Saturday, April 28, 2012

Tijuana Si!: New Column in OC Weekly's Stick a Fork In It Kick's Off with Underground Tijuana Cooking Show

Here's my first story for the new Tijuana Si! in OC Weekly's Stick a Fork In It on Chucheman, the best traditional Mexican cooking show ever. Watch for cutting edge coverage on Tijuana and Baja from Gustavo Arellano, Dave Lieberman, and yours truly. 

Sunday, April 22, 2012

Tacos y Mulitas Estilo Tijuana: Tijuana Style Carne Asada Arrives at the Mercado Olympic

At the beginning of the year I revealed the presence of a truly fascinating street food scene located in Downtown LA's produce district. The Mercado Olympic has continued to grow and change ever since as new vendors have joined the party.

This market is so busy I doubt I'll know all that's going on there anytime soon, but each time I try something different--this weekend I even picked a homemade queso fresco.

The stand that caught my eye on a previous visit: Taco y Mulitas estilo Tijuana, or Tijuana style, came too late in the curbside buffet for me to give it a try. I've previously written that real carne asada doesn't exist in LA, and that Mexicali Taco and Co. was the closest thing we had. The boys at Mexicali Taco and Co. roast their meat with gas, which is much better than the grammatically incorrect carne asada tacos around town cooked on flat tops. The verb asar means to roast, and you can't roast on a flat top.

Yes, I know, you've seen itinerant vendors around town cooking on mesquite. There are two basic components necessary here, first, the meat must be roasted on mesquite in order to be considered carne asada. The flavor that emerges from this process is crucial. Second, carne asada is the craft of northern taqueros, specifically: Sonora, Sinaloa, Chihuahua, Coahuila, and Baja California. Sonora is by far the greatest tradition, but I'd put Baja California in the top 3. In other words, unless the taqueros are from these states, they are weekend warriors from states that don't know how to prepare carne asada.

Our newcomer to the Mercado starts off with corn tortillas made to order--corn tortillas are the preferred choice of tijuanenses; in Mexicali as in Sonora, flour tortillas are the standard.

The meat is cooked on mesquite by a grill man who knows his business. The meat is of decent quality, but the seasoning and chopping are spot on. This is carne asada.

A young taquero has fresh onion and cilantro, the signature salsa roja (a tomato-based red salsa) of the Tijuana stands, and Tijuana style guacamole which is essentially pure avocado with some salt. He even wraps the taco into a conical shape like back home.

Of course I wish this was available in the evening, as is the tradition for carne asada--nighttime is when we crave burnt flesh. In Mexico, the grilled meat tacos come out after 6PM, but for now I will just have to live with this minor faux pas in order to enjoy what is now my favorite carne asada taco in LA.

Tacos y Mulitas Estilo Tijuana
Mercado Olympic
Sat-Sun, mornings until around 5pm