A New Taste of Home

3 Aug

Californians in search of Mexican food in the UK behave like addicts moved 3000 miles away from their fix. All through my time studying in Cambridge and Edinburgh, my fellow exchange students would furtively swap tips with each other; which restaurant grilled OK carne asada, or made guacamole almost as good as what you could get at home. But when all was said and eaten, these subpar examples just seemed to amplify their cravings, not satisfy them.

I’d held myself above this fray in the past, not out of any when-in-Rome snobbery, but because I didn’t see what the fuss was about. The staples of my northern California childhood weren’t burritos and fajitas but sushi and chow mein. I don’t consider a visit to my parents in Cupertino complete without visits to Bay Sushi and Hong Fu. Mexican food by contrast seemed mostly heavy and uninteresting.

And why on earth would people go in search of something that they knew wouldn’t be as good as at home, when they were surrounded by various examples of the wonder that is Indian food in Britain? OK, so that’s a little snobbery, but when places like Tayyabs exist, can you really blame me?

But anyway, I was wandering around the back end of Notting Hill yesterday, a place which makes me question whether the whole financial crisis actually happened. But along with all the designer baby clothing and five-quid tomatoes, this neighborhood is home to a restaurant called Taqueria.

So I plunked myself down at a two-top and ordered some chilaquiles. Chilaquiles are a waste-not-want-not dish: stale corn tortillas are simmered in a fragrant chile sauce (red or green) until almost soft, then topped with a little queso fresco (kind of like ricotta). Taqueria served theirs with a pool of creamy black beans. My second thought after taking a bite of my green chilaquiles (after how delicious it was) was how homey it tasted. I hadn’t grown up eating it every week, but I knew this was the ultimate comfort food. Stewy, a little creamy, with enough flavour and texture to keep things interesting without being challenging.

Then I realised why I found it so comforting: it reminded me of my mother’s glop casserole. Glop is something which is much more than the sum of its parts: canned corn, kidney beans, and beef mince mixed with a lot of mild chili powder, then topped with shredded cheese and crushed Fritos (a corn chip like an ordinary tortilla chip on flavour steroids) and baked. Thinking back on it today, it was the mixture of crisp corn chips with the mince underneath that came to mind as I ate my chilaquiles.

So, for all you Californians (and other Americans, too) in London who are longing for that spicy taste of home, you now have a place to get your fix. I know that I’ll be going back for another soon!

P.S. I also bought a jar of chipotles in adobo sauce for a future experiment with chicken tinga tacos. Watch this space…

139-143 Westbourne Grove
London W11 2RS


4 Responses to “A New Taste of Home”

  1. Joan Chamberlain August 3, 2012 at 11:12 AM #

    Glop casserole also has a chopped onion browned with the mince. Just made my own version of enchiladas tonight– a casserole with cooked sliced chicken, torn up corn tortillas, layered with a combo of green salsa, enchilada sauce, and sour cream, with a top layer of enchilada sauce, sliced olives, and shredded Mexican cheeses. Baked at 350 degrees for 30 minutes. Yum. A dump and do with all ingedients ready to go at Trader Joe’s. That’s my kind of (non) cooking.

    • Lucy August 7, 2012 at 1:12 AM #

      As soon as I read Sarah’s description, I knew exactly which dish of yours she was talking about, and the exact flavor/texture came to mind…yummm! And I’m sure I’ve eaten it only a fraction of the times she has…food sure makes powerful memories! Add this to the list of twinges of regret in my newfound vegetarianism. 🙂

  2. Joan Chamberlain August 3, 2012 at 11:16 AM #

    Oh yeah, there was a can of black beans mixed into the sour cream salsa sauce chicken staff, too. Shall I call it Mexican glop? It was yummy and very soothing.

  3. Erin August 6, 2012 at 10:00 AM #

    Oh Joan, when can I come round for dinner?! That sounds amazing!!

    The other thing that is peculiarly Californian / American is S’mores. I know they are hardly elite cooking but so so yummy, and totally unheard of in the British Isles!

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