Meet The People - Behind Mexican Food in London Part III
This time, we want you to meet a group of fascinating people making a change in the Mexican food scene in the UK. Their hard work, passion and commitment to bring Mexican ideas and flavours to the UK are remarkable. Thanks to people like them, Mexican food is as popular as it is today. Come and meet them with us.
Thomasina / Wahaca
We have talked about the amazing people that have made a change in the way we see and taste Mexican food in London. Most of them are people from México that bring with them memories, knowledge and flavours and share them with us here in London. Even when now it’s relatively easy to find a good taco around the City, all the options are very different from each other and all of them have something great to offer. There are, however, people that even when they weren’t born in México, have become important ambassadors of Mexican food and culture in the UK. Such is the case of Thomasina Miers, who after travelling to México and falling in love with the flavours and colours, has been working to share everything that Mexico has to offer by promoting food and culture at Wahaca, DF Mexico and several epic festivals such as The Day of the Dead Festival. We met up with her to talk about what she likes, what she thinks of the actual Mexican food in London and what are her future plans.
We love your cooking videos with Margarita Carrillo and your collaborations with different Mexican chefs such as Enrique Olvera and Alejandro Ruiz. Is there anyone else that you admire that you would like to work with?
Whenever I go to Mexico I am over-awed by how the food has developed and continues to develop. The cooking skills and techniques are exploding out there and combined with the fantastic ingredients (Mexico is one of the most biodiverse countries in the world) this makes for very exciting cooking. There are chefs in almost every state that I would like to cook with. Diego Hernandez came over and did a fantastic supper club for us last summer which was wonderful.
Have you tried Mexican food in London? If so, do you have a favourite?
Edson Diaz Fuentes used to cook with us and has just opened Santo Remedio which I love. There are a few small places in East London and a few street stands that are cooking fun Mexican food but I think the market is still hugely undeveloped.
Is there any Mexican dish that you would like to bring to Wahaca that you haven’t yet?
We have yet to put Chiles en Nogada on the menu, the Mexican national dish. It is mouth-watering when done well but relies on fresh poblano chillies. I think stuffed chillies is definitely something I will be looking at next year.
If you could choose someone to do a taco crawl in Mexico, who would that person be and where would you go?
I had the fortune and honour to meet Diego Luna last November when he came over and spoke at our Day of the Dead festival. He was fantastic and loves his food and mezcal. I think he would be a great company and could introduce me to new taco stands that I needed to discover!!
Where is your favourite place in Mexico to have food?
I went to Baja California last March for the first time and was blown away by the food. Ensenada and the Valle de Guadalupe are two very special places.
We know you are working on a book, would you mind tell us what is it about?
It is called Home Cook and it is inspired by my column in the Guardian on Saturdays. Essentially it is a guide to how to cook delicious home-cooked food with our busy working lives. How to weave good food into our lives without spending hours chained to the stove using tricks, short-cuts, leftovers and the freezer! A kind of modern-day Mrs Beeton.
Any plans for Wahaca expanding to the rest of Europe?
We are always being asked to open Wahaca all over the world! We have only just opened outside London because it is so important to us to keep an eye on quality. We need to run before we can walk. It is a fun idea to open in Europe but keeping our food in the UK fresh, exciting and innovative will always be our priority.
We can’t agree more with her, we believe Mexican food in the UK is still a work in progress and the best is yet to come. Wahaca is preparing yet another epic event to celebrate The Day of the Dead. Find all the information you need to be part of it here.
It all started with a trip to México when Laura fell in love with not only Mexican culture but with our paletas. Paletas are Mexican fresh fruit ice lollies. The advantage of having a paleta instead of ice cream is that they are refreshing, made only with water and fruit. There are cream and milk varieties but Paleta Girls brought back the idea of taking these fresh fruit lollies and make them even healthier without sacrifice the flavour.
Eating ice cream every day might seem like a brilliant idea when you’re on holiday, but after a hot day, you’re soon craving something fresh, refreshing and delicious. Beautiful, bright paletas are available everywhere! Walk into a paleteria and you’ll find a freezer full of rainbow colours -everything from mango and chile to avocado lime, or pomegranate and strawberry- it’s part of the culture and something you’d stop for in the same we’d stop or a coffee here. Having grown up with ice lollies that were made from artificial ingredients and colours I loved the fact that paletas are (when traditionally made) completely natural, made from fruit left at the markets at the end of the day with a little sweetener and spices, or nuts. I’m big into my food -but I’m also a dietician, so anything that combines health AND taste is an instant winner for me.
Where does your inspiration come from?
The inspiration for Paleta Girls is Mexico. The colour, the vibrancy and sense of fun, warmth and passion! Sat on a bridge in Guadalajara eating a strawberry paleta one afternoon I got chatting to a friend about what a shame it was we didn’t have paletas in the UK as I was so sure they’d be loved, and that’s when I realised I could be the one to bring them home. When I got back to the UK I had a four-hour Skype call with my co-founder, Donna, she understood the vision, loved the idea and was on board from day one. When we’re thinking about decisions for the business, we return to our brand pillars, which are inspired by all the qualities we love about Mexican culture, warmth, passion, colour and fun! This together with honest natural ingredients and taste is what we’re all about.
