Call them bocaditos (little bites) or antojitos (little whimsies), Mexican appetizers are mainstream now.
Hungry travelers wanderingthrough open air markets in Mexico can sample an array of foods. Vendors sell freshly made sopes, taquitos, empanadas, rolled tortillas, tostaditos and quesadillas. Quick-handed grill men sear thinly sliced meat over hot coals and serve them with chiles and grilled green onion on soft corn tortillas.
Until just over a decade ago, most US diners would have to make the trip to Mexico to taste these dishes. Most restaurants only offered Tex-Mex style appetizers, weak imitations sometimes smothered in melted cheese, sour cream, guacamole and refried beans. Not that these dishes aren’t tasty. But a growing number of proponents of authentic Mexican cuisine say dishes like that are only a modest portion of what Mexican cookery has to offer.
Thanks to some adventuresome chefs, these simple yet robust dishes have become a familiar part of many Mexican, Southwestern and eclectic restaurant menus. Thanks to this food’s growing popularity, fresh and authentic ingredients are now more commonly accessible, making it easier to serve wherever your restaurant is located.
Josefina Howard, owner of Rosa Mexicana in New York, worked in the vanguard to bring authentic Mexican appetizers north. Born in Cuba and raised in Spain and in the U.S., she spent 30 years in Mexico where her passion grew for all things Mexican. When she settled in New York, she couldn’t find the foods she had grown to love, and so in 1981, she opened her own streetside cafe that helped introduce New Yorkers to real Mexican tacos made with soft corn tortillas. Three years later she opened Rosa Mexicana, a full-service, upscale Mexican restaurant.
At Rosa Mexicana, the appetizer menu offers dishes not only reminiscent of Mexican street food, but also fun. Fresh Guacamole en Molcajete is made tableside in the traditional mortars which give the dish its name. First chopped onions, jalapeno chiles, fresh cilantro and salt are mashed to form a juicy paste. Then the waiter holds the avocado in the cup of his hand, splits it in half lengthwise and removes the seed. The avocado is then sliced lengthwise in approximately 1/8-in. strips and cut across to form a grid. The avocado is scooped out of the skin and mixed with the paste. Then chopped tomatoes, onions, chilies, cilantro, tomatoes and salt are folded in. The guacamole is presented to the table in the molcajete and served with fresh tortilla chips.
Pricila Satkoff shares Howard’s missionary zeal to help gringos appreciate the richness of Mexican cooking. While home cooking meant French food (her father was French) the fun foods she loved were the sopes and tamales that her mother purchased in the markets. “When I was growing up we ate other kinds of food when we went out: French, Chinese or Spanish. The really fancy Mexican food was what I ate at my relatives’ houses and at home when my mom cooked Mexican. But we did get the quesadillas, tamales and pozoles when we went to the market,” Satkoff says.
Two years ago, Satkoff, who has worked under Rick Bayless at Topolobampo, and her husband Vince opened