Wednesday, May 20, 2015

My Mexico Trip

I visited Mexico for the first time as part of a business trip and wanted to document the fun week & mainly the food I had at Guadalajara (pronounced Guada-la-hara) - which is the city I visited. I was treated to different kinds of Mexican food thanks to my colleagues who played such gracious hosts.  What struck me most was how much it resembled India...  I'm also thankful I got to experience the real Mexico and not an Americanized tourist version, which I understand from friends is what most holiday spots there are.

Soon after I landed & checked in at the hotel,  my friends picked me up and we visited Tlaquepaque which is a nearby city that has many restaurants, small street shops that sell a range of items such as souvenirs, wooden toys for kids, handmade bead bracelets,chains,  painted pottery, glass art etc. We walked around to look at the handloom items & did some shopping as well  before going to the Casa Fuerte restaurant... It was a great open atmosphere with a live cuban band playing and very relaxing and cool. My friends suggested I order  the tamarind margarita and it didn't disappoint.  I was quite nervous about what vegetarian options I would have but with a "no carne" check on every dish that the waiter suggested, I realized i had quite a few options... I chose the nopalese (cactus) salad served with an avocado by the side and a fried slightly sweet plantain stuffed with cheese - two appetizers that tasted great. This is my first time tasting cactus and I quite liked it. For dessert we shared a guava tart drizzled with caramel and served with some kiwi and strawberry sauces on the side.

Nopalese Salad, Plantain Tortillas & Tamarind Margarita at Casa Fuerte

Guava and Caramel Tart

Breakfast was usually the buffet at the hotel and it we had quite an elaborate selection each day - even for a vegetarian like me... I usually had the egg white veggie omelette with a spicy salsa that absolutely reminded me of the freshly ground (on the ammi) red chilli chutney from my grandmother's kitchen. The highlight was the variety of fruits we had - perfectly ripe, red guavas, mangoes, papaya, watermelon, cantaloupe, oranges and grapefruit. I haven't had such tasty guavas in a long time. They even had a guava dish where it was sliced, scooped out a bit and replaced with a mild & sweet creamy cheese & coconut filling and topped with some caramelized coconut flakes and walnuts. I really enjoyed it.

For lunch we visited different places each day.. I had a tasty panela (cheese) salad the first day at Roby's and the dressing was the highlight - it was a cilantro based one that was absolutely refreshing and light. I also tried chilaquiles divorcidad - which is basically a dish of fried tortilla strips topped with 2 kinds of salsas the green one and the red one and drizzled with some cream and with some crumbled queso fresco on top and washed it down with a hot cafe con leche.  Some days we ate in the office cafeteria and I had a medley of veggies with rice that tasted exactly like lemon rice (sans the seasonings and with some corn). They use chayote (chow chow) in their stir fries and fajitas and i quite liked the crunchy sweetness it lends.  I also tasted jamaica (hibiscus) juice and that is something i plan to make so have bought dried hibiscus leaves.

Chilaquiles Divorcidad & Cafe con leche

For snack we usually got cucumbers or jicama (which is a crunchy tuber) or watermelon slices sprinkled generously with Tajin (a spicy and tangy chili powder) and squeeze of some small green lemons. I have since then bought a jicama and made a salad, combining it with cucumbers and mango - very tasty. Will post the recipe sometime soon.  Another interesting dish i tasted was a lemony dessert made with cream and marie biscuits called "Carlotta" - something I want to recreate at home as well.

Cucumbers with limon and Tajin spice mix

I also had some Chile Rellenos - chilies stuffes with cheese and served with rice and beans at the Los Otates restaurant. We went to the Las Tequillas restaurant for dinner one day,  opted for the patio seating and enjoyed the cool weather.. it overlooked a ground where a soccer match was being played while we munched popcorn dipped in the spicy salsa with some mango margaritas... For dinner the suggestion was for me to try quesadillas (and these are not toasted but deep fried like puris) with different fillings like oaxaca cheese, zucchini blossoms, corn truffles (huitlacoche). Each one was unique and with some of the spicy salsa it tasted good. I also wanted to try the famous mole sauce so I ordered a dish of sweet plantains that were topped with a dark mole sauce with hints of chocolate in it... it was a delicious dinner and the ambience was great too.

Fried Quesadillas with Tortillas and Chocolate Mole Sauce

We also visited the downtown area of Guadalajara one evening , walked around soaking in the sights...  the Cathedral there is beautiful and grand, there is also a statue of the father of Mexico - Miguel Hidalgo and the orphanage that is now converted into a museum... The courtyard also had some sculptures by Sergio Bustamente - very different... had chairs and sofas with legs and arms and some even had eyes...  and some that were positively alien looking. We then we to La Cantina which is almost 100 yrs old and tucked away with a small unassuming entrance where we were entertained with live music and it was a great environment where everyone was friendly and singing together. We then went to a small restaurant which seems very popular called La Chata where I tasted some good Enchiladas with salsa verde and perfectly cooked and seasoned fried potatoes.

The Guadalajara Cathedral

Miguel Hidalgo - the Father of Mexico

Orphanage turned Museum

Me with one of Sergio Bustamente's creations

After several days of Mexican food we went a Fusion place and didn't think I would be ordering burgers in Mexico but i was quite glad I did that in the Il Latina restaurant because they were fabulous... I liked the ambience of this restaurant - it was quite cool and I liked how for lamps they used  inverted buckets that were painted and decorated and there was a framed  wall filled with paper boats ..  The burger had portobello mushroom, grilled zucchini and red peppers layered with some caramelized onion - delicious. For appetizers we shared a wonton dish, filled with sun dried tomatoes, mushrooms and cheese served in a creamy green sauce & some tomato bruschetta that my friends and I enjoyed. The desserts looked very tempting but I was too full to even share one.

Stuffed wontons with a green cream suace and roasted red peppers

Grilled Vegetables Burgers

Finally on Friday, we drove to Lake Chapala after work and had a late lunch of veggie fajitas with some super guacamole and fresh made corn tortillas. Walked around the lake which was beautiful.. it was quite expansive & surrounded by mountains. It was nice to see houses with fences lined with bougainvillas and frangipani trees and it reminded me of India quite a bit.

Lake Chapala

Veggie Fajitas, Guacamole and Corn Tortillas served with rice and frijoles (beans)

I had a great time, picked up some Spanish along the way and hope to one day visit with my family. My daughter suggested I pack her in my suitcase the next time I go there.. :)  I also picked up some mexican candy for the kids -  there are a lot of tamarind based ones that are sour, spicy and sweet. Also some coconut based ones - one in particular that reminded me of kamarkattu (found in TamilNadu made with coconut and caramelized sugar). I also tasted something that reminded me of the Agra Pethas but this was made with calabaza squash cooked in sugar syrup.  Interesting how these 2 countries so far apart have quite a few similarities....

Thanks to my friends who made sure I had a great time and treated me like a "princesa".
Muchas Gracias A & G :)