When Chris Mejia and Jennifer Kramer (founders of Baja California specialist tour company Baja Test Kitchen) invited us to take Mexico's native corns on the road, Tortilla de Maíz Mexicana's founder Rafael Mier and Mexico Cooks! were thrilled. You think taking a suitcase loaded with mazorcas (ears of dried corn) from Mexico City to Baja California is easy? Each ear required the protection of bubble wrap and plenty of coddling. We could easily have filled this steamer trunk to the brim, but we made do with an extra-large suitcase to get the beautiful ears safely to their (and our) destination. Photo courtesy Pinterest.
In the photo, you see just a few of the many colorful mazorcas we carried to Tijuana--and beyond. Photo courtesy Josué Castro, friend of Mexico's maíces nativos (native corns) and a tremendous support to all of us in the project.
From the plane, July 22, 2017: over the mainland with a view of el Golfo de California (the Sea of Cortez). Very shortly after I took this picture, we and our personal luggage, plus the big suitcase full of corn, arrived in Tijuana, where Chris and Jen met us at the airport.
First stop? We were ravenous, as if we'd flapped our wings ourselves to fly us to Tijuana! We swooped from the airport directly into Tacos El Franc, one of Tijuana's large number of fantastic taquerías (places to eat tacos). From the time I first lived in Tijuana, in the early 1980s, my opinion has been that Tijuana is Mexico's taco central. The delicious tacos at Tacos El Franc truly confirmed that for me.
Dos de pastor, por favor, con todo...two tacos al pastor, please, with everything. "Everything" includes minced onion, chopped cilantro, freshly made guacamole, and as much house-made salsa as you want. Word to the wise: green salsa is almost always spicier than red.
So what does 'al pastor' mean? Allegedly invented in Mexico City and based on Middle Eastern shawarma, tacos al pastor are now hugely popular all over Mexico. Al pastor simply means 'shepherd style', grilled on a trompo (vertical spit). The metal contraption behind the trompo is the vertical gas grill. The trompo, loaded with thinly sliced marinated pork, turns to grill the outside of the meat--roasted through and crisped on the outside at the moment you order your tacos. The slightly charred edge bits, combined with the tender meat just underneath the surface, combine to make your taco dreams come true.
Two tacos are never enough. My next order was uno de asada, porfas...(one of thinly sliced grilled beef, please). The toppings for this one are minced onion, chopped cilantro, frijoles de la olla (freshly cooked beans direct from the pot), and guacamole--plus as much of your favorite salsa as you like. Is your mouth watering yet? Mine is!
Freshly-toasted house-made tortillas heat on a slightly greased flat top griddle (rear) while roasted chiles güero ('blond' chiles) wait for you to eat: ask for one or simply take one by the stem. This chile, about two to three inches long, broad at the stem end and pointed at the tip, can range in spiciness from mild to yikes, and you can't tell which it's going to be until you bite into it. Some (including me) like it on the yikes side of hot.
Last taco for today: suadero, a very thin cut of beef from just under the skin, cut from the section between the belly and the leg of the animal. Again, I topped this taco with onion and cilantro, plus guacamole and green salsa, which is almost always what I prefer.
Raw suadero looks like the meat in the photo above. You'll probably be able to find the cut at a Mexican butcher shop, if there is one near you. Photo courtesy Chedraui.
In Mexico, there's a saying: panza llena, corazón contento (full stomach, happy heart). Here we all are, full of tacos and the living examples of that saying. From the left: Jennifer Kramer, Mexico Cooks!, Rafael Mier, and Chris Mejia.
Just in time for our first Pacific Coast sunset, Chris and Jen took us to the Rosarito condo where we would spend the next 10 nights. Tacos El Franc and a view like this from the balcony? Who needs anything more!
Grateful for the generosity of our hosts, we went happily to our comfortable rooms and dreamed of the next morning, when we would take the corn for the first time to Valle de Guadalupe, the wine country of Baja California.
Next week: A day with the corn at two spectacular wineries. Don't miss a minute of this marvelous tour.
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