this myself, I’ll keep you posted on our results. https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=iVAyPqYcxLA
In 2012 we offered our first Tamalada event, this is our third year offering tamalada events and they are consistent with our objection to offer our community and customers a true experiencia Mexicana! At the events, participants learn a lot about tamales from my mother, Maria Silva, while my mother does not have formal culinary education nor is she a ‘chef’, she is our chef and she is one of the most respected and best cooks in the Twin Cities when it comes to Mexican cuisine. The event is offered in our Cafe and Bar and is fun, relaxed setting intended to offer a comfortable ambiance fit for a tamalada with friends and family! Learn about traditional Mexican holiday foods, beverages, and traditions as well as make your own tamales while spending enjoyable time with friends & family making memories and delicious tamales to take home and cook for the holidays!
This year we are offering two TAMALADAS, November 30th & December 7th 4pm, the evening includes dinner, two traditional holiday cocktails, dessert, a fun lesson, tamales making, and a special gift & certificates.
We are also offering new this year a Kids Tamalada on Saturday, Nov. 29th 9:30am, breakfast & treats included, interactive tamales lesson and then tamales making! Registration information: https://socialari.webconnex.com/tamalada
“More than 30% of all family-owned businesses survive into the second generation. Twelve percent will still be viable into the third generation, with 3% of all family businesses operating at the fourth-generation level and beyond. http://www.fbagr.org/index.php?option=com_content&view=article&id=117&Itemid=75
Our family proudly celebrates El Burrito Mercado’s 35th anniversary this year, and we are at the second generation ownership, part of that 30%plus succession rate. I was 8years old when El Burrito Mercado became part of our family, it’s hard to imagine what life would have been like without it. My brother used to say ‘why can’t I play outside like a normal boy’, as he is stocked shelves in our then little 800sq foot store. I don’t think my brother, sister, nor I realized how blessed we were. We have many memorable trips to Chicago with my father in the van to get merchandise from Chicago. And I recall later as the business grew and truck deliveries arrived, we would catch the boxes at the end of the ramp, me on one end, and my brother on the other end, both carrying the tortillas boxes into the cooler. We also share memories of ‘playing store’ in the basement at the store, and of course, complained about packing itchy corn husks and peppers that would make us sneeze!
As I think about our anniversary and all that my family and business has been through in the past 35years, it’s been an amazing journey! EBM is a part of our family and, while it has been the core of family disagreements, arguments, discussions, laughs, joys, triumphs, gains & losses, we love it and wouldn’t change it!
The dynamics of working in a family business are ‘interesting”. I still admire my parents for being able to stay married 43years and work together, I don’t know that I could work with my husband and be happily married? Both operating a business and maintaining a healthy relationship are by themselves beautiful, and difficult at times. Though, I really think it comes down to defining clear roles, and this is an area my family has struggled with the most, lots of ‘toe stepping’ and apologizing. Another challenging dynamic in young family business’, we, the children, thought we knew more than my parents, and my parents thought there way was the only way. It requires respect and great communication skills to combat this, and we have come a long way! When I speak to other family business 2nd generation, I find that the most common shared challenge of family owned and operated business is exactly that, something that feels like a power struggle between parents & adult children. In addition each family has its own unique challenges. In the past few years especially I feel our family has really developed strong leaders and taken great strides in improving the flow of command as well as improved relationships & communication.
I have not personally met family owned business with this next issue, but I have heard that families have been destroyed and business’ fail because of it, greed or poor money management. I feel so blessed that my siblings and I have never had conflict nor hurt feelings because of money or greed issues. I like to think we inherited my parents values in that way, we are not driven by greed nor money. And there is one thing my brother and sister always agree on, that my parents well being is always numero uno! We always agree if it weren’t for there sacrifices and hard work, we would not have all these blessings.
In the last few years my parents are in a position in which they are able to semi retire and can mentally and physically ‘let go’ and entrust the business to us, their children, the business is like their 35yrs old baby. Don’t get me wrong! We still meet as a family, I consult with my mother regularly especially on all cuisine and my father, well, he is still our ‘fix it’ and ‘run errands’ guy, I love having my parents around with us! They represent the essence of El Burrito, they are the experiencia mexicana. Their values, their ethic, their spirit, and their relentlessness to never giving up!
