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Manx-Mex Chronicles: Moving On!

Tortilla chips and salsa, chili con carne, and fajitas are now typical European bar food. Rare is the English pub that doesn’t serve “nachos.” The influence of Tex-Mex on world cuisine fascinates us here at Texas Eats. So when our correspondent, Julia Walsh, moved to Manchester, England in January 2017, we asked her to chronicle Tex-Mex influences on the local English fare. Here is her last report:

Well, friends, my time in Manchester is coming to a close. I’ve had a blast checking out the local take on Tex-Mex and reporting back to you. Watch for a round-up in coming weeks of my Manx-Mex Top 5!

And to end my English Tex-Mex reporting with a bang, I’m heading to London!

The staff of Breddos eating an afternoon meal

 

There’s currently a new wave of Mexican and Tex-Mex spots in Soho and the West End, and I’ll be visiting as many as I can in a final wrap-up mini-series to be titled: London Taco Tour. Keep an eye out for links posted to Facebook on Tuesdays under #LondonTacoTour!

I’ll see you all back here next TacoTuesday with my first report!

Galveston’s Italian Olive Tradition

Manx-Mex Chronicles: Chapter Fifteen: What’s On Offer

Tortilla chips and salsa, chili con carne, and fajitas are now typical European bar food. Rare is the English pub that doesn’t serve “nachos.” The influence of Tex-Mex on world cuisine fascinates us here at Texas Eats. So when our correspondent, Julia Walsh, moved to Manchester, England in January 2017, we asked her to chronicle Tex-Mex influences on the local English fare. Here is her latest report:

In Chapter Thirteen of the Manx-Mex Chronicles, I mentioned that the understanding of Tex-Mex among the locals here in the UK seems to be mainly informed by the Old El Paso display in the grocery store.

After writing that, I realized that taking a closer look at what’s on offer at the grocery store might provide some more insights into the taste for Tex-Mex among the locals (the grocery store is only going to offer what sells!) and tell us more about the Tex-Mex influence on the UK’s food culture. So I took my camera and strolled around the local grocery store, documenting what I found.

Let’s begin with the obvious. This is the “Mexican” section of the store:

All THREE of my salsa choices!

The yellow branding of Old El Paso dominates the shelves, taking up more than 50% of the space. Most  of the boxes are quick meal kits and taco shells, both hard and signature standing style. There are only three kinds of salsa available, though my favorite friend, Cholula, is present. Demand for normal tortillas also seems low – the tortillas take up only a tiny half shelf of the section (By comparison, on the other side of the aisle, the naan and papadums take up four times that amount). This is also the only area of the store where you can find sour cream or guacamole, (actually, it’s a guacamole “style” sauce). I’m not sure how I feel about these being made shelf stable, as I’m used to both items having to be refrigerated.

 

I also use the quotations around “Mexican” for a reason. Approximately a quarter of the section is dedicated to sauces and seasonings that are from South America or Central America. They even say so on the package!

Peruvian, Venezuelan, and Carribean flavors featured here.

If you came this area of the store looking for authentic Mexican and Tex-Mex items, I’d say you’d be sorely disappointed. However, as I continued searching, my spirits were lifted. While the “Mexican” section may be a bit pan-Latino, Tex-Mex flavors are infiltrating the entire store.

 

 

 

 

 

The deli section offers both a “Mexican style” chipotle shredded pork and beef, as well as Mexican flavored chicken fillets. I was naturally suspicious of what these Mexican-flavored items might actually be made with, but I found cumin, chilli, oregano, garlic powder and onion powder in the ingredients, so they didn’t seem far off the mark.

There was a Chilli con Carne flavored pizza available (usually pizza places here have some kind of Mexican flavor featuring jalepeños for the bold), as well as a Mexican chicken bake meal (chicken covered in mild bell pepper and chilli salsa, cheese, and tortilla chips), and a frozen barbacoa taco meal from TGIFriday’s. Some snacks I saw offered seemed alright but had odd twists thrown in (like a Mexican rice and bean snack with harissa sauce, which is associated with Tunisia and Libya).

Mexicana cheese is another interesting find. Mexicana is a brand, but it seems like it’s also become a variety of cheese.  The one I got from the store says it was prepared by the cheesemonger, so I don’t think it’s the actual brand. It doesn’t have a specific ingredient list either, but it says it contains “spicy chilli and mixed peppers”. The cheese tastes strongly of cumin, is pretty spicy, and makes a hell of a quesadilla too.

But what surprised me most was finding some honest-to-god Tex-Mex in the prepared foods section. I thought that it would be easier to find true Tex-Mex in a restaurant than in the grocery store, but I may have been proven wrong.

