Ginger Jar Food
Tuesday, July 3rd, 2012
Book Review: Thomasina Miers, Wahaca: Mexican food at home
If you’re a foodie living in the capital, you’ll probably already be acquainted with Wahaca; a Mexican street food restaurant co-founded by Thomasina Miers (she won Masterchef in 2005). If you don’t live in the capital, and let’s face it, a lot of people don’t, I’ll sum up Wahaca for you: it’s about as far away from Old El Paso fajitas as you can get.
I first visited Wahaca back in 2009, and took two things from my visit: you should sip tequila (EH?), and you should definitely put chili in your hot chocolate. Both of these things were new to me and since then I have been back countless times; each time being as good as the last. Wahaca does what it does well; that’s not to say it’s the best Mexican food I’ve eaten in London, but if you appreciate it for what it is, it’s a damn good restaurant, and incredibly well priced.
As is my way, I digress, my intention was to review the recently released, eponymous recipe book, so let’s get down to business. To look at, the book is instantly pleasing to the eye; it looks fresh, if a book can look fresh, and the colours really drawn you in. Once inside, the recipes, neatly divided into sections covering ‘breakfast’, ‘market food’, ‘in the cantina’ and ‘fiesta’, with the latter two being sub-divided into further categories, are interspersed with educational chilli knowledge charts and lovely laments on the joys of hot chocolate. There is even a fun history lesson, attributing the creation of the empanada to a group of Cornish miners who emigrated to central Mexico in the 19th century. Whether or not this is artistic license remains to be seen, but nevertheless it’s an enjoyable addition to the narrative.
Packed full of colourful photos, which I always appreciate, the book really does capture the spirit of the restaurants and there are recipes to please the most dedicated of Wahacos. These range from black bean soup, pork pibil and chicken tinga, to summer chicken tacos and that most glorious of dishes, carnitas. But there are also some fresh faces to entice the unconverted; fettuccine with chilli guajillo (gwah-hee-yoh), cucumber, beetroot and ricotta salad and sweet potato gratin with thyme, chilli and feta to name but a few.
The recipes are easy to follow and, for the most part, relatively simple. My one complaint stems from the amount of ingredients that Miers uses that still aren’t available to us, the general British public. Despite providing an impressive list of suppliers at the back of the book, you can’t help but feel that for your average joe to get hold of achiote paste, chipotles in adobo, and pasilla chillies just wouldn’t work (and would probably cost more for delivery than actual ingredients). Miers does provide alternatives where she can, but in quite a few of the recipes, these ingredients feature so prominently that excluding them would produce something completely unrelated to the dish you set out to make.
From nibbles to chilli roasted nuts and myriad versions of that Mexican classic – the Margarita, and with all the emphasis on sharing and having fun, the book does provide some great ideas for entertaining. The ‘fiesta’ chapter in particular waxes lyrical about the importance of good tequila and categorically states; ‘if you need to add lemon & salt then you’re drinking the wrong tequila’.
Overall this book is a welcome addition to my growing collection of Latin American cookbooks, the unwelcome side of owning it is the further realisation that I’ll probably never be able to make perfect pork pibil on the small scale at home. Maybe that was Miers’ intention all along though? We’ll all just have to keep going back to Wahaca for our fix.