Love at first bite - Rene Redzepi

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Love at first bite – Rene Redzepi

During YEAR OF THE TACO, we will be bringing you various taco conversations with some of our friend musicians, chefs and artists, to find out what they are saying about the most mouthwatering of street food dishes.

Here’s how René Redzepi, head chef at two Michelin star restaurant Noma, recalls his first experience of real tacos in his introduction to Tacopedia.

I’ll never forget the first time I set off for Mexico many years ago. It was winter in Denmark, I was worn out from work, and I needed a beach. As I sat there on the long plane ride over, I couldn’t help but dread the fact that I was going to have to eat the food. You see, what we have here is a type of Tex-Mex, a tradition born in the U.S. that certainly has its rare pleasures. But imagine that variant being sent through a game of intercontinental Chinese whispers: what ends up here in Scandinavia is so far from its origins that it’s downright sad. I foolishly thought it would be the same in Mexico. “What the heck, you have your books & the beach,” I reassured myself. “Just live off fruit.” We landed fairly late in Mérida, at about 11:30 in the evening, and we were starving. I asked our host for something to eat. Stupid as I was, I requested pizza. He looked at me funny. I could almost hear him thinking “Stupid gringo.” We drove a good thirty minutes from the airport before stopping at a nondescript, overlit restaurant. There was outdoor seating, all covered in plastic and soft drink logos. “This is it,” he said as we pulled over.

“We’ll grab a bite here.” “Remember the beach, remember the beach,” I repeated like a mantra to myself as we sat down, but within an instant I forgot those words. Ice-cold beers arrived at our table in a flash, as our host signalled the kitchen to send us a round of tacos al pastor. As I stared down at the plate, the first thing I noticed was that the tortillas had a yellow hue to them that was so different from the white and dense variety I was used to finding in Denmark. The grilled pork was flaky and moist. There were fresh leaves of emerald-green coriander sprinkled on top, as well as some thin slices of pineapple. On the side, a little condiment of sour orange juice with habanero. “Put seven drops of that on your pineapple,” the host told me. I did, and folded the taco together. It was already levels above what I had experienced in Europe—the aroma, the very look of it. But then I sunk my teeth in. Immediately I felt the tenderness, the rich umami character of the meat. And the tortilla! It was sweet and smoky, with a gentle chew to it, like a good sourdough bread. Suddenly the spice from the habaneros hit me, kept in check by the sweet, succulent pineapple. That perfect bite made it a moment I’ll always remember, sitting on those plastic chairs in the tropical heat.

Feature taken from the current issue of Ola Magazine, which you can find at every Wahaca restaurant.

Mims cycled across Mexico (and lived to tell the tale!)

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Mims cycled across Mexico (and lived to tell the tale!)

Those of you who’ve been following the blog and reading ‘Ola London will know that our Training Manager Mims Smith has been spending inordinate amounts of time pumping the pedals and fundraising for her attempt to cycle across Mexico to raise money for MacMillan Cancer Care. We’re very glad to report that she’s made it back in one piece and you can read all about her adventure here. Over to you Mims:

On the 26th of March this year, I set off on the biggest adventure of my life. Little did I know, the experience was one that would change my life.

At 7am, a group of people met in Heathrow Terminal 4 for a flight to Mexico City – 45 strangers with a common goal – to cycle across Mexico in order to raise money for Macmillan Cancer Support. All of us had our reasons for being there – all of us knew someone who had been touched by cancer – some of us had lost loved ones, some of us were survivors, some of us were living with it – all of us had our own fears and anxieties and none of us knew what to expect, but there we were, willing, able and very committed.

