The Tramp is a Lady… Expendio de Pulques Finos Los Insurgentes

“Pulque is pure philosophy, linguistic, hedonism, magic;
at its depth it explains the essence of good love as well as betrayal.”
Marco Rascón*

Expendio de pulques finos proclaimed the sign, posted in front of a faded Porfiriato casa on the Roma Norte side of Avenida Insurgentes. I had sailed by many times on the metrobus but this time M. and I decided to jump off and investigate. “There used to be a filthy gay sex club there” cautioned M. “Funny”, I mused, “ saying pulque fino is like a tramp who calls herself a lady”. But on further investigation I found a very likable, funky, fun bar/cantina or better said “nueva pulquería”. And she’s a respectable lady indeed.

Pulque, made by fermenting the fresh sap of the ma­guey cactus, has a thick texture and a yeasty taste. (see http://pulquenuestro.blogspot.com/ if you read Spanish) Unique to Mexico and used in Aztec rituals, pulque has long been considered the drink of the common man, and was so until beer and stronger alcoholic drinks became the preferred libations, sending the outmoded pulque to the endangered species list. It was traditionally served only in bars called pulquerías, which have been slowly disappearing. Fifty years ago there were hundreds in the capital, now only a dozen or so survive. Some, such as La Risa, the city’s oldest and the neo-‘60’s Las Dualistas have made a comeback as fashionable plac­es for young people to meet. Others are so sleazy that only the most adventurous dare enter. But now, open only 4 months, is Mexico’s first post-modern pulquería, really a bar/cantina which also serves this age old elixir.

I chatted with Alan Ureña, one of Los Insurgentes’ personable young partners on a recent muggy afternoon while several tables of 20 somethings and even a couple of foreign over-40 somethings happily imbibed. “It was our dream to open this place, to preserve and promote the wonderful culture of pulque, which is really such a part of being Mexican” he recounted. “It is rapidly disappearing while at the same time there is a revival of interest in it. While obviously we couldn’t re-create a traditional pulquería, we tried to capture some of the ambiance of a “popular” place, while at the same time updating and expanding on it.” Traditional pulquerías only served pulque and curados , neither beer nor tequila, although they sometimes offered botanas or snacks (Los Insurgentes features a full bar and light food.) They closed early and were off limits to women, selling to female patrons through a side window. A few of the older surviving joints still retain this now defunct format as well as a trough along the bar where multiple-liter guzzling patrons could relieve themselves without giving up their spots. Nicer places featured murals: it is said that Orozco and Siqueiros got their start painting murals in pulquerías. Los Insurgentes is set in three floors of this turn-of-the-century mansion that has been stripped of much of its decoration to reveal the bare rafters and flooring – some original moldings and windows survive as does the old layout. The house did indeed serve as a cabaret and then as a sex emporium; so the ambiance of bohemian behavour lingers.

The raw material is brought in several times a week from the state of Tlaxcala, but “cured” on premises in barrels: fruit is left to macerate then pulverized and strained. On a recent visit unusual flavors such as zapote negro and mamey were on offer. “Most people order the fruit curados”, Alan explains, “plain pulque is really for hard core aficionados”.

A small selection of excellent tacos is proffered: the combo shrimp, octopus and marlin I ordered were succulent and needed no salsa to augment them. Prices are more than reasonable.
Ambient music is eclectic and adult: jazz, latin and indie rule, although unfortunately the juke box, when invoked, blares mercilessly.
Los Insurgentes is a friendly, relaxed unpretentious spot. It is fitting, in this year of the bicentennial, to see a tradition reborn. ¡Salud!

Expendio de Pulques Finos Los Insurgentes
Av. Insurgentes Sur 226 (between Colima and Durango)
Metro Insurgentes, Metrobus Durango
Open Monday-Thursday 1PM-12AM
Friday, Saturday 1PM-3AM
Sunday 3PM-12AM

* from Revista Generación, año XXI, translated by N.Gilman


What’s in a name? - El Hijo de la Rauxa

Chef/artiste Quim Jardí

La Rauxa, a much-missed Condesa mini-institution, has re-opened with flying colors.
This outdoors-only upscale comida corrida place, located on a quiet block between Parques México and España, has been through the mill. While chef/artist owner Quim Jardí was trying to make his oh-too-arty pizza joint l’Atelier work, family members tried to keep it going but quality plummeted and it lost its faithful clientele. Well, the chef is back but the only problem is the lack of a name. “Le Fil de la Folie” reads a sign; (“rauxa” means “caprice” in Catalán or folie in French), hence the temporary moniker. But the menu says “Barrio Latino” and the chef thinks the Catalán “compañs” would work. A rose by any other name is still La Rauxa.

Jardí, of Catalan descent, is shy (according to his personable wife and business partner Laura) – that is, until he gets going on the topic of food. His passion about all things culinary started at an early age. His grandmother owned a Catalan restaurant here in Mexico, and he would hang out there as a child soaking up the ambiance of the kitchen. Later, after living in Barcelona learning every aspect of its culinary traditions, he returned to Mexico. Plans to write about gastronomy did not fully satisfy his creative urge, so when a restaurant space in the Condesa became available, it was Laura (who also does the books – “I’m the practical one”) who told him to “stop talking and just do it”, as she explained to me with a giggle. The lease for La Rauxa, was signed on a Wednesday and the restaurant was open for business on Monday. That was three years ago. The small operation quickly became a successful venue for the chef’s creative but accessible single option lunch menus. Some things are the same: the ‘formule’ is still fixed at $69 pesos ($99 with a glass of more than decent wine). But the program has changed. Dishes are, for the most part, eclectic Mexican based on regional traditions but with a creative touch. A set menu with a handful of offerings remains in place while “capricious” daily specials are supplemented from time to time. On a recent visit we sampled a staple soup of Jardí’s invention: black bean with yellow mole is creamy, lightly spiced – tantalizing, tangy, tart and tasteful. A “filete de pescado al pastor” turns out to be a deconstruction of the Day Effay classic taco: a solid white fish filet is broiled under a shmeer of ‘pastor’ spices and blanketed in a creamy pineapple sauce – a simple, well executed idea that works. Or choose a beef filet sliced Asian –style and bathed in a dark, rich sugar-less mole negro which neither cloys nor smokes. Another house special is the vegetarian tarta de platano, a rich and savory deep-dish pie of plantain served with a little dish of the mole cited above.

Tarta de Platano, a good vegetarian option

Salads, included in the menu, are simple but more than just a few lettuce leaves on a plate: ours included thin shards of herby fennel and mixed leafy greens. Dessert will vary: recently we were served a piece of warm bread pudding like someone (else’s) grandma used to make – sweet, heartwarming and nostalgic. A seldom seen version of horchata made with melon seeds is revived as are other curious 'aguas preparadas'.
With the demise of Margarita Salinas’ promising Casa México and only a handful of more moneyed but less artistically successful “creative Mexican” places around town, the restaurant formerly known as La Rauxa may be on the cutting edge of experimental Mexican cooking. Jardí ruminates, “I would like to invent a dish that becomes a classic, like French onion soup, (or Peach Melba?) something that becomes part of the lexicon after I’m gone.” But he better think of a name first…

El Nuevo Hijo de la Rauxa/Barrio Latino/Compañs
Calle Parras 15 (between Av. Amsterdam and Nuevo Leon) Condesa
Open Monday-Saturday for lunch at 2, open later for tapas and drinks.
Tel. 4754 3908