While my parents are wanting to slow down, we (I) are at full force with energy, momentum, and in a great position to continue growing or expanding if we choose. However, to grow, we need financing security, and a qualified, reliable staff. Which based on this survey, is concurrent with other business:
From the 2007 American Family Business Survey the top ten challenges for family owned businesses are:
Health care costs
Finding qualified employees
Labor union demands
Availability of credit from lenders
And, this is when estate planners and specialized business consultants can assist with the planning. A local family business consultant, Tom Hubler, thoughtfully lays out some steps and plans to assist with creating more fluid business process, family bonding, and future planning. We hired Mr. Hubler years ago and the process was much more challenging than we anticipated, but I did learn a great deal and still reference some of the information provided to us. The trainings left me wondering if the same experiences are true for other family business’? I’m always curious what other challenges family business’ face and how do the resolve conflict? The information provided to us was much more beneficial for my siblings and I versus as a family. However, one of the best things have done to obtain a family advisor, it has been very insightful to bring an experienced retail professional with a caring heart to bring balance and neutrality to the family meetings. I highly recommend this to other family business’ if you don’t have one yet. http://www.hublerfamilybusiness.com/ManagementandLeadership/FormalizetheLoveinSuccessfulFamilyBusinessesPartOne.aspx
My parents received assistance from organizations such as MEDA (Metropolitan Economic Development Association) and SBA (Small Business Administration), but they didn’t receive guidance nor knowledge for succession and estate planning. However, in more recent years they have been to connect with experts and are now ‘in the planning game’, things are moving along smoothly. Succession beginning steps and future planning underway!
I absolutely love what I do, I love EBM and what it means to our community, I love what it means to Mexicanos and Latinos who are way up here (as north as you can be in the states) missing their homeland food; it’s a reward when a customer shares with us how excited they are to finally find a brand or ingredient from homeland and especially when they rave of how much they missed authentic Mexican food! I love teaching people about EBM, about foods, and about our culture. I am not chef, but I know a thing or two about Mexican food, markets, bakery, etc, marketing, education, and sharing my cultural and cuisine expertise is my true forte.
Operating a small family business is a lot of work, I wear many hats, I experience many exciting and many frustrating moments, and I love that each day is different! And, besides being blessed with El Burrito Mercado, a mom that is an amazing cook, a hard working ‘diy’ and do it all father, I inherited their drive and passionate entrepreneurial spirit! This is an exciting year for our family, another milestone anniversary to be celebrated and expansion and improvements to be realized!
Thank you all for the support, love, prayers, faith, and loyalty! Que viva LA EXPERIENCIA MEXICANA de El Burrito Mercado!
Keeping our Mercado Experience Authentic with a “Feel” to it, from Chicago with Love, Passion, & Inspiration
This weekend getaway was an injection of creativity, admiration, and if possible, an increased passion for continual strive towards offering la Experiencia Mexicana at El Burrito Mercado. The hubby and I went to Chicago this past Valentines weekend, it was a great, I think it’s simply getting away from responsibilities of the house, kids, and business’ that allow us to relax and enjoy each other making anywhere we go ‘romantic’. Romantic getaways don’t have to be to the ocean, though if we could have we would have.
In addition to our ‘romantic’ adventures, we mixed pleasure with business. We visited several Mexican markets, restaurants, and panaderias (bakeries). As we drove in from the airport I became very nostalgic remembering the trips to Chicago with my dad in the little van when we use to pick up our merchandise from the vendors and brought it back to stock our shelves in our little 800sq ft store (back in the 80’s).
(Before our trips in a van to Chicago, my father used to go in a little station wagon to bring tortillas and other items.) I had forgotten that Chicago was one of my earliest Mexican ‘cultural’ memories aside from our family Mexico trips. I loved this panaderia- they didn’t have anywhere to sit and enjoy our pan dulce so we sat in our car rental and sipped on coffee and made a couple trips back in for refills!
