We’re delighted to introduce you to a new feature on the Fed Square News Blog today called Foodie Friday, exploring the stories and origins of the foods that we enjoy here at the Square.
When chef and food enthusiast Arturo Morales moved from his native Mexico to Melbourne, he was shocked by the proliferation of Tex Mex and the narrow view of Mexican cuisine in the city. Taking it upon himself to introduce the rare and varied flavours that he was raised upon, he opened Los Amates on Johnston St and is now at the heart of Melbourne’s growing Mexican community.
As he prepares to introduce his infamous street food at the 2015 Mexican Festival, Arturo discusses the importance of sharing our own history and stories through the language of food.
“In Mexico, we celebrate the way we live through food, however in Melbourne there was a narrow view of what that actually was”
What is the difference between authentic Mexican food and what we may have previously experienced?
Mexican food was originally introduced in Melbourne by an American and it was Tex Mex. This is oil-based and doesn’t have as strong a taste as our food. When Taco Bills opened there was a huge popularity in the 80s and most people I meet here still have the misconception that this is Mexican; that it’s all hard shell tacos, you know?
In Mexico, we celebrate the way we live through food, however when I first came to Melbourne there was a narrow view of what that actually was. Mexican food is really varied – every region has its own dishes, so there are many different versions of the same dish. We started a restaurant here to show Australians what traditional food is really like – dishes that are rare to people here. Australians will try anything, and often they’ll go to Mexico afterwards and experience the flavours for themselves.
How has Mexico’s history and culture shaped the cuisine?
Food is a central part of culture in any country and it plays an important role. In Mexico, there are traditional dishes that have existed for centuries, from tortillas to beans to beef or bread, and you can see that influence in Mexican towns. We also have food that has Spanish influences, like bread and certain ingredients, which are now an essential part of our diet.
Markets that sell street food are really something that’s enjoyed and part of our lifestyle and diet. That’s why street food is a strong part of our culture and, when I go to Mexico, it’s one of the first things I enjoy.
Can you describe to us the Mexican community here in Melbourne?
A lot of Mexicans have come here and brought their families – there are around 800 Mexicans in Melbourne, there could be more. The Mexican Festival is an example of how proud we are of Mexico and how proud we are to show it to people, so that they can see that we love to have a good time, to dance, to eat and enjoy ourselves. That’s the Mexican community.
What dishes can people expect at the Mexican Festival?
What we do is street food – it’s easy for people to eat and very typical of what you’d experience at a Mexican market. The one dish that we make that makes Mexicans go crazy is called Tamale. It’s curried flour mixed with pork, that’s really hot and with strong flavours. We make a big batch and then put chilies in, pork or chicken, and then wrap them up and put them in a steamer. You can find Tamales in about every corner of Mexico and they’ll be at the Mexican Festival.
Is there a basic Mexican recipe that you would recommend for people to make at home?
The recipe that I’d like to share is called ‘Chicken Tinga’.
4 Large chicken breast fillets
4 Fresh bay leafs
2 Celery sticks (diced)
2 Large brown onions
1 x 380gm Chipotle peppers in adobo sauce
6 Red tomatoes
1 x 250gm Tin of tomato paste
Oil to fry (canola oil is perfect)
Salt to taste
- Clean the chicken breast fillets, then cut into large chunks of a similar size.
- Cover in water to cook, adding bay leafs, celery sticks and half of the peeled onion.
- Once cooked, take the chicken out of the broth to cool down; strain and keep remaining broth to use for the sauce.
- Peel then cut the remaining onion in long strips.
- Fry the onions in medium-hot oil until caramelised, add half of the chicken broth, then let simmer for five mins.
- Blend the chipotle to a fine paste and then add the desired amount to the broth (the more the hotter).
- Boil some water and add the tomatoes for three minutes; take out to peel, rid them of the seeds, blend, then add to sauce.
- Add tomato paste to thicken up sauce, and then add salt to taste (to get rid of bitterness).
- Pull the cooked chicken into strips; add ready-made sauce and let simmer to thicken it.
- Serve in a bowl with freshly made corn tortillas to make your own tacos.
Arturo will be serving his traditional Mexican fare at the much-loved Mexican Festival on Sunday, 13 September. Come and join the colourful fiesta and celebrate Mexican Independence Day with Melbourne’s Mexican community.