When the opportunity arises to head across the border for a few hours, I do not hesitate. I hopped in the car with Chef Chad White on Monday for a trip to the market and an exploration in squash. —Translation: He had a photo shoot with photographer/videographer Jim Sullivan and I went along for the ride.
When we crossed the border, we headed straight for Mercado Hidalgo where we perused the aisles of the open market filled with colorful produce, freshly-made, artisanal cheeses, dried meats, seafood, kitchen wares, knick knacks and more. Tis the season for squash therefore you have squash blossoms (flor de calabaza) everywhere with their vibrant yellow color piercing its way into view through every turn. The sounds of the vendors wash over me as I can’t help but ignore them with the sensory overload of such incredible bounties.
After maybe a thirty minute browse, Chef chooses some hearty squash, the brightest yellow blossoms, some cured meats, cheeses, cremes and huitlacoche.
Huitlacoche is a corn fungus that is used in typical Mexican cuisine. I first encountered this flavor in a creamy, flor de calabaza soup in a *comida corrida on my street when I lived in Mexico City 20 years ago. It is a beauitful powdery blue/purple color before cooked.
On the way to Chef White’s restaurant, La Justina, we stop for lunch at Tortas Wash Mobile. Don’t be fooled. This little corner sandwich cart is famous for its tortas and has been going strong since 1964! These tasty sandwiches are packed with beefy goodness. The fresh bread is strategically dipped in the drippings for extra flavor. But be careful…. They can be messy. You are bound to see any number of chefs stop into this little joint as they all agree, Tortas Wash Mobile is a must try.
The walk from parking lot to La Justina on the bustling Avenida Revolucion is an immediate reminder that you MUST watch where you are walking lest you get mowed down by a hurried vehicle regardless of the light color. Hidden among gift shops, taco stands and zebra-painted burros is the discreetly tucked La Justina at the base of a hotel that is rumored to be in negotiations for a swanky remodel. Here Chef greets his Chef de Cuisine, Marco Rodriguez with bags of freshness and they get to work.
I crack a Modern Times beer from the fridge as the photo shoot get going trying (but not too hard) to stay out of the way as I pick at the ingredients. Watching the process of the two chefs collaborating on this beautiful dish was lovely and the end result was picture perfect and scrumptious.