How are your paletas related to Mexican paletas?
Our paletas are very Mexican in shape (square topped) and follow the tradition of using all-natural ingredients and being made by hand. We also have a range of Mexican-inspired flavours including raspberry and cold-brewed hibiscus tea (one of our most popular!), mango and chia and pineapple and chilli. On the background of natural ingredients and our passion for well-being, we’ve focused on health. Our paletas are free from refined sugar, dairy additives and preservatives (which means they can be enjoyed by everyone no matter what diet they follow). We also try to pack as many nutritious ingredients into each one, so some of our health boost flavours including orange, mango ginger and turmeric, or beets, apple, ginger and lime. We also have a dessert range, which is free from dairy but more like the paletas de crema, except we used cashew nut cream and other delicious healthy ingredients to get the same taste. It’s cream without the cow!
What do you think of the Mexican food scene in London right now?
It’s a very exciting time for Mexican food and London as always is leading the way. We’ve seen a big shift even in the last few years with the arrival of some brilliant Mexican street food, quality restaurants and mezcal bars. Para todo mal mescal, para todo bien tambien! People are no longer associating Mexican food with bad Tex-Mex taco shells. The quality has improved, with quality ingredients being more easily available. Restaurants like Peyote, Mestizo, Casa Morita and of course Wahaca and Thomasina Miers really introduced people to the idea that Mexican food was more than fast food.
Where do you see Paleta girls in the future?
Everywhere and anywhere! We really want people to think of paletas as they do in Mexico, not just something delicious for a hot day, but also something you enjoy as a healthy snack, dessert or refreshment. We’re starting the revolution in London this summer and plan to introduce paletas into cafes, shops and restaurants….the future is paleta shaped and delicious!
You can find more about Paleta Girls and their tasty paletas on their social media channels such as Facebook, Twitter and Instagram where they are constantly updating about their upcoming events.
Joel / Daddy Donkey
Joel claims to be the first to bring the Burrito to London. After spending some time in Mexico and going back several times now, he fell in love with Mexican culture and food. It was during one of the long trips that he extended towards the US and tried their interpretation of Mexican food that he realised their version was fast and healthier, he liked that. When he came back to the UK, one of his friends mentioned how it was sad the there was no burrito shops in London. Joel then had a light bulb moment by realizing he could have a chance. Joel speaks excellent Spanish and he has used this to his advantage when exploring Mexican food in Mexico which has helped to his understanding and appreciation of it. His travels around Mexico have taken him from Oaxaca, Chiapas, the Pacific Coast and more. Thanks to that he has been able to explore all kinds of dishes from different regions. His favourite Mexican dishes are equally varied: tlayudas, barbacoa the authentic market style with a nice cup of broth on the side. He also likes all kinds of tacos such as tongue and eyes. Cochinita tacos and al pastor are also a favourite and let's not forget about tamales and pozole…he’s tried all. Back in the UK, he uses the knowledge he gathered then and produces delicious dishes with techniques and ideas such as using Coca-Cola to marinate and cook meat.
With a background in catering and with his mindset to make a burrito business happen, he found a space in Leather Lane Market in 2005. Cooking at home, he transported the food to the market on a bicycle. Daddy Donkey has been on a constant learning curve with challenges that have only made him stronger. When Daddy Donkey opened there were no burrito places around. People were very accepting of this new concept. The spicy element was already present and the combination of flavours was an instant hit. Even when burritos are not Mexican, at least in the way we know them now, they are made with Mexican elements. burritos in a way have opened the door to Mexican food in the UK.
All kinds of things, from accountancy to weather. Making great food from scratch, sourcing the best products and be consistent with quality. Going from having no competition around to have many more places selling a similar product today. He realises how much things have changed since those first years where people needed to be educated on what carnitas or cochinita was. Now people are familiar with these dishes and that is fantastic. Joel thinks Mexican food is here for the long run eventually compared to Italian or Chinese food in availability. He admires what Wahaca has done to help this. He thinks they feel like they have a genuine passion for what they have done to the Mexican food scene. He particularly likes how they have been making an effort on showcasing food from different regions of Mexico and marketing.
What Sets Daddy Donkey Appart
Food 100% freshly made with great ingredients. They also offer tacos and tostadas. Their location makes them the perfect option to have lunch in the busy Farringdon area. By making everything themselves they have a less corporate environment too which makes it a local business, friendly and approachable. Joel is very proud of his growth which has happened by himself, an organic growth without exterior investment. The future is bright starting with plans to get a new truck that will be used for corporate events, festivals and more. You can follow Daddy Donkey on their Twitter or Instagram to be aware of any updates. Make sure you try their famous Carnitas Daddy D which is by far their best seller burrito made with all kinds of delicious things for you.