Season’s Greetings – Wild Mushrooms

Here in sunny Mexico, with all its biodiversity, we are lucky to have fresh produce year round. Ruby red tomatoes twelve months a year mean an end to the cans of Italian plums I used to buy back in New York. Papayas just keep a comin’. Something green is always being sold, just-picked. Still, we are delighted by the seasonal appearance of various fruits and vegetables: artichokes in the spring, mangos in the summer, citrus in winter. More and more, however, the seasons are blurring. There are now grapes, asparagus, mangos, apples available all year round, all imported and all at a steep price –taste-wise. This time we can blame it neither on greedy gringo corporations nor our friends on the side of the earth where they walk upside down. The culprits are our good neighbors south of the border, namely Chile. And NAFTA. All the more reason to pay attention to what’s local now.
From July into October wild mushrooms hit the markets of central Mexico. Here in the capital, the month of August is high ‘shroom time. An extraordinary variety of them are on offer, mostly culled from the wilds of the States of Mexico, Hidalgo, Morelos and Puebla. Some, like the yellow duraznillos, the grayish clavitos or the spongy morillas, correspond closely to such Euro- appreciated and high priced treasures as chanterelles and morels. No wonder one sees French residents gleefully scooping up kilos of them at the Mercado San Juan, thrilled to be paying 80 pesos instead of 80 Euros. The religious and culinary use of hongos has been important in Mexico since long before the arrival of the Spaniards. The Mexica even dedicated the deity Nanacatzin as ‘Lord of the mushrooms’. Much of this culture was lost; hallucinogenics are still popular in certain indigenous groups (remember Maria Sabina?) but the gastronomic traditions hang by a thread. Interestingly, most customers I see buying odd hongos silvestres are humble people from the country. While chef/historian Ricardo Muñoz Zurita gives space to 40 separate varieties in his Enciclopédico de Gastronomía Mexicana, the most I have seen for sale at any given vendor is a dozen, which is an amazing sight to behold. Most wild mushrooms sold here are prepared as traditional Mexican guisados (stews), for soups or tacos. I have tried to ‘westernize’ some. I once bought a kilo of bright blue toadstools, trusting the wisdom of the aged woman who was selling them, but wary of their safety, I sautéed
them with a little garlic and served over fresh pasta. One eater said they reminded her of an autumnal New England woodland. Another guest’s setting of choice was a Florida swamp. My ‘cream of hens of the woods’ fared even worse: the toilet down which I dumped it retaliated by backing up making for an unspeakable situation. And the dog on whom I tried to pawn off my inedible ‘sauté de black tree fungus au vin’ still runs when he sees me coming. But other varieties taste sublime, like the golden yemas (which ARE chanterelles), or the subtle, oaky, clavitos; they are a cook’s delight – and they can be home-dried for later use: simply slice them up and set out in the sun or in a low oven. Or do like the Provençal and string them up like Christmas popcorn. They can later be substituted in recipes calling for dried porcini. Unfortunately, while some renowned local chefs like Jared Reardon of Jaso and Jair Téllez of Mero Toro take advantage of these gifts of the Gods and present seasonal dishes, it is rare to find the traditional Mexican versions offered for public consumption. A ‘miracle’ stand in La Marquesa, Restaurante Lupita, makes quesadillas, a roasted foil-wrapped packet, and the occasional stew; a vendor or two in the market of Amecameca might do a taco; but I have never seen them anywhere else. You’ll just have to do it yourself.

Where to buy and eat wild mushrooms:

Tianguis: most tianguises (weekly street markets) are selling wild mushrooms now, for example, Condesa's Tuesday market on c/Pachuca, and Polanco's Saturday market

Mercado Merced – Along the western (front) side of the main building are several amazing vendors. Take the metro to the ‘Merced’ stop. Exit at the front end of the train and turn left as you leave – you will be in the main building. If you walk straight to the front side, then turn left; walking along the corridor of vendors who line the outside wall you will see them, towards the end. Prices here are much cheaper than most.

