By Freda Rumford from the May 2013 Edition
I love reading cook books and magazines. I can sit for hours mulling over books describing flavours and unheard of combinations and can actually taste what I am reading about. Some of the newer ingredients popping up sound rather disagreeable and I would prefer to try them cooked by someone else first. That way, if liked, I can either tweak or copy. One that I have a problem accepting is OKRA. My first impression on reading about this vegetable was that they are gummy or slimy; not immediately appealing, that is for sure and I have never used them.
Many is the time I have gone home from a restaurant with flavours still on my tongue; then prepared the meal again myself a few days later to our total enjoyment.
In Manzanillo, it is a little difficult but I am learning how to sidestep cilantro. I will usually substitute parsley when that herb is called for. Yes! I know it is quite different but to me, cilantro just takes over the entire dish and leaves a very unpleasant after taste. The guacamole and pico de gallo which are presented at almost every meal as appetisers, usually have far too much of that dreaded weed. I find myself hooking it out with a fork or spoon wherever possible or simply bypassing the dish if there is an overabundance.
For home cooking, many of the ingredients I use are unavailable in Manzanillo. I have to bring a supply down with me each year, or substitute where possible. That does not always give the correct results as always I cook towards a certain flavour. I have had guests thoroughly enjoy what I have presented and then say “if you add this and this or change that and that, it would be a lovely twist.” Yes, they would be correct but then it would not be the dish and flavour that I am aiming for. So I continue to bring down my Bisto, Oxo, All purpose flour, Self raising flour, Hollandaise sauce mix, red salmon etc. etc. etc. Then I know what flavour to expect or which texture I am aiming for.
The availability of North American products in Manzanillo has improved tremendously over the years. With the arrival of Walmart, and the Bahia Deli joining La Vianda of Club Santiago, more and more products have been arriving to make the old and familiar possible even though often incredibly expensive. Occasionally the La Comercial Mexican or Soriana will have something unexpected such as Miracle Whip. It does seem though that the New Zealand butter we all came to enjoy for a while is being phased out by all stores. The local Mexican butter tastes a little different and contains a lot of water.
All purpose American flour is something that I advise to bring down with you. The local flour is very soft, suitable for cakes but not strong enough to support pastry (which is my forte). I did see some Phyllo pastry once at Bahia Deli but as I was about to go away for a while, it was pointless to buy then. I do hope they restock it. That is another problem we have in Manzanillo: If it is here today, buy it because tomorrow or next week will see the last for months. Should you have a stock of flour, be aware that there are nasty little insects, probably weevils that love to get into the flour and pasta in a very short space of time. It is necessary to have all supplies in the refrigerator or freezer and the flour currently in use kept in a hermetically sealed plastic tub which is then covered with Saran wrap before replacing the lid. Keeping the weevils out can be done but a little extra care is always required.
Cuts of meat are quite different from those in the frozen north. Beef can be a little tough unless there is a supply in from Sonora (the state just south of Arizona.) There are a few butchers outside of the supermarkets that are very good. The butchers in the Las Garzas, Santiago and Manzanillo markets are well worth the visit. They will tell you which day they will have a certain cut of meat available as they order carcases to arrive on certain days. I personally need beef kidney occasionally and have found the best source to be either of the two market butchers in Las Garzas. I have bought it from Soriana and found it to be extremely strong flavoured and a bit overpowering.
The butcher opposite Toscana’s restaurant is very good and has wonderful Arrachera but seldom do they have a good supply of steaks or Prime rib. The best beef I have ever had, in fact, I have bought from La Comercial Mexicana. Unfortunately though, nothing can be guaranteed.
The pork available is almost always good, lean and flavourful as well as inexpensive. Surprisingly enough, the tenderloin is one of the cheaper cuts. Lamb is almost always available in the freezer section of Comercial and from New Zealand. The shoulder is the cheaper of the two cuts and the one that we generally prefer. Do make sure when buying a piece of meat to use as a roast, to say “Entero por favor.” The butcher will be prepared to slice it into lacy strips. I am not sure if that is correct Spanish, but they do know what I mean.
Chicken is good, and are either fed with marigold seed or painted yellow. There is absolutely nothing wrong with a yellow chicken. Although the price has increased, along with everything else, the rotisserie and barbecued chicken available outside of the Comercial and by the Santiago Bridge are excellent. The difference in price from having it cooked in a hot kitchen well worth paying for, especially if required for tortillas and tacos. Ducks, Cornish game hen and rabbit (and frogs legs) are also available most of the time but they seem to be in the store’s freezer a little longer than I would like.
Naturally, the fish and seafood available in the markets, is generally very fresh. Here as a rule, I would prefer to buy in the markets from the fishermen rather than from a supermarket but when time is short and in a hurry, I have had very good seafood especially shrimp, from the big stores. There are many people selling shrimp out of coolers at street corners. These are safe and reasonably priced.
The barbecues offer ribs and chickens cooked on a spit over hot coals which have a very different and delicious flavour. Usually the sign says “Al PASTOR” which means cooked country style. Ribs are bought by the kilo and chopped into riblets for each customer. This is absolutely ideal when preparing a large party. The places I have tried are next door to Juanitos, or on Av. Manzanillo in Las Garzas. Usually they are sold out by 4 p.m., so make sure to go early enough not to be left with the scraps.
I started out by telling of items not available in Manzanillo and I think I should finish by saying that if there is a dish that you like to prepare that requires special ingredients, such as Birds custard powder for a trifle, bring it with you. The chances are it is not available here.