Australians are spoiled for culinary choice. We have it all: great quality produce; creative, talented chefs; and influences from every corner of the globe.
We’re also adventurous travellers and quick to adopt the dishes and flavours we’ve experienced while exploring overseas.
Take Mexico, for example, thousands of Australians visit every year and fall in love with the food for its fresh ingredients, balance of textures and spices.
At the heart of Mexico’s culinary culture is street food: flat breads known as quesadillas, tostadas and, above all, tacos stuffed full of grilled or braised meats, vegetables and seafood.
Time for a taco
Like other simple, local dishes, tacos have become a global food sensation. Just as Italy gave us pasta, Japan gave us sushi, China gave us noodles and Vietnam gave us rice-paper rolls, Mexico’s gift to our multicultural menu comprises cornmeal flat breads (tortillas) stuffed with delicious fillings and a fresh, juicy salsa on the side.
“Tacos are easy street food that’s wooed everyone from hungry kids to some of the world’s top chefs,” says food journalist Joanna Savill.
The former Sydney Morning Herald Good Food Guide editor says even star chef René Redzepi of Denmark’s restaurant Noma – consistently ranked one of the very best fine-diners on the planet – is a serious taco fan. “René actually agreed to write the foreword for this amazing ‘encyclopedia’ of tacos called Tacopedia [Phaidon Press, 2015],” says Savill. “In it he describes his first taco experience – in Mexico – as ‘the perfect meal’.”
Variety is the spice
Of course there is more to Mexican cuisine than the mightily popular taco, just as Australia has come a long way from the suburban “TexMex” cantina – all sour cream, melted cheese, margaritas and nachos.
These days, more authentic eateries feature a greater range: fresh corn; tiny empanadas (stuffed pastries); and salads with cactus, fresh white cheese, roasted tomatoes and a variety of chillies (from hot-as habañero to smoky, subtle chipotle). And of course, great guacamole – avocado, onion, tomato, coriander and perhaps a little lime.
Mix it up
While Mexicans love their chilli, authentic Mexican food doesn’t have to be spicy. Salsas can range from easy, fresh mixes of tomato, onion and coriander to juicy, light and surprising combos such as watermelon and jicama (a crunchy Mexican turnip).
But don’t forget eggs. And beans. Mexican breakfasts are generous and hearty – based on eggs any-which-way with a big bowl of soupy black beans and a few warm tortillas for wrapping, dipping or just separately on the side.
Mexican influences can be found in some of Australia’s top restaurants, such as Sydney’s multiple award-winner, Porteño, which, while mainly Argentinian in origin, features Mex-style dishes such as charred corn with lime and chili.
Even Melbourne’s gone Mexican these days, with a string of fabulous new casual restaurants. Acclaimed chef Paul Wilson’s Lady Carolina in Brunswick, for example, is getting rave reviews for its south-of-the-border vibe.
All aboard for BlueIguana
Little wonder then that Carnival cruise ships offer a full Mexican menu to passengers in their BlueIguana Cantina – designed to appeal to all ages and taste buds at any hour of the day. And for the adults, the BlueIguana Tequila Bar offers the chance to pair the menu with a refreshing tequila margarita.
The Mexican wave is rising and with all these amazing flavours and combinations, it’s unlikely to crash any time soon.