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Mexico’s New Cuisine

A photo journey examines Mexico City's most innovative chefs as they establish a recognisable national cuisine using the country's mysterious yet highly desirable native ingredients, with their unconventional flavours and textures.

Sep 1, 2009
  • Mexican cuisine: chiles
  • Mexican cuisine: chef Martha Ortiz
  • Mexican cuisine: El Tajin appetizer
  • Mexican cuisine: Pork loin medallions in amarillo mole from Aguila y Sol
  • Mexican cuisine: Snacks and ingredients from La Merced market
  • Mexican cuisine: Catedral Metropolitana—Mexico City, Mexico
Mexico's contemporary chefs have become adept at orchestrating chiles of varying heats. A century ago an American chemist, Wilbur Scoville, developed a scale to measure capsaicin, which gives chiles their fieriness. The hottest? Habanero, followed by chipotle. Pasilla, ancho and poblano are much milder.
What sets much of Mexican cuisine apart is the poetry. No chef does this better than Martha Ortiz at her restaurant, Aguila y Sol in Mexico City. As the daughter of a painter, her artistic temperament courses through her dishes and whimsical menus. She will use gold leaf or rose petals in a dessert, add gingered mango to pork or sprinkle a guacamole with pomegranate seeds and ricotta cheese to create the colours of the Mexican flag. "I want to cook my idea of Mexico," she says, laughing.
Alicia Gironella De'Angeli's menu at El Tajin in the lively district of Coyoacan is a window on authentic recipes from all over the country, whether stuffed tortilla rolls of different types of corn served as appetizers, grasshopper soup or cactus leaves in syrup. A lobbyer for nutritional issues, Gironella promotes the country's indigenous diet. "It was extremely healthy," she observes. "The combination of corn, beans, chiles, squash and herbs was a perfect nutritional balance."
Mayan ingredients such as black beans and chocolate can be found on the menus of today's avant-garde chefs. Moles—complex chile-based sauces, usually for turkey or chicken—famously use chocolate, as shown here in pork loin medallions in amarillo mole from Aguila y Sol.
Whether at the gigantic markets of La Merced or on the pavements of virtually any barrio, you'll find traditional, freshly cooked snacks. The most frenetic and fascinating of Mexico City's markets, La Merced's gigantic halls sprawl over an entire city block. Located southeast of Zocalo (main square) in a gritty neighbourhood, the market is lively from 6:00 am until 6:00 pm every day.
Just like on its menus, Mexico City serves up an intriguing mélange of old and new. The contrast of the Catedral Metropolitana, the oldest cathedral in the Americas, to the contemporary flair of Aguila y Sol, gives exciting expression to this cultural duality.

For more than a decade, the mysterious yet highly desirable native ingredients of Mexico, with their unconventional flavours and textures, have been creeping back into dishes at upscale restaurants. But only recently have Mexico City’s most innovative chefs established a recognisable national style.

Behind this nueva cocina is a newfound confidence in Mexicanidad (Mexican-ness) that combines baroque imagination and spiritual leanings with incredible dynamism. On the plate, this translates into flavours that are exotic, multilayered, jewel-like and as varied as Mexico’s 62 different languages, more than 100 types of corn and staggering biodiversity.

See how Mexico’s avant-garde chefs are exploiting these riches with delicious results.

Mexico City’s Nueva Cocina Restaurants

Aguila y Sol, Moliere 42, Mon–Sat 1:30-11:30 pm, Sun 1:30-5:30 pm

El Tajin, Miguel Angel de Quevedo 687, Mon–Sun 1–6 pm

Izote, Av Presidente Masaryk 513, 55/5280-1671, 55/5280-1265, Mon–Sat 1 pm–midnight; Sun 1–6 pm

Naos, Palmas 425, Mon–Wed 1:30–11:30 pm, Thurs–Sat 1:30 pm–midnight, Sun 1:30–6 pm

Pujol, Francisco Petrarca 254, Mon–Sat 1:30–5 pm, 7–11:30 pm


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