Our first visit last week was to El Milagro tortilleria and their taqueria, the aroma of the tortilleria imitates 100% the tortillerias of the pueblos (towns) in Mexico! Awww, nostalgia. El Milagro is one of the most established tortillerias in Chicago, I have had the privilege of previously meeting and doing business with one of the owners, Jessi. Ironically, after meeting with his production Manager and as we head out of their taqueria, we had a pleasant encounter with Jess, I’m always taken by his noble personality. El Milagro has now grown into several other states in the country, so proud of the Lopez family and their successful business growth, so encouraging!. http://www.el-milagro.com/history_1.html
After our visit to El Milagro, we stopped at several markets and panaderias in the ‘barrio’. I like to go back once in a while to see what’s new and what’s the same in the Mexican mercados. For the most part, it was ‘same ol’ same ol’, based on my brief observations, as far as Mexican grocery, produce, and meats, considering our volume and demographic comparison in Hispanic population to the Chicago market, El Burrito Mercado is equal in variety. Regarding quality and merchandising, in my opinion, we surpass in this area, our approach to creating a unique ambiance with our tasteful decor of imported artesania from Mexico were most notable to my visits, I missed this aspect in the stores I visited.
Our exclusive approach to our market and restaurant seems to appeal to the diverse Latino consumer (by varying levels of generation and assimilation) as well as the non-Latino consumer. I attribute this appeal to the ever sought ‘experiences and interactions’ that consumers enjoy.
“They are looking for products that are not necessarily big brands anymore,” says Michael Bellas, chairman of the Beverage Marketing Corporation. “They like brands that have character. They are looking for authenticity and purity, but they are also looking for new experiences.” http://www.twincities.com/nation/ci_24328113/changing-demographics-is-changing-our-taste-buds
Some of the experiences are just that, keeping it “same ol’, same ol'” (traditional, authentic flavors) and at the same time keeping it fresh & updated with a ‘feel’.
We also called on a few restaurants, but the most anticipated visit was to La Frontera Grill by Rick Bayless, I finally got to visit his famous restaurant! http://www.rickbayless.com/about/meetrick.html We could only get in for a lunch reservation, I was curious to see his setup of all three restaurants in one (Frontera Grill, Topolobampo, and Xoco), very quaint and smaller than I expected, I liked that and enjoyed the ambiance. Presentation of the platillos were beautiful, staff extremely friendly, and the dishes were delightful. Loved the Mashed Michoacan avocados, roasted poblanos & garlic, tomatillo, pepitas, grilled onion, aneja cheese and the ceviche tacos.
We also visited several other restaurants like Nacional 27 and Mi Tierra, but my favorite of all, what seems like a Chicago hidden gem, Estrella Negra! I love restaurants/markets with a unique feeling and decor! Tiny hole in the wall decked from the decor of calaveras and dia de los muerto decor and to the exquisite menu with Loteria(Mexican bingo) names like La Dama, El Catrin,etc, I loved it!! (I could tell the tortillas were from El Milagro and I loved that too!) Our favorite: their Pozole Borracho (Drunk Pozole) Pozole is a chicken and/or pork, hominy soup in a flavorful broth with blended guajillo peppers, spicy soups like Menudo & Pozole are known as hangover cures- hence the name Pozole Borracho! And our other favorite, the chorizo, corn, & jalapeno empanadas garnished with pico de gallo and sour cream!
A must visit restaurant in Chicago, plus they offered something I noticed a lot in Chicago restaurants- BYOB! Yes, BYOB and they only charge the a corkage fee! http://estrellanegra.com/#
Every winter/new year I review our menus at El Burrito Mercado and tweak a bit, I’ve been working on them for a couple months and kinda got stuck, this visit to Chicago was inspiring and influential I”m certain.
What do you look for in a restaurant or ethnic market? Do you hope to have an experience or are you typically seeking a specific ingredient? What has been some of your most memorable restaurant and market experiences? I’d love to hear about your experiences!
Everything from the nostalgia, aromas, mercado visits, and delicious unique Mexican eats, thank you Chicago, I missed you, we had an incredible weekend! The hubby and I had a blast shopping, eating, sleeping, dancing, and singing… did I mention my husband sings(enjoy these videos)? Looking for a great mariachi experience in Chicago visit Mi Tierra restaurant.