Monday, October 31, 2011

Día de los Muertos

Even though it lasts 2 days (November 1 & 2) in Mexico this national holiday brings families together to celebrate the lives of those who have gone before. Translated to English as “Day of the Dead” the celebration is marked with Marigolds, sugar skulls, gifts of food and drink and visits to grave sites.
Coinciding with All Saints Day and All Souls Day the modern incarnation has its roots in the Aztec festival dedicated to the goddess Mictecacihuatl. It has evolved as most holidays have. Once a month long celebration the two days are generally broken up. November 1 known as  Día de los Inocentes (Day of the Innocents) to honour children and November 2 as Día de los Muertos (Day of the Dead) to honour elders.
Private altars are constructed to encourage visits from the departed souls.101_1193One such altar I found was at The Tamale Store in Phoenix, Arizona.
This take out only shop fresh makes tamales then freezes them for take home heating and consumption. Though you can however get TRE’s (Tamales Ready to Eat) at a variety of local farmers markets. 101_1189
The menu changes seasonally but remains fairly consistent. Offering meat, non meat, vegan and even desert styles. All made by hand from fresh, quality ingredients. Sold in heat ‘n serve pairs.
For the take home consumer, heating instructions are simple and on a take out  menu for your convenience. They are simple and as follows.
Remove tamales from their plastic and wrap in damp paper towels.
Nuculate on high (1,000 watt microwave) for 4 minutes. Remove from paper towel.
Remove the parchment paper wrapper.101_1227
Extracate the corny goodness from the husks, cover with your favourite condiment(s) and enjoy.101_1228
So now that you know how to deal with these little babies I’ll bet you’re wondering how they taste. Well the tamales are the best I’ve had but keep in mind, I’ve not had a lot. The masa had a good corn flavour and they didn’t skimp on the filling. The chipotle chicken and red chile pork (shown above) were packed with flavour. The chicken especially. In the veggie category the grilled poblano and jack cheese were very good for not having meat. LOL. Only slightly less were the green corn and cream cheese. The Law (my cousin) on the other hand has had many in his life and ranks these up there with the best. Several local publications rank them best as well.

You can find The Tamale Store (store) at 13046 N. Cave Creek Rd. in Phoenix, Arizona.

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 Tamale Store on Urbanspoon
Well that’s all for now folks. See ya mañana in the food court.

Monday, October 24, 2011

Takee Outee

It’s rather unfortunate that most times the best way to get family that’s scattered all over the country (or planet) together is at a funeral. We never seem to be able to find (or justify) the time to hop on a plane and visit someone and then before you know it, it’s too late. Such is the case for my visit to Phoenix. My Uncle moved the family to the Valley of the Sun in the 80’s and much to my shame, I didn’t make the time to see him. Now it’s too late.
My Uncle was quite a character. A persistent partier that played tennis almost every day with his bottle of Vodka and Gatorade near by. He once told me he’d rather live 100 years in 50 than 50 years in 100. By that yard stick he was certainly playing with the house money. Racking up nearly 70 fun filled years.
Living 3,000 miles apart meant we were never all that close but he did leave me with one very good piece of advice. He told me “There are two people on this planet you never lie to. Your doctor and your lawyer.” I always thought that advice to be awfully sound.
RIP Uncle Brian.101_1158
So with a couple days to hang with my cousin in Phoenix we set out to eat like Vikings. Perhaps his favourite place is Chino Bandido and that was dinner my first night. This Mexican/Chinese conglomeration was featured on Diners, Drive-ins and Dives. You can watch the segment here. Just scroll to the bottom.
And yes, you read that right. Mexican/Chinese. The fusion of these seemingly “Nothing in common” foods is further confused by the addition of Caribbean flavours. If all this seems like a complete train wreck let me assure you it’s not. The food is very tasty and while it does seem weird to put Jen Red Chicken in a quesadilla or have Jerk Chicken Fried Rice, once you wrap your head around the idea it seems almost like a natural fit. The other thing that makes this all come together is that the food is very good in and of itself.
They also have a pretty good sense of humour here too. The sign out by the road says (as does the title of this post) “Takee Outee.” Playing on the stereotypical fake Chinese accent of course.
So let’s go through some things about Chino Bandido. It’s kind of a take out place with a dining area.
The ordering area is to the left as you walk in. Basically everything is available for sampling before you order. An ordering form that looks like a parlay sheet is not nearly as hard as it would seem. There's even a demo on their website.101_1160
Take it away with you or sit in the fairly decent sized dining room. It was busy with people in line but the dining room was half full.

As per usual we split most things.

