You know the saying about how you never truly appreciate something until it’s gone? Well, I can see now how I took for granted the splendor of our former home in Central California. There’s an abundance of things I could point to in clarifying “splendor,” but for the purposes of this post I’m talking about one subject: Mexican food in the ubiquitous Taquerias dotting the Golden State’s awe-inspiring landscape.
One of the first things to trigger culture shock after moving to Germany was the inability to find tortillas. We begged nearly everyone who gave so much as a hint they might like to send us something to ship us the soft floury discs we craved. Yes, I know, I could have made them myself. For the first few months though, we were in temporary accommodations, so attempting to craft them was just not in the cards. I had never really thought about the relationship between Mexicans and Germans before, though I remembered from uni studies there were pockets of Germans in Mexico (mostly Mennonites, but a recent census puts the total population of Germans in Mexico just over 6,000). I do not know if there are any official statistics for the reverse. While Berlin has a few decent Taqueria-esque places, like Dolores and Ta’Cabron, what passes for Mexican food in most other German cities shows a complete lack of appreciation for the food and culture of our old neighbors. I was floored that an international university city such as our current hometown allows Ketchup covered Emmentaler Enchiladas to pass as authentic world cuisine.
After two years we have worked out where to find key ingredients for some of our favourite Mexican dishes (hint: check the tea shops, as they tend to stock a lot of imported foods) and for others, we’ve worked out decent, even tasty, substitutions. Though I admittedly spent many years scoffing at the all the shameless Gringos who used Cinco de Mayo as an excuse to imbibe large volumes of crappy beer and watery margaritas, I now welcome any excuse to whip up a Mexican feast befitting of Zaragoza himself. This year we went a little Michoacan, with a riff on Rick Bayless’s Herby Ricotta-Poblano Tacos. We subbed in red bell pepper (rot Paprika is plentiful in Germany) for the poblanos and used flour tortillas, turning them more quesadilla-like. While there were no tomatillos to be found for the guacamole, the avocados from Spain are in good supply, so we stuck with a simplified version that proved just as satisfying.
I also attempted an infamous Pin to appease the children’s insistence on having a piñata at our little fiesta. Creating the dough was fun for the kids, though it took a bit of finesse to get semi-vivid colours with the natural dyes.
I took some shortcuts, and let’s just say while one of the kiddos was amazed, the other was not so into it (the emphatic signing “all done” was the tip off he wanted nothing to do with it).