Thursday, February 17, 2011

Comida Corrida, El Farolito,Mexico City: A Gourmet Lunch Tradition to Slay That Hungry Beast

La comida. This is the meal taken around 2pm in Mexico; it’s the big meal where the working class grabs essential calories in order to conduct commerce. Breakfast is a light meal, juice and milk with fruit, some pan dulce with coffee, perhaps an egg dish. Dinner is also a lighter meal; snacks are taken as needed from cafes and street vendors, but the comida is the food event of the day:”Is that all you’re eating,” said my cousin in a confused gesture, “I’m saving my appetite for later,” I replied. “Well, there is no later, Bill, this is the comida!” That was my first lesson many years ago about the ritual provender consumed all over Mexico each afternoon.

Comida corrida is a brilliant tradition, and brings gourmet home-cooking to the proletariat class. It the culinary equivalent of a bull fight; three bull-fighters face the beast, the third one dealing death’s blow. The beast in this case is our hunger, and only a proper three-course meal shall slay the snorting, charging menace inside your belly.

This is no coincidence, this style of dining came with the Spanish conquerors; the word for a bullfight in Spanish is corrida de toros.

Al Fresco dining at Comida Corrida El Farolito, Mexico City

El Farolito,(not to be confused with the famous taqueria of the same name)located on Av. Lopez’s street food restaurant row next to the Mercado San Juan in Mexico City is a typical comida corrida dive, a beast master effortlessly stabbing that mid-afternoon urge, planting a pair of banderillas(lances) into your raging hunger, followed by a single, appetite-conquering sword thrust.

El Farolito is very much like places all over the city.You'll find these restaurants in the markets,little holes-in-the-wall,and at more formal settings. They are are also known as fondas, small eateries featuring comida casera, home-cooking.The majority of these kitchens are matriarcal, a place where men go to get the cooking of their mothers or wives during the big meal of the day. But, El Farolito is a progressive dive, and these guys can rattle these pots and pans.

The space itself is tiny; you have to crab-walk in between two opposite rows of diners to use the restroom. You are seated shoulder to shoulder.

You can spot many comida corridasby the words menu del dia, or menu of the day. El Farolito has Comida Economica, or economic food, which is a style of service where all your food comes on one plate, except for the soup. Comida Economica is the style of Mexican cuisine that came to the U.S. and morphed into our "combo plate" orgy, but El Farolito is a comida corrida, and at about $2.65USD for three courses, it certainly is a bargain.

A table setting and a basket of tortillas is laid out as soon as you can squeeze into a seat.

Course 1,Soup.Tercio de varas, "the lancing third."
A choice of a couple soups to start your epic battle. This could be a tortilla soup, fideos or a pasta soup, a consommé, a fava bean soup; on this day it was sopa de lentejas, lentil soup.

This is the part of the meal where a hearty stab wounds your growling, grunting stomach; a homemade soup bursting with flavor.

Course 2,Dry Soup.tercio de banderillas,"The third of banderillas(lances)." A rice dish or Mexican-style soupy spaghetti deliver those carbs that are craved by the blue collar workers.

In this stage of the of the battle, two lances have slowed, and weakened your voracity, setting it up for the kill.

Another sign you're at a comida corrida is the huge, bubbling pots of stews. The main courses in a corrida as called guisados, or stews.These dishes vary according to region, which makes a comida corrida a great way to learn about the local gastronomy.

Chiles rellenos float in a bath of tomatoes and herbs at El Farolito.

Stews are more economic, utilizing cheaper meats for braising, or stewing. The art of the comida corrida is all in the cooking, it isn't about high ingredients, although many exotic and creative dishes come out of this tradition; but there are no culinary crutches here to defend the cook, just his/her cunning.

Course 3,Guisado(stew).Tercio de muerte, "The third of death." The bloodied, and double-stuck hunger that plagues you, lowers its head as the kitchen matador draws his sword, but an injured titan is still deadly, and can fatally gore.

Espinazo con verdolagas, pork spine with purslane in a spicy tomatillo sauce is a Mexico City classic, a comida corrida star. The purslane give the broth a thickened texture, and earthy green flavors. This is a clean kill; the crowd cheers, a victorious grin flashes, your inner greed has met its end.

El Farolito, like any other comida corrida has a daily changing menu, with some staple dishes like espinazo con verdolagas. Steak in pasilla sauce is another much appreciated stew, with a deep, dark spice, or perhaps a mole dish. There are usually around 5 dishes available each day, depending on the cook.

Sometimes there is a complimentary dessert, like a mini-flan, and you always get an agua de sabor, a flavored water. These are the Mexican aguas frescas: hibiscus flower, watermelon, horchata, lime, tamarind, pineapple, etc.

This is one of the best ways to sample some of the finest cooking in Mexico, and it's a little like dining at someone's house. El Farolito has its regulars,mostly gentlemen with a "few miles on" the odometer, and middle-aged toilers. The old-timers are the only ones smiling around here, they don't have to run back to work, but the other diners are quiet; a calorie laden meditation before ruturning to the "rat race".

Comida Corrida is a hunger-conquering institution in Mexico, so don your cape and let the battle begin.

El Farolito
Calle Lopez,127-D
Near the Mercado San Juan
from 1PM until the end of the big meal of the day, around 4PM.This can be a little later.
Mexico City, Mexico


Food GPS said...

“I’m saving my appetite for later.” Sounds familiar. Basically what I said when we walked by El Farolito. After seeing the photo of the espinazos, that may have been a mistake.

Banana Wonder said...

YUM! I can't wait for DF.

Anonymous said...

Sounds good! I'm going to the DF in two weeks. I tried to find El Farolito on Google Maps street view and couldn't. I also know from previous trips that it's very hard to find things without knowing cross streets. Do you know the cross streets? Thanks.

streetgourmetla said...

Anonymous-Just north of Delicias--the major cross street is Arcos de Belen.