Eating Jewish in Mexico City
By Nicholas Gilman Original Print Publication: April, 2009
Pescado al Horno con Tjine (baked fish filets with sesame sauce)
Adapted and translated by Nicholas Gilman
1 k. firm fish filets (huachinango or sierra)
1 tb. lemon juice
½ ts. salt
¼ ts. mustard powder
¼ ts. ground cumin
3 tb. Tjine (also called tahini or sesame paste)
1 tb. lemon juice
¾ cup water
5 cloves garlic
5 sprigs parsley, chopped
¼ ts. salt
Put all sauce ingredients in a blender and blend until smooth.
Prepare a glass baking dish-rub with olive oil and lay in fish filets, sprinkling with the lemon, salt, mustard, and cumin. Bake for about 10 minutes at 180 C, add the sauce and cook for 15 minutes more. Serve with white rice.
So they ask a Jewish boy from Manhattan to write about Jewish food in Mexico? What, you think I should be nice? They call those fluffy pillows from Wendy's Kosher Bakery bagels? The corned beef sandwich at Klein's has two measly slices of dry meat in it-two! The pickles are from a jar! And the prices! You could plotz!
Schwarma: think tacos al pastor with an accent.
Did I go into it with a bad attitude? You bet. But bubbeleh, I ended up learning something. So nu?
It turns out there is indeed a world of "Jewish Cuisine" in the land of pork and tacos, but it's not what you'd expect. Nothing to do with Barney Greengrass or the Carnegie Deli, my old haunts in New York.
Instead, I found "Piny" Tacos Kosher, which offers alambre de hígado, made with chicken liver. I tried schnitzel a la Veracruzana at Restaurante Sinai. And the shwarma in pita out at Shuky's in Tecamachalco is the best in town: think tacos al pastor with an accent.
I asked every Jewish Mexican I could find (and there are many, around 50,000 at last count) what their food memories are, what they think of as Jewish food in Mexico: I got a lot of different answers.
It turns out it all depends on where your abuelos hail from. Mine were from Russia, as were most in the eastern US. They ate gefilte fish, lox, borscht, and blintzes. But in Mexico, the original national identity of immigrant Jews is more diverse. It includes Greece, Turkey, Syria, Morocco, Lebanon, Spain, and Portugal as well as Russia, Poland, and Germany. That diversity shows-or at least used to-in the cooking.
The affable Clara Melameh, librarian at the Centro Cultural México-Israel in the Centro Histórico, is of Russian-Polish extraction like me. She claims to make the best gefilte fish in town. "Only there's no one left to eat it," she laments. "Nobody alive even knows what it is! My son went to live in Israel, and I'm divorced. I'm going to do all that work-for who?" Invite me, Clara!