Both this Chilli con Carne and Fajita Chicken actually SAY Tex-Mex on the label, and are recognizable Tex-Mex dishes–even if they did pair the Chilli con Carne with plain rice!

What I took away from this experience:

  1. UK Tex-Mex is here to stay.
  2. Mexican flavors are wildly popular in the snack food category (though finding something spicy is still hit or miss).
  3. The geography of Latin America is a bit blurry in this part of the world.
  4. The only tequila in the store is a small bottle of plata (silver).

But most of all, I found that Tex-Mex is now embraced by the mainstream, even if shoppers are only beginning to be offered what Texans would consider real Tex-Mex.

Manx-Mex Chronicles: Chapter Fourteen: Crazy Cal-Mex

Tortilla chips and salsa, chili con carne, and fajitas are now typical European bar food. Rare is the English pub that doesn’t serve “nachos.” The influence of Tex-Mex on world cuisine fascinates us here at Texas Eats. So when our correspondent, Julia Walsh, moved to Manchester, England in January 2017, we asked her to chronicle Tex-Mex influences on the local English fare. Here is her latest report:

Tucked in the corner of a building in the winding streets of the Northern Quarter, Luck, Lust, Liquor & Burn (or LLLB for short) shares the street with a just a few other eateries and a couple of well curated little shops. We opted to sit at a long, thin table topped with Mexican-inspired tiles in the back of the downstairs seating area, close to some windows facing the ornate doors to the former Manchester Wholesale Fish Market. On their website, Luck, Lust, Liquor & Burn describes their restaurant concept like a rock’n’roll road trip. “We drove from Vegas to Mexico in a frenetic haze of food, booze, and all the naughtiness that the Golden State had to offer. Luck Lust Liquor & Burn brings bold exciting Californian style Mexican food to Manchester’s Northern Quarter.”

After my report last week, I wanted to specifically seek out Tex-Mex dishes and restaurants and give them a fair chance to represent their take on the regional cuisine of my home state. I have to admit that there are few restaurants here that have a dedicated Tex-Mex menu or theme, but many of them offer a mixture of Tex-Mex, Cal-Mex, and Mexican dishes or a menu with a mixed Latin influence. I narrowed my search to “best nachos in Manchester” and was presented with a list of options, but the highest rated among them seemed to be Luck, Lust, Liquor & Burn. One review specifically mentioned an even covering of toppings on the nachos (the lack of which I’d been lamenting about my nacho experiences so far) so I decided I had to try them.

The menu is stylized to look like a taped together collage made of punk attitude and delicious, over the top items. We started out with a pint of San Miguel lager, two shots of mezcal, and a Lagerita (a margarita made with grapefruit juice and mixed with San Miguel – unusually good and refreshing!). I’ve been struggling to find any mezcal here in Manchester, especially a reposado or añejo, so that smooth, smoky shot was a real treat and a great start to our visit.

The regular menu offers three different types of nachos, but the bar menu gave six scrumptious sounding options. I decided to go with the simple Cheese Bean Goodness Supreme, which sounded the closest to a classic Tex-Mex nacho as they offered on this menu. (I haven’t seen any other restaurant offer refried beans on the nachos!) My boyfriend chose the Volcano Nachos, which included beef chili with chorizo.

I was a little worried when our trays of nachos hit the table. There seemed to be plenty of their colorful chipotle sour cream, taco sauce, and “guac” (more like an avocado sauce to me), but I didn’t immediately see any melted cheese or refried beans on my chips. However, I was relieved to find that they were just buried underneath the sauces and the pile of jalepeños in the middle of the plate. The refries were simple and somewhat bland,  but they were still a welcome change from what I’ve eaten so far with plenty of melty cheese to go with them. The sundried tomatoes were also a nice twist on the classic flavors. I had to split the toppings between fully loaded and barely covered chips, but I was pleased that even the chips in the very middle of the Mount Toppings stayed crunchy down to the last bite.

The Volcano Nachos looked almost exactly the same as my own plate, except that you could see some of the beans and corn kernels from the chili sticking out between the layers (blasphemy in Texas, but widely accepted and loved here in England). The chorizo gave the chili a more complex flavor than the normally sweet chili-con-carne here and complimented the chipotle sour cream and guac sauce beautifully. They definitely had more of a spicy kick than my own nachos, which only made the drinks go down faster.

Though I know they’re not classic Tex-Mex, I’m sure I’ll go back to Luck, Lust, Liquor & Burn to try out some of their other dishes or have a go at Taco Tuesday (all street tacos for £1!).

 

As a note, I’ll be visiting Belgium later this week, so next week’s update will be postponed until June 19th. I look forward to seeing you then!

Manx-Mex Chronicles: Chapter Thirteen: Yee-huh?

