JEFF TIEDEMAN: Felices fiestasSpice up your holidays with some Mexican goodies.
I’m big on authentic food when it comes to ethnic cuisine. That’s one reason I’m so excited about Little Bangkok, the Thai restaurant that opened last week in East Grand Forks.
The holidays always evoke thoughts of this because of the feasts that center on native foods and customs that families have nurtured over the years.
My fondness for the genuine is particularly true when it comes to Mexican. (My Santa Claus wish list includes some homemade tamales, a traditional Hispanic holiday food.)
But before being accused of having a prejudice against the likes of the Red Pepper, Mexican Village, Paradiso, Taco John’s and Taco Bell, I’ll admit to having memorable eating experiences at all of those places over the years.
Mexican Village, for example, has a hot sauce that is among my restaurant favorites. And I’ve never had a better grinder than the one they serve at all three Red Peppers in Grand Forks and East Grand Forks. (I think it has something to do with the fresh bread.)
But the times I’ve eaten Mexican food prepared by Mexican cooks have made me savor authentic ethnic food. I’ve had the opportunity to treat my taste buds several times the past six months or so on bona fide Mexican chow.
The first time was in June at El Metate Authentic Mexican Restaurant (the old Pizza Hut building) in Crookston. My first clue that we were in for something special was that all of the workers in El Metate were Hispanic.
After sampling some tasty salsa that had a distinct cilantro flavor, we browsed a menu that listed several lunch specials, numerous dinners and desserts. Lynn, my brother’s wife, ordered quesadillas, while Therese and my mom decided on enchildadas with rice and beans, which they immensely enjoyed.)
I had a great taco salad — with chicken (chunks not ground) instead of beef — which was served in a freshly baked bread bowl and topped with large dollops of sour cream, shredded cheese and avocado. The sauce that the meat was cooked in was delicious.
I’ve also dined a few times at Mi Mexico in Grand Forks, the most recent just a couple of weeks ago. Being a soup aficionado, I ordered Caldo de Quatro Mares, which translated means Four Seas Soup. The soup was a variation of a Mexican favorite, Caldo De Siete Mares (Seven Seas Soup).
The Mi Mexican version had only four kinds of seafood — shrimp, scallops, a type of whitefish and imitation crab, not seven — but I don’t think that made any difference. It also contained tomatoes, avocados, onion, cabbage, carrots, spices and a type of hot pepper — as well as a twist of lime for additional flavor.
The spiciness of the soup was much to my liking, and by the time I had finished the large bowl, my brow was a little moist.
My most recent Mexican dining experience was at Aidas in Grafton, N.D. It’s one of two authentic Mexican eateries in that town of 4,500 about 45 miles from Grand Forks. The other is Azteca Mexican Grill.
Therese had a delicious chicken burrito, while I feasted on huevos rancheros (ranch eggs). We went to Aidas because Therese knows owner Aiada Avaloa’s granddaughter, a student at her school. We also sampled some delicious tres leches (three milk)cake.
On a return visit, I might order the menudo soup, which four teenage Hispanics were eating and looked quite appetizing.
Or perhaps there will be Christmas tamales on the menu.
Tiedeman is food editor at the Herald. Reach him at (701) 780-1136 or toll-free at (800) 477-6572, or e-mail at email@example.com.