Guadalajara, Guadalajara: Cooking from the Land of Tequila
The western state of Jalisco, home to Guadalajara and Puerto Vallarta, is associated with things quintessentially Mexican. Tequila, mariachi, charros, and folk dance (“el jarabe Tapatio”, better known as the Mexican hat dance) all claim their origins here. Its cooking, too, is based on the things that make Mexican food distinctive: chilies, corn, beans, tomatoes, pork and seafood. It’s cuisine is not as varied that in as states such as Puebla or Oaxaca, but what’s good can be great.
Standout dishes from the interior of this state are meat-based. Bírria, a spicy, soupy stew usually made with lamb or goat is popular, as is hominy-based pozole. The coast is known for its lemony ceviches and fish tacos, sometimes made with smoked marlin. Tapatios, as Jalisco residents are known, are proud of their culture and cooking, and at El Pialadero de Guadalajara, you can find out why.
This family-run business is one of the few places in the city devoted exclusively to comida tapatia. The name ‘pialadero’ refers to a ‘pial’, a lasso used on old haciendas to tie up animals by their legs. This simple, homey place is done in country style, outfitted with “equipal” leather chairs inside and out, and ambient ranchera (mariachi) music. There are outdoor tables and chairs as well, if you can handle the noisy traffic.
Cowboy hat clad founder Aarón García González, from Guadalajara, brings down many ingredients (and recipes) from his home town. A wise choice for an appetizer is the ceviche (your choice of fish or shrimp), tart and refreshing. An order of crispy tacos dorados, golden deep-fried tortillas filled with barbacoa (roast lamb) also make a filling starter, good for sharing.
The star of the show, however, is the exquisite torta ahogada (‘drowned sandwich’)– and I would crawl on my hands and knees for one. It sounds simple: a crusty roll, here called a birote, is filled with succulent carnitas (pork cooked in its own fat), then bathed in a rich, piquant sauce of tomato and chile de arbol. First timers look quizzically at the floating sandwich, wondering whether to eat it with a fork and knife, spoon, or their hands. Then the waiter offers a plastic glove, answering the question. While you may choose to be polite and eat with your fork and knife, you’ll be missing out on the essential tactile experience of chomping down on the dripping mess, the juices happily blending into a fragrant meaty pleasure that beats the best American burger you can remember.
The salsa is nothing less than perfect – prickly and tart. The birotes, which the owner told me cannot be baked properly here in el D.F., are imported from Guadalajara. Although drowning in sauce, they retain a bit of crustiness--another secret to success. Washed down with horchata, served in a traditional ceramic cup, or a local Estrella beer, this is an essential Tapatio experience.
The hearty and filling pozole tapatio is similar to other regional pozoles but a bit meatier, and served with shredded cabbage, tostadas, chopped onion, and crema. The birria tastes similar, so I suggest ordering one or the other but not both. A good choice for the less carnivorous is the tacos de marlin, or the shrimps done however you please – al mojo de ajo, with garlic and toasted chile is always a satisfying choice. The torta ahogada also comes in a version made with shrimp.
And for dessert, don’t forget to try the dulce Jericallas, Guadalajara’s rich answer to flan.
As the nostalgic song goes, “Ay Jalisco, no te rajes….”
El Pialadero de Guadalajara
Hamburgo no. 332
Tel. 5211- 7708
Open daily from 9 AM – 7:30 PM
A new, larger branch offering the same menu, has opened in Santa Fe:
Lateral Autopista México - Toluca 1235
This article previously appeared in The News, Mexico City
Cochinito: I tried the torta ahogada here yesterday, and what an experience! It was a bit of a challenge convincing the waiter that, yes, I really did want it all the way picante ("completo con el picante" I think was the phrase he used). And it was as ferocious as it was delicious -- I literally had to dab the tears out of my eyes. (Don't let me scare anyone. You can get it bathed in just tomato sauce and apply the chile de arbol salsa to taste.) They were out of jericallas so I had a slice of raspberry and chocolate syrup cheesecake, which was artfully presented and delicious, if a bit dense. I floated out of there unmistakably high on endorphins and very satisfied.