First Mexican Menu (Tepoztlán)

After repurposing this blog to also look at Mexico (previously I’d limited my study to Spain) I immediately began studying recetas and found number wonderful sites. But my Spanish teacher (from Cuernavaca, via Zoom) decided to ad lib our weekly lesson and use going to restaurants as the context. ¡Perfecto! Even better she mentioned a nearby town that was fun to visit, Tepoztlán. This town is about two hours from Mexico City and thus popular with city folk looking for some pleasant time in the country. In addition to several resort hotels and numerous spas there were some interesting restaurants to look at.

Now in general I’ve found fewer websites and/or menus for restaurants that appear on Google Maps or in a couple of online ratings site (tripadvisor has been the easiest source for me to use for study, no idea how good it is at rating). So I was very lucky to find this restaurant, with a good website and online menu:

Mesa de Origen and its menu

Since I can now stumble through written Spanish with only a few dictionary lookups (or cheats with Google Translate) I found some descriptive material, and I’ll give you a couple of extracts, Spanish and side-by-side Google Translate:

El equipo formado por nuestro chef Lacho Ruiz realizó un profundo trabajo de investigación, comiendo y probando de todo en Tepoztlán y los alrededores, para elegir a los mejores productores y asegurar que la estrella de Mesa de Origen, sean siempre los ingredientes y las recetas de las abuelas locales. The team formed by our chef Lacho Ruiz carried out a deep research work, eating and tasting everything in Tepoztlán and the surrounding areas, to choose the best producers and ensure that the star of Mesa de Origen, are always the ingredients and recipes of the local grandmothers.
Conocemos perfectamente el origen de cada cosa que toca el paladar de nuestros invitados: los chiles, la cecina, las verduras.

Nada proviene más allá de Morelos y todo se consume de productores pequeños y locales, favoreciendo el comercio justo.

We know perfectly the origin of everything that touches the palates of our guests: chilies, beef jerky, vegetables.

Nothing comes beyond Morelos and everything is consumed by small and local producers, favoring fair trade.

Morelos is the state where Tepoztlán and Cuernavaca are located. While Morelos is the second smallest state I eventually discovered it has quite a few local producers. So while “local” is a huge fad and often more marketing gimmick than real, it really looks like this restaurant goes all out to use local products and traditional dishes. That, of course, means it is quite a bit different than your usual Mexican restaurant (esp. of the USA border areas) and very different from restaurants in Spain; IOW, an excellent place to use for my first menu analysis.

Now you don’t need to know much to realize, while they share most of Spanish, Mexico and Spain are very different, in many ways and especially  la gastronomía. But really the first thing I noticed came from looking at maps, which I love to do. Few of the place names in Spain are very hard to “read” (recall mentally) even for a total non-Spanish speaker, but Mexico, wow, it is tough. It’s bad enough ingredients include things like huitlacoche or cacahuazintle or chilacayote or chapulines  (yum, look that one up for yourself, something you’ll never see in Spain) but then there are places like Huitzilac, Tlainepantla, Tlayacapan or Tlatetelco. It’s somewhat like the confusing words you’ll see in Basque Country, because, it’s not really Spanish (there it’s Euskara, the Basque language; in Mexico it’s Náhuatl the pre-Hispanic native language).

So after a couple of years (virtual) wandering around Spain it’s quite a transition to try (virtual) wandering around Mexico. And so while I often encountered rather specialized terminology on menus in Spain (not really Spanish) this is even a more daunting challenge in Mexico. My original project to create a translation app specialized on menus would be even more difficult for restaurants in Mexico.

So continuamos. Let’s just look at a bit more of what this restaurant describes as its culinary focus, La Cocina Tepozteca: (Note: cocina means a lot of things, it’s derived from cocinar (to cook), cocina is the conjugation for he/she/it/formal-you cooks, but it’s also the noun for the kitchen, and then further it often is used for ‘cuisine’. It’s not clear to me when to use cocina or gastronomía, so one sees both)

Una cocina tradicional está hecha de tierra y de campo, de semilla y de fruto generoso.