10 days later, the same group of 45 people reached the Pacific Ocean after cycling 650km up mountains, down potholed roads, through farmland, across jungles and all in 40 degree heat. We’d slept on the ground for 8 nights – through heat and storms – we bathed in streams (when there was one – mostly, we just didn’t wash), we’d eaten nothing but carbs and sugar, and we’d pedalled day in day out for 8 days straight. During this time, I learnt what it truly meant to be part of a team – we put tents up and took them down again, we laughed and cried, we shouted and sang, we’d fallen off just to get up and get back on, we’d charged up hills only to come back down and encourage the others to ‘keep pushing, keep pedalling’ – and we got there, not as a group of 45 individuals, but as a team – Team Mexico 2011.

On the 28th of March, we left the Gulf of Mexico as a group of 45 people with their own personal motive. 10 days later we reached the Pacific Coast as a team of 45 people bound together by adventure, emotion, hard work and a sense of achievement – a group who had raised a whopping £152 000 for Macmillan Cancer Support. Words cannot express how that last convoy into Puerto Escondido felt – happy, sad, victorious, relieved, joyful and an overwhelming sense of what we had achieved – there were tears, laughter, hugs, and smiles all around, before running, leaping, diving into the ocean. I have never felt so good in my life.

This was the toughest thing I’ve ever done. It was also the most inspirational, enjoyable and humbling – it taught me that impossible is nothing, that you can achieve anything you put your mind to and that a ‘wall’ is not a ‘wall’ – it’s just a moment outside your comfort zone, an extra obstacle to make you realise you’re alive – and you only live once. It’s a feeling that’s addictive. During the cycle, I met several people who travelled and cycled the world with Macmillan every year. I’ve become one of them. Next stop? Kenya and Tanzania, Autumn 2012. I can’t wait.

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Just a little bike ride: Mims is off to Mexico!

Those of you who’ve been following her training progress will know that our training manager, Mims has signed up for the cycle of a lifetime to raise money for Macmillan Cancer Support. She’s cycling from coast to coast across Mexico and when we caught up with her yesterday, here’s what she had to say:

So, the moment of truth has come – in just over 24 hours I will be boarding a plane bound for Mexico City and 400 miles of cycling. Am I ready? Time will tell, but one thing is for sure – I have never been so excited in my life! Over the next 2 weeks, I will be sharing a tent with someone I haven’t met yet, cycling 650km in 8 days, climbing 3000m up a road 57km long, eating lots and lots of carbs, bathing in streams and undoubtedly having the adventure of my life.

I’ve trained long and hard for this moment, and it’s hard to believe it’s all happening. I remember a friend saying to me that only the ‘hard-core cyclists’ persevere on the roads through an English winter – and so I’m proud to call myself hard-core! Having been cycling an average of 100-160 miles a week for several weeks now, I feel as physically prepared as I can be – and as for mental preparation…… I find myself feeling anxious, excited, terrified and ridiculously happy all at the same time.

It’s been a long journey to get where I am now. 6 months ago I bought a bicycle and signed up to cycle across Mexico to raise money for Macmillan Cancer Support. 5 months ago I was terrified of cycling in traffic and had difficulties staying upright – my knees had permanent scabs and my legs were blue and black more often than not. 4 months ago I met Stephen, my cycling buddy, who got me over my fears of both my bike and the traffic. 3 months ago I cycled to work for the first time and I have done so every day since. 2 months ago, I had raised £1250 and secured by place on the Mexico Coast to Coast Challenge 2011. 1 month ago I increased my training to 100+miles a week, cycling 6 days a week. Last week I had my long ginger curly hair cut off in order to be more aerodynamic! And in 24 hours I’ll board a plane and set off on the greatest adventure of my life – raising money for a great cause, being part of a team, climbing mountains, eating tacos and discovering a country – all from the seat of my bicycle.

Now I ask you – what more could you want for?

I would like to express a big thank you to everyone who has supported me over the past few months – you know who you are. Without your support, this dream would not becoming a reality, and I thank you from the bottom of my heart. Viva Mexico!

We’ll be keeping you updated with Mims’ progress as she sets off on her journey on Sunday, so keep your eyes peeled and your fingers crossed. If you’d like to support Mims and find out more about the great work Macmillan Cancer Support do, you can by clicking here. You can wish her luck, offer advice, or indeed try to talk her out of it by posting a comment below!

