Celebrated traveler, writer, food critic and successful restaurateur Anthony Bourdain visited Mexico recently to discover the complex flavors, incredible array of ingredients and unique preparation that can be found throughout the nation’s mouth-watering and culturally-infused cuisine.
“Mexico is more than the occasional immigration headline or a border fence. More than spring-break beaches or drug cartels,” writes Bourdain for CNN. “I think most American’s view of Mexican food is like beans, fried tortilla, melted cheese and some chicken.”
Of course, the actual reality couldn’t be farther from the truth. Yeah sure, there are plenty of tacos, burritos and tortillas to be found, and cheese is also used frequently in many Mexican dishes, but the depth of flavors and wide variety of ingredients used in destinations throughout the country would cause even the most jaded of foodies to sit up and take notice.
“In Oaxaca, Bourdain’s palate is taken back to pre-Hispanic times, with labor-intensive moles and homemade masa,” writes CNN. “In Mexico City, he finds a new generation of chefs mixing those ancient Aztec traditions with the avant-garde. And in both places, there is many a shot of mezcal, Mexico’s smoky, brash spirit of the agave plant.”
Highlights from this episode of Anthony Bourdain: Parts Unknown, which aired Sunday,May 5 at 9 p.m. on CNN, include a visit to Teotitlán del Valle, a small village about 31 kilometers from the city of Oaxaca in the foothills of the Sierra Juárez mountains south of Mexico City. Here, Bourdain enjoys a traditional feast prepared by the Zapotecan owner of Tlamanalli, where they serve up a mole that requires 35 different types of chile peppers and takes more than two weeks to prepare each batch.
Also, Bourdain conducted an extensive “eating tour” of Oaxaca’s central market, which included sampling the barbacoa – which is a form of cooking meat that originated in the Caribbean and eventually gave rise to the term we know today as “barbecue.” Essentially a type of delicious slow-cooked meat, in contemporary Mexico the term could refer to slow cooking the meat over an open fire, or the more traditional method, which involves cooking the beef, lamb or pork in an underground pit covered by maguey leaves to lock in flavor and tenderness.
Other delights from the program include watching a market vendor use a traditional comal, or cast-iron cooking device that closely resembles a griddle, to cook meat and tortillas, and seeing how condensed milk, sweet potatoes and bananas make a delicious treat in the open air market or tianguis in Tepito barrio, a borough of Mexico City. Finally, Bourdain paid a visit to migrant-worker-turned-chef Eduardo Garcia’s restaurant Maximo Bistrot, also in Mexico City, where the young chef served up a delectable confit of suckling pig and used a molcajete, or mortar and pestle, to grind up an impressive array of different spices and herbs.
“Right now, a defiant, young, creative generation of Mexican chefs like Eduardo are performing some of the most exciting new cooking anywhere on earth – a mixing of the very old and traditional, with the very new,” writes Bourdain.
Have you been to Mexico and sampled some of the more progressive or highly traditional dining options? If so, share your favorite dishes with other readers in the comments section below today!