Lets play one of those word association games. I say the words – Mexican cuisine. You react with one of the following – nachos, tacos, burritos, quesadillas, spicy, beans, salsa, and/or guacamole. Debunking all myths associated with our version of Mexican cuisine was Chef Tania Tovar, an Excecutive Mexican chef flown down all the way from Mexico city. She’s spending over a month in the country, travelling to major metros and giving Indians a taste of authentic Mexican cuisine.
I had the opportunity to meet Chef Tania at Sofitel Hotel, Mumbai where she’s cooking up her creations as a part of the Hola Mexicana food festival on till the 5th of February with a rotating menu everyday. Here are excerpts from the chat I had with her:
On True Mexican Cuisine: She spoke deeply about how the Mexican food that the world over has known to love are Tex-Mex and adapted recipes. Authentic Mexican food is a lot more than tacos and nachos, is fairly simple, and includes a lot of fresh ingredients used as a whole – Tomatoes, jalapenos, olives, avocados, seafood, meat and loads of chillies. Hold back on the refried beans she says! Though Mexican food has the potential to be very versatile, case in point – a mexican sushi she has created. I’d love to see an Indian-Mexican fusion on the similar lines. (Masala Library does an interesting Baingan Bharta Quesadilla FYI).
On Cooking in India: She draws parallels between Indian and Mexican food over the use of a lot of similar ingredients and the spice palette. We Indians are very experimental and open to trying newer cuisines is what has surprised her. Her greatest challenge so far has been trying to create a Jain Mexican dish without onion and garlic on request of a diner.
On Being Mistaken for an Indian: Having a common Indian name and some desi features has led to a lot of people asking her if she has Indian roots.
Pondicherry Cafe wore a festive, Mexican look that evening complete with sombreros and cut-outs of Flamenco dancers. Our servers pranced around in ponchos and sombreros too, while a live band crooned Latin and English numbers. A Margarita bar added to the festive spirit. Ola!
The ‘Wow’ Factors: I enjoyed most of the mains they had on offer. An interesting Beef mince with tomato that closely resembled Indian kheema was a favorite. I also enjoyed the Chicken in Pipian sauce which is a typical Mexican sauce made with pumpkin seeds. The Shrimps in Cucumber and Celery Juice sounded weird but the gentle gravy paired well with spicy Mexican rice. The quesadillas were far more simple and less cheesy than the Indianised versions, but tasty nevertheless. My favorite dish of the night was a basic Tomato and meatball soup, where the simple tomato broth bore so much meaty flavor. Interesting Coconut Dumplings were my pick among the desserts – a dense and rich coconut cake.
The ‘Ow’ Factors: The Jerk Beef with Scrambled Egg was extremely bland and under seasoned. The Chicken Nachos were a let down with store bought nacho chips, and no salsa or guacamole or pico de gallo accompanying the nachos. The Rice Pudding was a coagulated mess and they ran out of the Mexican Flan by the time I finished my meal.
Priced at Rs. 2261 plus taxes the buffet at Pondicherry Cafe is definitely on the expensive side. Most of us would not be ready to shell out that much for a meal unless it’s a special occasion. Or one really, really likes Mexican food.
Sofitel Hotel, C 57, Bandra Kurla Complex,
Bandra East, Mumbai.
(The author was invited to review the Hola Mexicana food festival and dined there on invitation).