Trend Watch: New Mexican Wave

22 June 2022, 07:13 AM
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Trend Watch: New Mexican Wave

Noticed how Old El Paso’s yellow packaging dominates the World Food shelves of Sainsbury’s? Whether consumers are buying fajita kits for home loading, a takeaway from Chiquito, or sharing carnitas, the famous Michoacan pork dish, at El Pastor taqueria, they can’t get enough of south-of-the-border cuisine. In a social media survey of the 32 most viral food trends, Birria tacos (Google them) came fifth, (YOY to end April 2022, Beanies Coffee). Waitrose offered masterclasses in margarita-making at its cookery school this spring and in hipster Peckham there’s a two-day festival of all things tequila with Mexican street food.

What’s behind the trend?
The arrival of premium tequilas as opposed to nasty, adulterated ones. The manager of 1910, a Mexican cantina in London’s Balham, explained: “Cheap tequilas had a rep for giving you a hangover and people made an association: dirty drink, dirty food.”

Tequila has moved from being a stag night staple to a sophisticated sipping serve and is now the top trending spirit for 62% of bartenders globally (Bacardi Report) and the second fastest growing spirit category in value around the world. Hand-held, spicy food is a crowd pleaser and after lockdown, we’re overdue a party. Self-assembly fajitas with choice of filling suit omnivore and vegan alike.

I get tortillas and tacos mixed up. Can you help?
Taco means ‘sandwich’, a tortilla wrapped around a filling. Tortillas are the wheat-based wraps found in northern Mexico, the US and the UK. In southern and central Mexico, tortillas are made of masa harina – white (sometimes blue) corn flour.

Supermarket-style tortilla wraps seem a bit downmarket for fine food retailers. Got anything superior?
How about ready-made, genuine corn tortillas from the Mexican grocery wholesaler, the Cool Chile Company. Charlotte Pike, who teaches the popular Mexican cookery course at Harborne School in Birmingham, has a gluten-intolerant partner and makes her own fresh corn tortillas with a press. “I tried making them from scratch using a rolling pin but the dough is hard to roll out.” She reckons demand will grow. If your customers include keen home cooks, offer masa harina (not polenta) flour and tortilla presses.

What are burritos and chimichangas?
The different names denote how a tortilla is filled, folded and cooked. For example, a burrito is a stuffed, flour envelope; the same burrito deep fried is a chimichanga.

Why is Mexican cuisine perfect for plant-based eating?
The flour used to make traditional corn tortillas is treated with calcium hydroxide. This adds calcium, essential for those on a dairy-free diet. Traditional Mexican cooking celebrated beans, chillies, seasonal veg and corn long before the meat-heavy dishes of Tex Mex. Many classic recipes call for nutritious nuts and seeds as thickeners in place of flour.

Can you explain Tex-Mex?
It’s Americanized northern Mexican cuisine. Just as we Brits created spaghetti Bolognese, so Texan ranchers adapted dishes they’d enjoyed down south. The rigid Taco shells sold in supper kits are a Tex-Mex adaptation. So are fajitas and chilli con carne.

How do we get the party started?
Kick off with bar-strength, canned tequila margaritas from Cutwater Drinks. Xochitl and Manomasa are two delicious corn snack brands. Introduced to fine food retailers in August 2021 after success in the hospitality sector, Blanco Nino tortilla chips won Gold at the Free-From Awards 2022. Variants include Chilli and Lime and Sea Salt (both white corn). Our favourite was the deep-purple Ancient Grain (blue corn) – sublime eaten with prawn cocktail. There’s profit in freshly made guacamole and tomato salsa. Whole Food Stores offers guacamole for £13.99 a kilo and reassures customers that its avos are responsibly sourced.

I know tequila can be drunk on its own or in cocktails. Whose should we stock?
Look for those containing 100% agave. Drinks Retailing News reports that customers still prefer blanco or silver – the type used in margaritas. Diageo’s Don Julio is a bestseller. Bacardi-owned, super-premium Patron ranks well as does Ocho 8.

How else can we make the most of the trend?
Display cookbooks such as Thomasina Miers’ new Meat Free Mexican with ingredient bundles such as ready-mixed Mexican seasoning, tomatillos and refried beans.
Customers can’t get enough of chipotle chillies (smoked jalapenos). Try Rubies in the Rubble or Hunter and Gather chipotle mayo or the award-winning Chipotle Sriracha from My-Chilli.

Should we put burritos on our brunch menu?
Of course, and how about summer tacos, filled with courgettes, corn, mint and green chili alongside Mexican beers like Sol or Modelo Especial? Dulce de leche desserts and cinnamon-scented, Mexican hot chocolate will lure sweet-toothed customers.

Will the trend last?
Absolutely. Healthy and varied, there’s more to Mexican than melted cheese and chilli dumped onto nachos, pub-snack style. London even has a Michelin-starred Mexican restaurant, Kol. If we’re to eat less meat in future, we’ll need to use imagination. Across the Pond, chefs are redefining plant-based Mexican cooking with such upmarket dishes as tacos filled with marinated hibiscus flowers, and carnitas made by frying enoki mushrooms until crisp. What happens there, comes here.

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