The Emerald Chicken Quesadilla. Fresh ginger and scallion with grilled chicken and cheese in a light, crispy flour tortilla. It was crazy good.
The BBQ Pork Burrito didn’t take a back seat either. There was a nice sweet component that always goes well with pork.
The accompanying Pork Fried Rice and Cuban style Black Beans were very good on their own but I found played well in the sandbox if you mixed the two of them together.
The Jade Red Chicken Quesadilla was also very impressive. Much like a sweet and sour chicken then made up quesadilla style.
The Red Devil Pork Burrito was smokin’!! No fooling around here. Pork with fresh and dried chilies that really packed a wallop.
The Jerk Fried Rice was pretty good. It wasn’t like the Jerk I’m used to back home but was still good. Again, mixed with the Black Beans it was better.
A complimentary Snickerdoodle (no picture) cookie replaces the fortune cookie at Chino Bandito. It was perfectly cooked. Crispy on the outside and moist and chewy on the inside.

You can find Chino Bandido at 15414 N.19th Ave, Phoenix, Az. 

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You can also find them on the web or become a facebook friend here.
 Chino Bandido (Deer Valley) on Urbanspoon

Well that’s all for now food fans. ‘Til next time.

Sunday, October 9, 2011

Small “Bus”iness

You know the place. In a bit of a sketchy part of town. Unappealing curb appeal. You wonder how it can stay in business. You feel like you need to wash up just for seeing it. Ya, you know what I’m talking about.
It’s sometimes worth taking a chance on rather dodgy looking place though. Look past that queasy façade. Stop, get out of your car and smell. Do you smell food?? If so, that’s a good sign. Look at it. Does it have a crowd around (or in) it?? Yes, again, a good thing.

In Huntsville, Alabama at the corner of 9th and Governors in a rather unfortunate looking parking lot, you’ll find El Cazador (the hunter). Affectionately known to locals as “The Taco Bus” it’s the brain child of owner Filiberto Pelayo.
101_1022Filberto, originally from California opened the parent restaurant, Taqueria El Cazador on Memorial Parkway (Huntsville’s spine). He’s added three satellites, (one in sister city Decatur) with the bus becoming an institution. It’s made the list of Huntsville’s 10 Oddest Eateries and getting the reputation as being the best Mexican food in town.

From the outside it looks, well, like a bus. Not a fun looking one either like the Partridge family’s but almost more like a prison transfer bus. There’s also a covered picnic area beside.
101_1025The inside is pure functionality. Stainless steel lines the “Dining area” and kitchen. The menu is posted on a wall beside the cash register. A lone, over worked fan keeps the air moving inside in the absence of air conditioning.101_1033The cramped kitchen is where all the magic happens. Food is prepared on site with the support of the main restaurant by one or another of the Perayo family.
If you’re a little nervous about the cleanliness, don’t worry, The Taco Bus scores in the high 90’s on their health rating.

Our visit was just after the 11am opening so we pretty much had the run of the place. A quesadilla and a bunch of tacos made up a nice, fresh tasting lunch.

So let’s get a look at the goodies.

We skipped the local soft drink products for the Mexican varietals. Mrs. Sippi’s grapefruit soda was a bit like Fresca but a lot less sweet. My sangria flavoured soda tasted like a non alcoholic sangria. It was pretty refreshing and certainly a nice change.101_1031We got squeeze bottles of the two house sauces, red and green. Both were spicy and full of flavour. They didn’t over power with heat but merely elevated. I particularly liked the green tomatillo sauce.101_1030The chicken quesadilla was the best I’ve had. The bar I used to hang out in made a terrific version as do I. This one was simply better. A great balance of meat and cheese.101_1029The pork and beef tacos were exceptional. The beef was especially complimented with the salsa verde. The taco shells packed a big corn flavour.101_1027So we ordered more tacos. This time beef tongue and cheek. I’m new to tongue and have enjoyed it very much but this was only okay. The beef cheek was very tasty on it’s own but probably a little too delicate for the taco. So both were good but not as good as the others.101_1035They make a really good chicken tamale. The chicken had a more subtle flavor than I was expecting but the masa packed a great corn taste.225Not to be out done the carnitas tacos were fantatic. Especially with the salsa verde to kick up the heat. Their fresh corn tortillas are fantastic.223Perhaps the best thing on the menu (so far) is the birria. This beef stewed in a chili broth is packed with flavor. The warm tortillas and garnishes provided an extremely tasty and filling lunch.224You may have noticed some carrots in the pictures. The above picture shows carrot, chili (Serrano) and onions. They were all pickled (probably together) and had a good vinegary taste and a pretty good amount of pop to them as well. They aren’t blow the doors off hot but quite fiery still. I will again point out that everything had a nice fresh taste. There was a certain lightness to it as well. We ate a fair bit of food for two people yet didn’t have that “Oh god, I ate too much” feeling after.

You can find The Taco Bus at the corner of 9th Ave and Governors Drive NW in Huntsville, Al.

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 Taqueria El Cazador 2 on Urbanspoon
Well that’s all for now folks. See ya next time in the food court.