by Alicia Lieu
I had brunch at The Boat Basin today and on the menu were early Cinco de Mayo items. Cinco de Mayo is a holiday I always heard about but never really knew anything about it. I finally looked it up on Wikipedia and discovered that it is not actually Mexican Independence Day, as is the common misconception, but it is a holiday that Mexican-Americans celebrate. It is observed in honor of General Ignacio Zaragoza Seguin who led the Mexican Army to an unlikely victory over the French at the Battle of Puebla on May 5, 1862. It is much celebrated in California but virtually ignored in Mexico. It gained popularity in the 1980’s when beer companies capitalized on the holiday and began promoting it.
Having grown up in San Jose, I was exposed to a little bit of Mexican culture as a child but have just now begun to learn more about Mexican cuisine. Anthony Bourdain and Andrew Zimmern have shown me things I would never have seen for myself. But having a coworker who grew up in Mexico, and working with a conductor from Mexico, showed me that there are many different cuisines in Mexico and it is highly regionalized, just like it is in China.
I still get upset about the fact that “Chinese food” is understood to be Lo mein, fried rice, and General Tso’s chicken because there are such numerous types of regional cooking in China, many of which I never even knew existed until I actually lived in China. But I suppose Tex-Mex has the same shallow level of recognition as well. I love the fact that in New York City there are ladies selling churros in the subway, grilling meat and corn on the cob by subway stations, as well as peddling tamales and Mexican beverages on the street in Jackson Heights.
I would still love to learn more about Mexican food from actual Mexicans but until then, I look forward to going to the tortilla factory near my apartment in Queens. It has made quite a name for itself and has even appeared on the Food Network. It’s called Tortilleria Nixtamal and it produces tortillas by hand and sources fresh produce directly from a distributor in Mexico to ensure the most authentic Mexican experience. It’s making my mouth water as I type this, what am I waiting for? Until then, I shall continue to get Mexican food from Taqueria Coatzingo and the plentiful Mexican food carts in Jackson Heights. Even the breakfasts are served with tortillas, chips, and salsa. It’s never too early to eat a tortilla!
Although I do love bringing a freshly grilled elote (grilled corn on the cob slathered with mayonnaise, cheese, and chili powder), there are times when I like the ease of having corn off the cob. Thanks to the wonderful Joe, that would Trader Joe, you can get grilled corn off the cob in the freezer section Trader Joe’s. It makes a wonderful dish when mix it with toppings you find in the street food.
1 bag of frozen grilled corn
2 tbsp vegetable oil
3 tbsp mayonnaise
4 oz Cotija cheese
1 tbsp jalapeño peppers, finely chopped
1/2 tsp chili powder
Salt and pepper
Fresh Lime (optional)
Heat vegetable oil on medium heat in a skillet and sautée the frozen corn until it is heated through.
Stir the corn occasionally and in a large bowl, combine the mayonnaise, cheese, jalapeño pepper, salt, pepper, and chili powder.
When the corn is heated through, drain any liquid and then fold it into the mixture and serve immediately. Add a few squeezes of lime if desired.