CALL ME SWEET POTATO PRINCESS - I was having dinner with my friend Hunter White the other day, explaining my family tree and he very seriously looked at me and said: “Oh. Yes. I know what...
Sunday, June 13, 2010
El Mezon, Tijuana: The Pork Skin Trade
San Juan de Los Lagos, Jalisco is well known for many unique dishes including their artisinal pig skin and pig's feet pickling. In 1953, the patriarch of the Gutierrez family opened Tostadas El Mezon in Tijuana's Zona Norte, the infamous destination for the reciprocal transactions between tricks and johns.
Sr. Gutierrez brought with him the family's secret recipe and method for making the cueritos(skin) and patas(feet). He tought it to his children, and they to theirs. Today the grandchildren prepare the skin and feet, hidden from the employees who only know how to assemble the tostadas and make the tomato sauce that is topped on every tostada.
The employees are so much out of the loop, that they didn't even know that we had taped a scene there for Bizarre Foods Baja, which will air tomorrow, 6/14, on the Travel Channel.
Once the skin and feet are prepared, there's not much to do here but plate, bus tables, and take orders. Oh there are also tostadas of deshebrada(shredded meat) on the menu, sure they're fantastic, but here it's about the skin and feet.
The menu is very minimalist, with the signature tostada of skin coming in at around a buck, the feet and deshebrada are a little more, about a $1.15.
All the magic happens here. These four buckets of beans, pickled pig's feet, pickled skin, and shredded cabbage are the mis en place.
The skin and feet are cooked,cooled to room temperature, brined, and then vinegar is added. The pig's feet are covered with herbs and spices, proprietary, of course. THe secrets to the trade here are shrouded in a deception akin to the Angostura bitters recipe.
You know after 57 years in the tostada business, you'd think there'd be some attempt to assemble these tostadas in an aesthetically pleasing manner. No chance. Spread beans, which are lovely by the way,grab and throw cabbage, plop some skin or put down a whole pig's foot, splort the tomato sauce and here you go sir.
At the table, limes and a used Gatorade bottle filled with a wowing salsa of chile de arbol are all you need. It's very hard to tell there are two tostadas on this plate, you sort of have to feel around for the edges of tortilla shell.
But, closer insection of the cueritos reveals the beauty of this place, a piece of pork skin that looks like a fine seared tuna, not just all translucence and texture without flavor like the dull varieties that come in a jar. Those just taste like vinegar and preservatives. The skin and feet here at El Mezon are delicately flavored and grandiose. Andrew and I shot our last scene together of Bizarre Foods Baja here and had a great time in this dively classic.
Tostadas El Mezon is another example of the unique dining experiences in Tijuana, a specialty from the highlands of Jalisco from three generations of artisinal picklers.
On the outside the place looks like a cheap table dance bar, and upon taking a seat, I'm not convinced that it doesn't moonlight as such an establishment after hours. But, tucked into this shrine to skin and feet, away from the hustling, honking, and barking of the Zona Norte lies a quiet place where familes go for a Sunday treat. Skin is in!
Tostadas El Mezon, Tostadas de Cueritos
7931 Art. 123
365 days a year.