I am officially in love! Monday was my third time in as many weeks at cheekily named Mamasita, Mexican bar and restaurant at the Paris end of Collins Street, Melbourne. From that first time I bit into the street style char grilled corn it felt like I was on an exotic holiday and in love all at the same time and has me coming back time and time again. The reason I say cheekily named, is that mamasita is often used in reference to a very attractive woman. It’s like the Mexican version of the wolf whistle which makes me love the place even more!
Any readers in the US might be wondering why I am getting so excited over Mexican. Well until Mamasita arrived, us Aussies think the epitome of Mexican fare is store bought make-at-home packet food, Old El Paso. There’s nothing wrong with Old El Paso (except for any chemical additives and preserves found in their ‘spice mix’ and sauces), and I for one am a huge fan. That is, until I tried the real deal. Oh I tried Mexican alright when I was in the States earlier this year. In fact, breakfast tacos are a pretty bloody amazing creation. And don’t get me started on queso (pronounced kay-soh) with tortilla chips because I can’t stop even when I know what it’s doing to my insides. But all that was Tex-Mex. What I’ve discovered at Mamasita is a whole new level all together. I can hear a lot of authentic Mexican food lovers saying “pfffft you can’t get good Mexican out of Mexico” but I’m not the only one who thinks otherwise. This place notoriously has a hour/hour and half wait to be seated and that speaks for itself. Head chef, Jason Jones has recently returned from a 3 week food tour of Mexico tasting all, including what’s served out of street carts. I know this because my mate Leon was with him. Giving cred to the authenticity of Mamasita, my first visit was with Leon. He was so Mexican-fooded out he couldn’t hardly stomach any more, which was fine with me as I gobbled down almost all of what we ordered and was thanking my lucky stars I wore leggings and not jeans that night!
What impresses me the most about this place is the size of the open kitchen – it’s tiny! And I guess that might be the beauty in Mamasita, is that it’s so simple in all its glory. They’ve got the recipe (dontcha love puns?) down pat; loud Latino music – check, images of seductive Mexican temptresses – check, toilet door signs in Mexican which make you have to look for the sanitary bins to identify the ladies – check, by the jug Margaritas – check. The whole experience had us talking Spanish as we were walking out.
Like a lot of other traditional cuisines, Mexican is classic foodiecure. It combines fresh, seasonal, flavoursome ingredients to make nutritious and mind-blowingly-delicious meals. This is the kind of food you can thrive off. Did you know Mamasitas entire menu is gluten free? And the use of ancient grains like red and white Quinoa (pronounced keen-wah) in dessert was the most surprising. It was awesome to see this little super grain strutted about on a mainstream popular menu. I am also in favour of any cuisine that features legumes – black beans and the naturally smoky pinto beans being my current faves.
So how can you create a bit of romantic summer holiday at home without resorting to our dear Old El Paso? Pulling out my recently aquired Mexican-at-a-glance recipe book Amor Y Tacos, ploughing through American-based Vegetarian cookbooks combined with my experiences, common flavours I discovered are of course the chilli (I read there’s something like 50 types of chillis in the cuisine, the most popular being jalepenos), lime, Spanish onion, corn, garlic, mango, coriander, tomatillos (or you can use tomatoes), avocado, cumin, paprika add a little mild flavoured semi soft cows cheese and you’re there. Use any of these in combination and then don’t forget cooking techniques like char grilling and any kind of rolling up and cooking in corn husks (think Tamales). Incidentally, I found this great little reference to help decipher Mexican cheeses (which will also be a really handy reference tool for other foodie related topics).
Mexican food is a funny thing. When I was first discovering it, I was a bit confused about the difference between quesadillas, tacos, fajita and burritos. I know this is going to sound a bit ignorant, but the difference it isn’t much. They’re just different variations of using either corn or flour tortillas. This is what I found:
- Quesadillas are flour tortilla that are toasted with melted cheese and other Hispanic-type fillings, kind of like a Mexican style toasted cheese sandwich.
- Tacos are traditionally a corn tortilla, filled with whatever is the freshest ingredients you can get, typically pork or ground beef, with some pico de gallo (recipe below), and maybe a couple slices of avocado, a dollop of sour cream, or some fresh cotija cheese (a dry grating cheese similar to parmesan).
- The difference with fajitas is that the ingredients are usually marinated and grilled, weather it be meat, vegetables or a combination of both in a flour tortilla with a variety of toppings such as salsa, queso, guacamole and sour cream.
- Burritos use large flour tortillas, traditionally filled with ground beef, or spiced pork, refried beans, rice, queso and rolled up in a wrap and tucked in at both ends and eaten by hand.
The beauty with Mexican is you can get a little creative. Take a foundation piece like tortilla top with a few fresh ingredients or whatever is leftover in your fridge, add a flavoursome sauce, roll up or toast and enjoy. The best bit is it’s so easy and quick to prepare, satisfies your tastebuds and nurtures your body.
Torchy’s Tacos was my favourite Tex-Mex place in Austin and their fillings can get quite creative, but they still achieve the same more-ish result. Take a look at their menu for inspiration (I love love love the fried avocado), or try the Mexican recipes I’ve added (click on images below).
Now all I need to be truly Mexi-satisfied is mini Mamasita carts all over Melbourne CBD serving up tasty hand held healthy snacks so we can all be in love and on holiday anytime we have a snack.