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Get Mims to Mexico – Power to the Pedals

So, I haven’t updated my blog for awhile, and thought it was high time I let you all what’s been going on. And to be honest, quite a lot has changed.

I would now refer to myself as a ‘proper’ cyclist. Let me tell you why, and then you can be the judge.

I cycle to work. And home again. In London traffic, in the rain, wind and dark. I do this 4 times a week, 15 miles a day, 60 miles a week. I attended a 6 hour bicycle maintenance course and now understand all the jargon – I won’t bore you by going into details just now though….. I’ve learnt how to look after my bike – I even managed to pull it apart in order to clean it properly – and gave it a bath. In the bath. My flatmate was overjoyed….  I have a cycling buddy I meet up with on the weekend – every weekend, which means no drinking. Today we cycled to St Albans and back – 60 miles in 4 and a half hours. I feel great.

2 weeks ago I attended Macmillan’s pre-Mexico meeting, which resulted in me realising 3 things: 1) in 8 weeks I’ll be in Mexico, which is terribly exciting and dreadfully terrifying in equal measures, 2) the need to increase my training (especially in preparation for the infamous ‘Day 3’ – 2250km climbed over 57km – ouch!) and 3) I still have £2000 pounds to raise and need sponsorship.

In 10 and a half weeks, I will have crossed Mexico on a bicycle. I will have climbed the height of Everest and completed Macmillan’s toughest challenge. I will feel like I have achieved the impossible, teamed with the satisfaction of knowing every kilometre I rode (all 680 of them) has helped give a cancer sufferer a better quality of life.

If you’d like to show your support, please go to www.justgiving.com/miriam-smith and remember, every single penny helps.

Thank you!

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We send Jo to Mexico!

Last year’s Wahaca Scholarship was won by Jo, our assistant manager in White City and so she packed her bags and off she went to Mexico! Here’s her report on her trip, the sites she saw and the things she ate. It’s enough to make the rest of us very jealous. Over to Jo…

When I won the Wahaca scholarship and was rewarded with a trip to Mexico I knew there would be a lot to discover, but what I saw totally exceeded my expectations.

Places, people, smells everything was new for me and so exciting.

We started our journey in Cancun where we met our Mexican/ Mayan tour guide Victor. Victor has grown up in the Yucatan Peninsula so we were assured he would show us the real Mexico. A few hours later as I was sitting in my hotel room, margarita in hand, it seemed like a good chance for a rest, but Victor had different plans.

Our hotel was situated in a very small village next to Chichen Itza so Victor decide to give us a tour around Maya-land.
That day he introduced us to a whole population of Iguanas and explained how they would become our friends as they can be found in pretty much all of the archaeological sites we’d be visiting over the following 7 days. After a little bit of a safety talk, we felt much more at ease around them. In fact, later that night we discovered they were also living in our building… I have never heard Kate screaming so loud before!

Our week of touring would take us throughout the cultural sites in our region, listening to Victor talk about Mayan history. I felt like I was in a totally magical world.

From standing in front of the third biggest pyramid in the world CHICHEN ITZA, (one of the seven modern wonders of the world and such a beautiful way of showing the Mayan calendar), to EK BALAM a huge Mayan city which overwhelmed us with its immense size and spectacular views. We were totally moved by the archaeology that we were shown and will never forget the sites that we visited.

After a whole week, thousands of pictures and even more stories my mind and my heart has been infected with one thought: will we ever be able to truly appreciate the true depths of Mexico’s heritage? Victor, in his 35 years of experience has seen more and more of his culture, restored every year. Even in this region there is so much yet to be uncovered, and I’m sure it’s just a question of time and money until the 8th wonder of the world is revealed!

After each long day there was time for food and drinks – something that working for Wahaca has made me really passionate about. I was desperate to try as much Mexican food as I could and compare it to the different tastes in Wahaca.

