First things first: tacos.
As diverse as Sydney’s food scene is, we don’t have all that much from the Americas. When it comes to Mexican food, we mostly have poorly realised Tex-Mex. There are some exceptions but I’ve basically spent most of my life thinking that I didn’t really like Mexican food. I was pretty sure that I would get sick of the food after a few weeks.
Our introduction to Mexican food began in California, when our knowledgeable local guides Katherine and Gary took us to a place in Fruitvale in the East Bay area called Mariscos La Costa. It specialises in seafood, and there were different kinds on offer – shrimp, octopus, fish etc. It was love at first sight: I couldn’t get enough of ceviche on tostadas. And the limitless lime, ripe avocado and mammoth rock oysters further sweetened the deal.
The next hit of Mexican food we got was Pancho Villa on 16th in San Francisco. It’s a local institution with an unbelievable salsa bar. The food, needless to say, was pretty damn good as well.
Back when we were all living in Thailand, Katherine would talk about having food dreams and described a place in Mexico City that specialised in seafood tacos. Right near the end of the trip, we found the taqueria in the market in Coyoacan and it was as though we had found El Dorado…with five hundred other people.
We tried lots of other Mexican food while we were travelling in Mexico, though not nearly as much as we could have. I wouldn’t say that everything was amazing, and it was hard to know whether we were eating the best example. The famous Mexican ‘mole’ was quite strange and I wasn’t quite sure what to make of it. The mole sauces were always complex…and it was never clear for what purpose. But everyman tacos were always a winner. It’s so basic you can’t really go wrong with it – and anything with tomato, lime and coriander is going to be good.
Maybe my love of peasant and street food is in my Vietnamese DNA, which also explains why I’ve worshipped corn my whole life. You’d be hard-pressed to find someone who can eat a corn cob as neatly as me. On this trip I had tamales for breakfast, snacked on corn cobs and corn kernels in cups, and had sweet corn cakes for dessert. So it’s not surprising that I never got bored with tortillas and tostadas.
I’ve come back to the crushing realisation that I’m only ever going to get this kind of food in North America. But I’m heading back to California in less than two months, so I’ll get my next hit then. It will have to do until I can get to Mexico again.