Sunday, October 11, 2009

Green Meat

My friends here asked if I had ever eaten "chorizo verde" which literally translates to green sausage. I said I considered myself quite fortunate to be able to honestly answer no. So I was told we were going to take a drive out of the DF to México State where on the way to Toluca we were going to stop for lunch in Marquesa (not much different from driving out of NYC to upstate NY).

Toluca is small industrial town but is fairly important to Mexico City. It has quite a few factories & breweries, and I'm told a lot of major businesses in the DF have satellite offices and/or manufacturing concerns there. There is also a new airport that is slowly eating into some of the massive volume of flights that have always gone into, out of or though Mexico City. I'd estimate the drive to take 1 - 1.5 hours if we didn't stop for lunch on the way (but if we were doing it during mid-week traffic madness who knows how long it would take).

Right before you see Toluca when driving from the DF, you hit Marquesa. Marquesa is a national park & the fringes cross the highway. You would know you were in Marquesa even if there weren't signs because where it hits the highway, people have built long lines of shacks on both sides dedicated to selling snacks & meals made up of local delicacies. Top among these foods is the dreaded (by me) & beloved (by my friends & many locals) chorizo verde.

I don't know how my friends chose which shack to stop at as they all looked identical to me & advertised the same specialties. But the choice was made & I saw the chorizo hanging in front of our destination before we got out of the car. Now I'm a huge fan of Italian sausage with parsley & Parmigiano-Reggiano which can look a little greenish from the herbs. But this wasn't a little greenish. It was so green I wanted to check for batteries or electric plugs. It was so much greener than any meat I had ever considered putting in my mouth that I was terrified anew. Nobody could tell me what gave it it's ominous hue, but speculations ranged from herbs to crushed seeds to food coloring. We ordered 3 tacos stuffed with the sausage before we even saw menus (& before I could change my mind).

They were excellent, of course. Fresh-made blue corn tortillas carried the star of this show along with sliced nopal cactus. The chorizo didn't taste green, but it had an intriguing gamy & fragrant flavor quite different from other Mexican sausages I've tried. Now that our appetites were worked up, we got a menu and the debate over what else to have started as our nostrils filled with the smoke coming off the wood-fired grills inside the row of shacks. It was then that an old man wandered in to buy a very shady looking bottle of booze.

My friends stopped him to ask about it as we noticed several of these bottles lined up in the window. It turns out that they are aguardiente- a type of moonshine made in many Latin American countries- each flavored with different fruits or herbs. I had heard stories of this brain numbing elixir but never had the opportunity to try it. So my friends chose a bottle with sliced peaches floating near the bottom & we ordered tacos & quesadillas filled with more chorizo verde, a corn fungus called huitlacoche, slow-roasted goat known as barbacoa plus 2 different types of pork (each filling in a separate tortilla if you're trying to keep score at home). Everything was delicious although the aguardiente was a little sweet for my taste. Those of you who enjoy sampling unusual beverages I carry home from the corners of the world will be glad to know I snagged a bottle of the herbal tincture for your entertainment.

A quick note on barbacoa & Mexican Spanish: I've long loved this dish but noticed many Mexicans don't eat it. So I asked my table-mates why & one of them giggled & said they would never eat wow-wow-coa. In México & Central America, they transliterate dog barks as "wow wow" much as we use "bow wow" in the US. I'll let you do the math on your own, but regardless of what it was when it started the end product was very tasty goat meat to my palate.

Once we ate our fill, we got back on the road for the short drive to Toluca. It reminded me of a mountainous New Jersey with more trees & less pollution on the way in, but the town center was ringed by beautiful Spanish colonial buildings framed by brightly-colored houses climbing up the mountainside behind. The main building was surrounded by carts selling all manner of traditional sweets, most of which were themed for the upcoming "Dia de los Muertos" or Day of the Dead celebration. This means skulls, skeletons & bones made out of & filled with a vast array of sweets ranging from chocolate to hardened sugar to marzipan & crystallized dulce de leche.

We stocked up on sweets for later & one of my compatriots purchased a few pounds of chorizo verde from a butcher who was obviously very popular with the locals. On our way back to the car the sausage-laden pal dragged me into a shop selling Mosco. The English word "mosquito" is Spanish in origin but it's not used much here. Adding "ito" to the end of a word is a diminutive in Spanish so "mosquito" means "little mosco," and Mexicans call the nasty biting pests moscos. So what is Mosco with a capital M? More booze!

Mosco is both the name & brand of a traditional orange liquor that Toluca is known for and which dates back to the 1920s. While there are now many fruit-derived flavors available, the original orange out-sells them all by a mile & after being offered a sample by the shopkeeper, I had to add a bottle to the aguardiente purchased earlier for my friends back home. So you know what to expect, it's like the best Grand Marnier, Cointreau or Triple Sec I've ever had in that it's much more orangey than sweet but with plenty of kick.

On the ride back it was decided that we should pick up a fellow at the Mexico City airport & go for dinner & drinks (too much of a good thing is a great thing). Our dinner destination happens to be one of my favorite places in the world. Out in the suburbs in the hills overlooking the DF is a little town called Lomas del Olivo or El Olivo for short. There is nothing of note there except one grubby little hole in the wall called La Cochinita.

Cochinita Pibil is a traditional dish from the Yucatan Peninsula in the southern-most region of México along the borders with Belize & Guatamala. It's pork slowly steamed in banana leaves & seasoned with sour oranges & achiote along with many other seasonings that chefs closely guard. When you see this heavenly meat in the DF it's referred to as just "cochinita". It's usually not as good here as it is in the Yucatan, but La Cochinita is the exception. It might be the single best pork I've ever tasted. The owner's grandmother was a great cook from Mérida, the capital of the Yucatan, and he has her recipe for not only the cochinita but also the piquant & picante sauces served on the side. Your food choices there are simple: taco, tostada or torta, all featuring this delicacy which I will crave for the rest of my life. A great end to an excellent adventure. ¡Besos!

1 comment:

  1. Cochinita Pibil??! You've been talking about that dish ever since the 2006 trip to Yucatan when every restaurant that served it seemed to have conspired to be out of it whatever day we happened to be there. You just had to move to Mexico City for a month to get it... victory!!