Mercado San Juan – Renowned stand no. 261, to the left as you enter the market, is run by Hermelinda Guillén Vargas and offers the best in the country, including farmed porcini and shitake. She has the dried versions year-round. Several other stands have a smaller selection.

Mercado Jamaica - The central flower market south of the centro is easy to get to by metro - just get off at the Jamaica stop. Inside the food section are several mushroom sellers. - see comment below.

Tenancingo, Edo. De México – Outside the large market in the center of town about 2 hours from el D.F., sit ladies from the country selling the most extraordinary varieties of mushrooms – I have seen both blue and bright crimson ones for sale here. Thursday and Sunday are tianguis days so there are even more. The market is also famous for its rebozos.

Restaurante Lupita is located in La Marquesa, on the highway to Toluca, about a half-hour’s drive from the city. After you go through the underpass entering La Marquesa, it is at km. 9. You will see a sign on the right announcing ‘Valle del Potrero’; to the right of the archway are two connected stands – Lupita is the one on the left.

See my other post for recipes! Click here

See my review of Mourad New Moroccan Cookbook

Text and Photos © 2012 Nicholas Gilman - all rights reserved.


Just Friends : L’Entre Potes

What’s new in Colonia Roma?  You could run yourself ragged trying to keep up with the bars, shops, restaurants and antros that are popping up like mushrooms.

Álvaro Obregón is the main drag here, where you’ll find some of the bigger, glitzier places.  But as rents have risen, Roma’s side streets are attracting creative, young entrepreneurs with smaller budgets.   Wandering the residential streets a few blocks from the hubbub, I made my latest discovery, L’Entre Potes.

Lovers of Paris (who isn’t?) will adore this little sidewalk bistro, which opened its doors earlier this year.  L’Entre Potes, which translates as ‘amongst friends’, is a collaboration of three native Parisians. A lunch joint by day, bar by night, the good food and wine here will transport you to the City of Lights.

Chef Frederique turns out multi-culti comfort food in his compact open kitchen.  Friends Morgan and Claire run the show outside.

Considering the quality, the copious and hearty menu du jour is a bargain at 90 pesos ($130 with a glass of house wine).  On my first visit I was impressed with a gazpacho that would have pleased any Spaniard, fragrant with good olive oil.  It was followed by a textbook-perfect carne de ternera c/salsa Roquefort.  This bistro classic comprised a generous portion of tender, seared beef bathed in a light Roquefort sauce served with golden pommes frites—the best fries I’ve had in Mexico.  I cleaned my plate with an exceptional baguette, chewy and flavorful.
Another day blanquette de  veau, the creamy veal and mushroom stew was served with a side of cous cous. Salads, such as an ersatz niçoise, are carefully arranged and pretty, although at times overdressed and too vinegary.  
Desserts are tried and true: traditional clafoutis , tiramisu, tarte tatin or crème brulée.

An option for non-meat eaters was the gratin de acelgas & espinacas—vegetables as the French do them—butter, cream and cheese (viva Julia!). Gratins are the specialty of the house, and the potatoes dauphinoise are divine.  But the menu is not strictly French--an occasional curry or pasta might make an appearance.
Evenings get busy here—the place is small and fills up.  Tapas, such as nicely chosen cheese or charcuterie plates, are proffered. A few Spanish tapas classics  like croquetas, tortilla española and the Catalan  pan tomate recall the chef’s stint in Barcelona. Décor is simple, a clean white bar with seating for 5 or 6, several rustic wood tables and the requisite patterned cement-tile floor make for tasteful, cheery dining.  And if weather permits, there is outdoor seating as well.

L’Entre Potes is a welcome addition to the neighborhood, a sophisticated lunch option and a pleasant, adult cocktail venue. 

L’Entre Potes
Orizaba 167 (between San Luís Potosí and Querétaro)
Tel. 5264 1561
Open Monday 2-5:30, Tuesday-Saturday 2-2AM, closed Sunday