My introduction to Mexican food in South America was disappointing. I had been in Argentina for 3 weeks and was starting to feel that I should eat something other than those bife de chorizo wonder-steaks for which the Argentines are rightly famous. There was a nice looking Mexican restaurant nearby so we decided to go along and get some spice in our lives.
The waiter approached with a fearful look in his eye, nervously holding a plate of nachos as if they might explode at any moment. His eyes widened further as he warned us that the sauces were muy picante. We approached the sauces with caution – I put tiny morsel on the point of a nacho and touched it to my tongue and waited. …and waited. Nothing!
To cut a long story short, the entire meal was utterly bland. I went on to find out that the people of many (though not all) South American countries are not particularly enamoured with the spicy heat and strong flavours associated with Mexican cuisine.
The next time I had Mexican food I was in Mexico and it was a revelation!
I was blown away by the mind-blowing flavours – salt, spice and sour in almost every bite!
The six weeks I spent in Mexico was enough to make me a fan of their food for life. Sadly, when I arrived in Rio I found that there were very few Mexican options and none were very good. Hector, a Mexican friend living in Rio, confirmed my suspicions – he had tried the Mexican food in Rio and was not impressed.
Then, in September, Hector’s wife Morvyn contacted me to say they had made a discovery. Two guys were making authentic Mexican food at a hostel in Cantagalo and I needed to try it!
Fiesta Mexicana Autêntica Comida Caseira
Morvyn was right! Every Friday night, Daniel Xavez and Luis Suarez put on a Mexican feast to bring tears of joy to homesick Mexicans and enthusiastic gringos alike!
I was lucky enough to not only taste their delicious food, but also the meet the guys and learn a little more about their story. Here are some of the highlights of a chat I had with Daniel.
Tom: Hello! Can you tell me a little about yourselves?
Daniel: Hey Tom, we are Daniel Xavez and Luis Suarez – both 25 years of age. We grew up in Los Angeles, California and met at UC Berkeley in 2010.
T: Did you enjoy cooking from an early age?
D: Yes! By age eight I was already cooking full meals, rice, beans and meat, all typical Mexican dishes. Funny to point out that, I started cooking behind my parents backs, since I was dealing with the kitchen which was my mom’s sanctuary and was afraid to tell them. Since both of my parents worked, when I was home alone after school I would practice what I had learnt in the kitchen from simply watching my mom cook on weekends when all my extended family would come over and praise my mother’s food. That is what inspired me to cook, my mom’s delicious food.
T: So your mother was your main inspiration?
D: Yes, but it is important to point out that many of my mom’s recipes come from my grandmother on my father’s side. She was a chef in Mexico, and when my father married my mother in Los Angeles, my father was not satisfied with my mother’s original cooking, so he brought my grandmother from Mexico to live with them for a year and teach my mother her secrets.
T: When did you first come to Rio? What were your first impressions?
D: I came to Rio for a year and a half ‘Study Abroad’ program at PUC-RIO back in 2008. My first day here was December the 28th and it was a hot, humid, cloudy day. I didn’t think much at first until the following day when the sun was out and the Cariocas were doing their thing. I saw the colors of the city, the sounds, the people and fell in love on the spot. What I love most about Rio is that it has a small beach town vibe when it’s actually a huge city of 6 million people. I love how you always seem to run into people you know.
T: Did you miss Mexican food while you were in Rio?
D: Yes! During that time I had fallen in love with the ‘Marvellous City’ but I really missed good Mexican food, as did many other of my US and Mexican friends also studying in PUC. After seven months in the exchange program I went back to California for a visit and brought back corn tortillas, chill peppers and hot sauce. When I returned to Rio, I loved cooking Mexican food for my friends since I now had all the proper ingredients. They all loved the food, and that is when I first got the idea of selling authentic Mexican food.
T: What do you think of Brazilian food? Do you have any favourite dishes?
D: Finding good affordable food is probably the most difficult part of living in Rio for me since I love to eat. There is plenty of delicious Brazilian food, but in my opinion none of it is from Rio, I love food from the north east region of the country and Minas Gerais. My favorite dishes are Baião de Dois and Moqueca de Camarão.
T: Where are you going from here? Would you like to open a restaurant one day?
D: Luis and I have been working on this project for a little over two years and I’m happy to say that it has been growing a lot. It started in our apartment in Jardim Botânico, then moved to a restaurant in Ipanema, and then on to hostels all over Rio. I would love to start my own restaurant one day, but would like to keep the relaxed, friendly vibe that our current events have. I love to personally meet and greet my guests and tell them about the food
T: Where can people taste your food? Are you attending any of the upcoming culinary events in Rio?
D: Currently we have our events every Friday from 7pm-11pm at Ralé Chateau Hostel in Cantagalo – we only cancel if its pouring rain during that time. You can also find us on November 30th, in what is considered Rio´s First Food Fair by the organizers. It’s called Chef Mix Gourmet in Barra da Tijuca. We will be serving Red Enchiladas, Flautas and Agua de Jamaica. Also we provide a catering service for parties and other events.
I had the pleasure of eating the amazing food that Danny and Luis create and take it from me, it’s really delicious! Finding your way up to the Ralé Chateau Hostel might be a challenge if you’re new to Rio, but the food (and the views!) make it worth the effort. To find more information or to contact them about their catering service, find them at their Facebook page: Fiesta Mexicana Autêntica Comida Caseira