Tepoztlán ha estado habitado por milenios y la auténtica cocina local refleja esa historia.

Los platillos se crean de acuerdo a la época del año, la fiesta del calendario, los productos que en ese momento prodigan la tierra y los animales.

A traditional cuisine is made of earth and field, seed and generous fruit.

Tepoztlán has been inhabited for millennia and the authentic local cuisine reflects that history.

The dishes are created according to the time of year, the feast of the calendar, the products that at that time lavish the land and animals.

La cocina tepozteca está influenciada por deliciosos sabores prehispánicos, cuya base principal es el maíz procedente de los alrededores. Tepoztec cuisine is influenced by delicious pre-Hispanic flavors, whose main base is corn from the surrounding area.

While everyone probably knows that corn (maíz) is the base ingredient for cuisine in most of Mexico and you find some corn in Spain, it’s really important. In a previous post I mentioned that tortilla (a kind of omelet) in Spain is something entirely different (and ubiquitous) than in Mexico so then these two corn-related terms are interesting and often represented in Mexican cuisine: huitlacoche (sometimes known as corn smut, this is a disgusting looking fungus that grows on corn, but actually is a delicacy); I’ve actually seen this growing on corn plants on some of my geodashing where corn is everywhere, but huitlacoche is still rare; or cacahuazintle, old heirloom variety of white dent maize, that actually is what you should use for pozole (instead of white hominy) but it’s just a bit tough to find.

Here’s a couple of “local”ingredients (extracted from menus you might want to look up) but also examples how knowing Spanish, even deep food vocabulary doesn’t help since these are placenames (like I often found on menus in Spain):  queso de cabra de Huitzilac, jamón curado de 3 Marías, cecina y chorizo de Yecapixtla and queso Oaxaca (not that local).

So on to a few more items. The text at the website also mentions this:

Y de postre las famosas nieves de Tepoztlán y sus exóticos sabores deleitarán tu paladar. And for dessert the famous Tepoztlán snows and their exotic flavors will delight your palate.

This is not a funny Google Translation, nieves actually is snow and in the context of food and in this area it is a kind of icy, low-fat ice cream. If you virtually tour with Google Maps in many street views you may see this on signs. Without trying it I’d guess it’s something in between sherbet and gelato. So this area is famous for it.

One other thing that took a bit of getting used to, both in the rare menu that has prices (more common that menus in Spain list prices, nice for a virtual traveler) and on signs advertising food is $ in prices. Of course in Spain (for us americanos, and I can use this term: people outside the US resent us appropriating “american”, given the peoples of the entire western hemisphere are “american”, but none of us are part of EU) ∉ is a learning experience. So when a simple ice cream dessert can cost $110 it’s a little easier to realize this is pesos and not dollars, so $4.89 is not quite so bad.

So we’ll just look at a couple of items from Platos Fuertes. Now it took me a while to get used to Segundo as the usual term in Spain for “main course”, so “strong plates” (the literal translation) wasn’t obvious, but, it is simple, just the main course.

CHAMORRO EN SALSA DE TOMATE MANZANO
Verdolagas y habas
310
SAUCE IN APPLE TOMATO SAUCE

Purslane and beans

310 ($13.66)

Now figuring this one out took some work and the Google Translate is pretty crocked. If you line up the words you’ll realize GT just ignored Chamorro. And kinda for good reason as it’s hard to find, although it does occur in the authoritative DLE. Where the best definition, in Spanish, En las carnes de abasto, pantorrilla de un animal (In the meats of supply, calf of a animal.) Not very helpful, eh? Well, the best I could find is this a particular way of cutting the meat and so is either Beef Hind Shanks or Pork Shanks. But it was the manzano that took some more work. The best I could figure out is referenced in this source, this is just a type of pepper, not common outside Mexico. But is the tomate to be taken literally (tomato, although I learned from my Spanish teacher jitomate is used in Mexico for ripe/red tomatoes). If you look at the photo from the linked page, it looks a lot like a Habanero but apparently is not so hot. IOW is this a tomato sauce seasoned with Manzano peppers, or just a pepper sauce (tomate being a qualifier of manzano?) or even what another search shows a San Marzano tomato. Now we grow San Marzano’s in our garden, but my sister always claimed ours were no good compared to those from Italy, but this restaurant is all about ingredients from Morelos Mexico. SO, you make your best guess. I should set up a gofundme page so I can go to Tepoztlán and find out.