Tortilla chips and salsa, chili con carne, and fajitas are now typical European bar food. Rare is the English pub that doesn’t serve “nachos.” The influence of Tex-Mex on world cuisine fascinates us here at Texas Eats. So when our correspondent, Julia Walsh, moved to Manchester, England in January 2017, we asked her to chronicle Tex-Mex influences on the local English fare. Here is her latest report:

Early on in my stay, my boyfriend’s workplace booked reservations at a “global buffet”. I was excited to see they had an entire section devoted to Tex-Mex, complete with its own visible grill, and I was eager to document it as part of the Manx-Mex Chronicles. However, when I got the counter, I was deeply disappointed. The only items being made on the grill were plain hamburgers. The rest of the dishes offered were barbecued chicken slathered in a sweet sauce, piri piri chicken wings, fajita vegetables, chili con carne, and a bowl of plain tortilla chips with no salsa or anything to go with them. I understand the ties between barbecue and Texas, I thought to myself, but how did this mix of foods end up on a Tex-Mex buffet table?

As the series has progressed, we’ve seen some hilarious mishaps and not-quite-right adaptations on classic Tex-Mex and Mexican dishes. As I stared at menus offering what I considered to be “incorrect” ingredients and lamented the dismal technique, I wondered to myself how anyone who is serving Tex-Mex could make such rookie mistakes. I think the basis of my critique was assuming that they knew what Tex-Mex IS, even in its most basic terms, and that’s where I’ve had to stop and re-evaluate.

Over the course of our long friendship, my now boyfriend Andy has tried to explain to me how Texas is perceived in England. The first time we talked voice to voice, he was surprised (and he admits, somewhat disappointed) that I did not speak with a classic Texas twang or drawl. Though there is an enormous amount of American television and culture streaming into England, he says, the only real images and perceptions of Texas that England gets are distorted through the lens of American perception and stereotype. Things like the tv show Dallas, with its oil baron, cowboy hat wearing family. The song “Is This the Way to Amarillo” by Tony Christie and “Galveston” by Glen Campbell (this recording was in Sioux Falls, South Dakota, so please don’t mind the shout out at the end).

In the end, I’ve concluded that if something so broad as Texas gets compressed down in this fashion it’s no wonder that something as nuanced as Tex-Mex is going to lose some pieces in the translation. Even a large percentage of America is still griping that Tex-Mex is just bastardized Mexican food instead of recognizing it as its own regional cuisine. So, knowing that, you can imagine what it must be like when some of the only references you have to Mexican and Tex-Mex food are the Old El Paso display at the grocery store and the melange of Latin American flavors offered in “Tex-Mex” restaurants. All of that said, I think that England is getting better and better at executing true Tex-Mex.

Manx-Mex Chronicles: Chapter Twelve: Enchilada and Tacos

Tortilla chips and salsa, chili con carne, and fajitas are now typical European bar food. Rare is the English pub that doesn’t serve “nachos.” The influence of Tex-Mex on world cuisine fascinates us here at Texas Eats. So when our correspondent, Julia Walsh, moved to Manchester, England in January 2017, we asked her to chronicle Tex-Mex influences on the local English fare. Here is her latest report:

Las Iguanas continued to deliver a quality experience all the way through the meal. The timing between courses was perfect – after munching starters and then building our hunger up again with more margaritas, the mains hit the table.

My enchilada (yes, singular) was stuffed with chicken, onion, and cheese, and presented on a bed of black beans with an island of rice in the middle. I was disappointed that the tortilla was a burrito sized flour tortilla that was pretty much raw (aside from likely being stuck under a Salamander to melt the cheese on top), but the red sauce had a great, smoky chipotle flavor and tied the whole plate together, so I let the tortilla slide.

The Steak and Queso tacos were listed in the Mexican section of the menu but definitely showed Argentinian flair. The queso was melted to the inside of the corn and flour tortillas, then they were stacked with marinated steak and topped with chimichurri and pink pickled onions. I know they serve fries in Argentina too, but these thick, unseasoned chips felt distinctly English. The small side salad was a pleasant surprise too. It was topped with what we mistook for tiny tomatoes until we bit into them and got a burst of peppery flavor. I think they might have been Pimenta Biquinho, or Little Beak Peppers.

All in all, Las Iguanas more than satisfied my Cinco de Mayo needs, and I’d be happy to go back there again.

Manx-Mex Chronicles: Chapter Eleven: The Queso Returns

Tortilla chips and salsa, chili con carne, and fajitas are now typical European bar food. Rare is the English pub that doesn’t serve “nachos.” The influence of Tex-Mex on world cuisine fascinates us here at Texas Eats. So when our correspondent, Julia Walsh, moved to Manchester, England in January 2017, we asked her to chronicle Tex-Mex influences on the local English fare. Here is her latest report:

Last week I was ecstatic to finally get a good plate of nachos from Las Iguanas. Imagine how happy I was to also get a quesadilla experience to make up for the previous pub blunders I’d dealt with!

