Mexican food is one of my favourite cuisines. Unfortunately, outside Mexico, it has long been associated with greasy and unhealthy fast food. Real Mexican cuisine is completely different – with diverse dishes that use plenty of fresh and healthy ingredients, a variety of spices and flavours, and beautiful bold colours. With a serious craving for some decent tortillas and tequilas, my amigos and I tried out some ‘Mexican market eating’ at Wahaca, the brainchild of Thomasina Miers, winner of the 2005 UK Masterchef.
Since its opening in 2007, Wahaca has attracted mixed reviews. Some have labelled the Mexican cantina among ‘London’s best cheap eats‘, and others have called it an ‘uninspiring burrito bar’. The restaurant tries to source its ingredients locally and ethically, at the low prices of Mexican street food. Using fresh, local produce is a good thing, but the absence of proper Mexican ingredients in the kitchen might explain partly why the critics have widely questioned its authenticity.
My two amigos have been to Mexico (one of them has travelled quite extensively in the south, including Oaxaca which inspired the name and menu), so I mostly relied on their judgment on how south Mexican street food really tastes like. And the verdict? Not quite authentic but still delicious. It might be best to stick with the line ‘Mexican-inspired market eating’.
We started with a few 100% agave tequila shots (they had a very impressive tequila menu consisting of blanco, reposado, and Añejo varieties), and a clichéd bottle of Corona. I ordered an indulgent Cacao Margarita (recipe below) which wonderfully marries chilli chocolate with tequila into a slightly sweet, velvety fusion with a subtle kick. Our very helpful waitress explained the menu to us. The ‘street food’ comes in little dishes of tacos, tostadas, quesadillas, and taquitos. You can also order soups, salads, and ‘platos fuertes’ which are essentially larger versions of the street food.
Our first dish, the pork pibil tacos, was a good choice. The pork was slowly cooked in a special Yucatecan marinade, and just melted in the mouth. Though I think we may have overdosed on the dangerously innocent looking bottles of chilli condiment on the table. As we went for another shot of tequila to ‘cool down’, we munched on a bowl of tomato salsa and homemade tortilla chips which was fairly ordinary in flavour but at least used fresh ingredients. The next dish was the chicken guajillo, which was a scrumptious concoction of marinated chicken chunks, lettuce, guacamole and a smoky guajillo oil on toasted tortillas.
My vegetarian amiga loved the fuerza salad. Even its description on the menu sounded exotic and enticing for vegie-lovers (and the rest of us): ‘Roast sweet potato, British organicspelt, toasted ancho chilli, feta, avocado, fresh mint, pumpkin seeds, salad leaves, totopos and cucumber in our house dressing’. We also tried a huitlacoche quesadilla which consisted of 2 toasted tortillas with sautéed mushrooms and melted cheese, and a chorizo and potato quesadilla. Both made the list of good comfort foods (i.e. a bit on the greasy side).
The bill arrived, along with free packets of chilli seeds you can plant at home. Funky! Our meal was just under £50 for three people, which we felt was quite reasonable for 6 plates of ‘street food’, salsa and chips, a large bowl of salad, 6 tequila drinks and a Corona. While it wasn’t ‘truly authentic’ Mexican, my tummy and taste buds were pretty satisfied as I finished the last drop of my chilli chocolate tequila toddy (‘intense hot chocolate shot with a dash of tequila’).
And as you head out of the door, you might find yourself singing ‘Tequila, it makes me happy… Con tequila, it feels fine…’
(recipe from Wahaca)
- 100g sugar
- 100ml water
- 1 cinnamon stick
- 35ml measure of 100% Agave Tequila (blanco, sweeter reposado, and añejo all work well)
- 35ml milk
- 60g chilli chocolate
- Make a cinnamon syrup by melting 100g of sugar with 100ml of water and a stick of cinnamon. Once the sugar has completely melted, bring to a boil and simmer for about 5 minutes until it becomes a syrup. You only need 10ml of the syrup for this drink. You can use the remainder to sweeten hot chocolate, or in your coffee.
- In a saucepan, warm the milk and add the chocolate. Stir and continue to heat gently until completely melted.
- Add all of the ingredients to a shaker with cubed ice. Shake well and strain the liquid into a chilled glass.
- Serve with a sprinkle of chocolate and a cinnamon stick.