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Food and Leisure

Why I can eat Mexican food forever

FEAST WITH ME - Stephanie Zubiri-Crespi - The Philippine Star

I have always known myself to be an old soul. Deep down inside I know that I have led many past lives. As esoteric as it may sound, it is for me the only logical explanation why I feel such an affinity for certain cultures. Not just because I am fascinated but a true, deep sense of connection — when I step foot in a foreign land and feel that, in fact, it is not so foreign. Where I feel right at home and the blood coursing through my veins resonates with the cosmic vibrations of the ground I walk on. It is in this way that I am as much Filipino as I am Mexican.

My first encounter with Mexico was as a young child at the age of nine when I accompanied my mother on a trip. I remember climbing up the steps of Teotihuacan, tasting my first sip of tequila and Mezcal, plus enjoying the company of my first ever babysitter who was a young stage actress and whom I wrote to through snail mail.

But nothing could beat the feeling I had when I set foot in Plaza Mayor in Mexico City some 14 years later — truly impressive, with a massive Mexican flag emblematically waving in the wind and brimming with people.  There were the doomsday sayers, native Indian dancers, witch doctors, priests, families with children blowing bubbles, young lovers, laughing teens, and because it was the Fiesta de la Muerte weekend, surreally thrown into the mix were two huge, gaily dressed, blown-up skeletons holding hands in the middle of the square.  To be honest, it was rather reminiscent of the cultural-mishmash environs of Quiapo Church, with the iconic arbolarios and anting-antings alongside the strong Catholic religious presence. Whether or not it was truly a cosmic connection or the fact that historically and culturally the Philippines — with its unusual mix of the indigenous, Spanish and American — bears more of a resemblance to Mexico than to our Asian neighbors, or simply after having spent months integrated into the Mexican and Latina community in Paris — where all my best friends called me Esteffi and I spoke just as much Spanish as French — I felt right at home.

And then there’s the food.

Not too long ago over a lively dinner party, after finishing off several bottles of wine while nibbling on the cheese, the age-old pseudo-“foodosophical” question arose: “If you could eat only one kind of cuisine for the rest of your life, what would it be?” While most said Italian or Filipino, I said, without hesitation, “Mexican.”

“Why?” they asked, “You would eat tacos and burritos all day?”

Then I went on to explain that no, I would happily live off real Mexican cuisine and not that nonsense Tex-Mex stuff. Fresh and vibrant flavors, citrus and cilantro, heat and tang, smoky-rich slow-cooked aromas, the indigenous and the influenced … Mexican cuisine is distinct. The flavors and ingredients stay true to the homeland and recall the times of the great, ancient Mayan and Aztec civilizations. It’s a cuisine reflective of their produce, history and heritage. It can be as sunny and bright as a ceviche or as rich and complex as a mole poblano… The nutty, buttery and exotic escamoles or ant eggs… The fiery, mestizo pescado a la Veracruzana with its heady Mediterranean undertones… The festive and delicate chiles en nogada with stuffed green peppers covered in a walnut sauce and topped with grenadines… A rustic, indulgent roadside barbacoa — meat wrapped in maguey leaves and languidly cooked over hot coals served with tons of nifty little salsas, guacamole and tortillas freshly made by a lady outside. I’ll never forget the hypnotically rhythmic motion of her hands deftly rolling, pulling and slapping the masa onto the grill.

And while I sincerely enjoy the occasional burrito, I have to admit that I have missed all the sophisticated nuances of real Mexican cuisine. Thankfully there is one person that has been able to fill this void. At a recent dinner party hosted by my dear Mexican friend Tinky Locsin, I discovered that another good friend, Luis de Terry, has been stoking the flames of a culinary passion project: Mi Casa. Ceviche Verde de Platija, Tostada de Pato en Mole Poblano, Aguachile de Callo de Hacha y Camarón con Tamarindo, Sopa Oaxaqueña de Verduras con Chochoyotes, Chiles Rellenos, Panna Cotta de Horchata y Crujiente de Amaranto… Not one taco, nacho, or burrito in sight! A delightfully spicy flounder ceviche with green apples, little duck tostadas in that spiced, cacao sauce, scallops and shrimp swimming in a chili water with tangy tamarind… From start to finish everything was sophisticated, unapologetically bold in spice and flavor, refreshing citrus, friendly cilantro, sexy heat, serious layers of flavor.

Luis has always had a natural sensibility for cultural cuisine — something I realized when I ate his Moroccan feast some years ago. Paired with technical skills, he understands not just the culinary aspect but also that recipes embody heritage and history — they tell the story of a people. And Mexico is particularly close to his heart, having lived there for so many years. The love and nostalgia shine brightly through the dishes in his mini-catering enterprise, so aptly named “My Home.” 

BRVBAR CEVICHE VERDE CHILES RELLENOS ESTEFFI AND I LUIS MAYAN AND AZTEC MEXICAN MEXICAN AND LATINA
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