As I mentioned last week, appetizers were 3 for £15 (pitchers of drinks were buy-one-get-one, too! You can imagine the glee and chaos.) We ordered the nachos, a mushroom quesadilla, and an order of empanadas.

The quesadillas were spot on and absolutely delectable. Big, rough cut chunks of garlicky mushrooms were ensconced in melty cheese and grilled tortilla. I wasn’t much of a fan of the bland, basic salsa served with them, but there was plenty of guacamole and sour cream on the nachos to satisfy my needs.

 

Unfortunately, the empanadas were…less delicious. Honestly, they were pretty gross. Neither of the menu choices were traditional fillings, but the mango and brie option gave me daydreams of soft, gooey brie melting over sweet mango fruit or preserves, so I had to order them and give them a shot. They were mostly folds of soft, puffy dough, and the filling was a disaster of raw onion and cheese with underripe mango barely detectable inside. The only saving grace was the delicious cranberry pepper jam served on the side, which ended up being spread over pretty much everything else we ate.

So far, it’s been 2 out of 3, which isn’t bad. Next week, I’ll be digging into some delicious enchiladas and some steak tacos. Until next time!

Manx-Mex Chronicles: Chapter Ten: Mission de Mayo

Tortilla chips and salsa, chili con carne, and fajitas are now typical European bar food. Rare is the English pub that doesn’t serve “nachos.” The influence of Tex-Mex on world cuisine fascinates us here at Texas Eats. So when our correspondent, Julia Walsh, moved to Manchester, England in January 2017, we asked her to chronicle Tex-Mex influences on the local English fare. Here is her latest report:

On Friday, I woke up with a mission in mind: to locate and demolish a good plate of nachos. My recent experiences left me feeling reluctant to trust a pub to deliver the hot, cheesy goodness I was looking for, and with it being Cinco de Mayo, I needed a sure thing.

I found myself at Las Iguanas in Deansgate, who describe their food as “a mouth-watering confusion of native Latin American Indian, Spanish, Portuguese and African influences” and offer a “Mexican” section of the menu. (Restaurants here list themselves as Mexican, not Tex-Mex, but they often feature Tex-Mex dishes on their menus.) They looked like a promising place to go.

Delicious!

The starters were 3 for £15 and nachos topped the list, so we dove right in. I ordered the basic nachos (cheese, pico de gallo, roasted tomato salsa, guacamole, sour cream, and jalapenos) with refried black beans added. Despite the English style piles of wet ingredients, I can’t tell you how happy I was to see piles of molten, gooey goodness at the edges of the plate. The chips were dusted with an ancho chili salt, a welcome contrast to the plain corn chips I’ve been getting. The black beans came on the side for some reason, so after my initial photos, I poured them carefully over the whole plate.

Just look at that glorious stretch!

These nachos were crunchy, melty, and delicious, delivering all the right sensations and flavors. Mission accomplished.

Crab Season is on in Galveston!

Manx-Mex Chronicles: Chapter Nine: Un Burrito at Chango’s

Tortilla chips and salsa, chili con carne, and fajitas are now typical European bar food. Rare is the English pub that doesn’t serve “nachos.” The influence of Tex-Mex on world cuisine fascinates us here at Texas Eats. So when our correspondent, Julia Walsh, moved to Manchester, England in January 2017, we asked her to chronicle Tex-Mex influences on the local English fare. Here is her latest report:

 

I recently went for a pub crawl night with a few friends. After our first few drinks, we were properly buzzed and walking along the sidewalk when we were struck with the sudden hunger a night of drinking will bring. We meandered past a place called Chango’s Burrito Bar and I convinced them to accompany me inside to check it out.

Chango’s is a build-your-own burrito place in the style of Freebird’s or Chipotle back in Texas. You choose a receptacle (burrito, salad, tacos, etc) and your desired fillings and receive a tasty, custom masterpiece at the end. They had an impressive selection of sauces/salsas, as well as the normal meat (or non-meat), filling choices. I chose to fill my burrito with chicken, white rice, black beans, cheese, and pico de gallo instead of sauce.

 

I was very happy with the resulting burrito, and I promise I wasn’t just hungry or drunk – it tasted just like a burrito built back at home.

 

Post Script: My dad says burritos are Cal-Mex, they came from the Sonoran wheat-growing area of Mexico and migrated to California and Arizona. But they are lumped into the Tex-Mex category by many Americans and most Europeans, so we decided to include this.