So how about

CONEJO EN MOLE DE CENIZA
Camote y huauzontle
310
RABBIT IN ASH MOLE
Sweet potato and huauzontle

310

Now you’d find conejo on menus in Spain so I assume rabbits in Mexico are the same, but, whoa, lots to do here. Mole de Ceniza. Mole is one of the most complicated subjects you can find in Mexico. Even before looking at these menus I know quite a bit about mole. Now, I didn’t always know. Despite living in California and eating a lot of Mexican food, my sister (to whom I dedicate this blog) somehow learned about mole. We spent a whole day wandering around the very pleasant San Antonio Texas (river walk area) looking for mole, like it was something mystical, almost spiritual. Of course, for some, but not all the vast varieties of mole, chocolate is the magic ingredient (not a big surprise since chocolate is a new world invention). So, I could write many pages (assuming I really know more than my basic knowledge) about mole, so I’ll simply say this: 1) Ash mole is an amusing translation by GT, but Ceniza is a bit more helpful, and, 2) and one of my favorite Mexican cooking TV shows, Patti’s Mexican Kitchen, gave me a clear idea of “ash” as mole. So I’m guessing this is the more commonly called (and very famous) mole negra from Oaxaca, where the “ash” part of this comes from a preparation step where banana leaves (or sometimes corn husks) are set on fire and completely burned and then become part of the sauce.  Hey, we gotta guess this virus under control so I can go there and find out what this is.

So many items, so little time so I’ll close with one more (and maybe come back, because I have more items to discuss).

LENGUA DE RES EN GUAXMOLE
Maíz cacahuazintle y huitlacoche
310
BEEF LANGUAGE IN GUAXMOLE
Peanut corn
310

Now first I’ll point out the usual GT bad translation choice: yes, lengua is language (in fact, this is what Duolingo taught me) but it’s really ‘tongue’ (a synonym for language, but in this case, literally tongue). It’s also amusing GT turned Maíz cacahuazintle into Peanut corn, which is somehow GT deciding this is connected with cacahuate, but where did the -zintle get in there. Anyway, already I’d discovered this ingredient, that hierloom type of corn. I’ve made pozole many times, including a hybrid version merging another recipe. Mostly I use white hominy. But once in New Mexico, we went to a Latino mercado and found numerous ingredients, including some dried corn that might have been cacahuazintle or maybe just dried hominy (I had no awareness of any of less back then).

Now if you’re thinking guaxmole is the familiar guacamole, guess again. They’re not just spelling this different because they have an entrada, MOLCAJETE DE GUACAMOLE RÚSTICO. So go this source (in fact, the recipe site I’ve previously referenced) to see it’s something entirely different, so don’t think that what appears to be cognates (in this case of another Spanish word) actually are.

I could go on, but I’ve exhausted all my time to write this post and undoubtedly really exhausted your time to read it if you’re still with me. So I’ll just give you one more to wrap up and you can try to figure out what this is. What the heck is the difference between tomates and jitomates and what is galanga?

ENSALADA DE TOMATES Y JITOMATES
Haba verde, requesón y agua de chile ancho y galanga
165
TOMATOES AND TOMATOES SALAD

Green bean, cottage cheese and ancho chili water and galangal

165

I really wish I could head to this restaurant right this minute. Spain has some appeal to me due to the whole legend and mystique of the Camino de Santiago BUT, I’m sorry, Spain, this food looks a whole lot more interesting.

Come on fortuity, be nice to me, and end the COVID disaster so I can actually do this newest item on my bucket list.