My aim was to find as many dishes we selling in Wahaca as possible, so that I could then tell our customers what taste better, worse or just different.

At first I struggled with the menu as it was all was in Spanish, but after a while familiar words started to appear, one in particular that I knew I had to try in Yucatan Pibil!

Yucatan is a heart of pibil country and we proudly sell lots of pork pibil in Wahaca so I was very excited when I tried my tender, juicy pork taco and absolutely couldn’t tell a difference! They looked, smelled and tasted the same as ours!
Thoughout the trip I tried some amazing food. I had Guacamole every day, chicken tinga tacos, lots of frijoles, quesadillas, sopa de lima (which I think we should add to the menu, it was so tasty!) and all of it tasted just like the dishes I had got to know at home.

And even though every night we ate in different restaurants, for pudding we always had the same – Flan! And trust me when I say it was heaven.

After that trip I knew Mexico would be one of the places I would always want to come back to. There’s so much more to learn and so many more dishes to try! I hope it’s not too long until I can return to continue my Mexican adventure.

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Get Mims to Mexico – The Beginnings

Having considered buying a bicycle for quite some time, the only thing that held me back was the thought of commuting through London traffic. And then I heard about ‘El Grandisimo’ – 612km of cycling from the east coast of Mexico to the west – and that was all the convincing I needed. I enjoy spinning classes at the gym – how hard could it be? Surely I could survive commuting in London traffic if 2 weeks in Mexico was at the finish line?

Am I a cyclist? No. Do I own a bicycle? I bought one last month on the Ride2Work scheme. I then immediately crashed it down on the Embankment. Since then, I have crashed, fallen off, picked myself up and got back on more times than I care to remember. But the more time I spend with my bicycle, the more addicted I am becoming – I spend weekdays daydreaming about it and weekends doing it.

But however nice cycling along canal towpaths may be I am yet to get involved with central London traffic. In order to conquer this, I started looking into cycling lesson options and was pleasantly surprised to discover Westminster Council offer free cycling tuition – 4 hrs of one-on-one tutoring with an instructor. So far I’ve had 2 hours of training – in the cleats I’ve been avoiding since leaving serious skin on the pavement 3 weeks ago and in traffic – it’s amazing how your confidence increases the longer you manage to avoid falling off!

But cycling is only half of it – and I’m realising maintenance is the other – you can’t have one without the other. So I’ve also learnt a few things recently – cleaning, lubricating and the all important ‘oh my goodness, I hope it never happens to me’ puncture repair – although admittedly, this did not go quite to plan…… I fixed a puncture on a friend’s bike which, unfortunately for him, went flat before he got home…… So more practise required I think…….

Can I turn myself from self confessed spin-a-holic and cycling amateur into a Mexican mountain climber? Time will tell. Stay tuned and I’ll keep you posted with tales of falls and spills, steep climbs, frighteningly fast downward spirals, core strength, leg power and fixing my first puncture. I’m excited!

Look out for my next blog – all you need to know about my maiden commute to work on a cold, dark November morning…….. And who said cycling was a summer sport!

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Baja California's best sashimi ever

I’ve just returned from the most amazing week of cooking, eating and fishing in Los Cabos, Baja California, Mexico. An amazing trip where I learnt the secret to a great batter for fish tacos, how to cook mole negro and the delights of a good recado blanco (from the Yucatan).

Fishing was amazing. We went with Angelo, the chef behind Nick-San, possibly the best sushi restaurant I’ve ever been to. Last week we had the steamed head of a wahoo and some deep-fried seabass and snapper at his place with an evil habanero sauce, but that’s for another blog post. Here is him making up some ceviche and sashimi on a boating trip we went on…

and here is me eating, as usual…

Here is a plate of the delicious sashimi which Angelo whipped up in a flash (nothing to do with me I’m afraid, though the soy-serrano dressing I have made once or twice before and yes, it is yummy)…

Finally here is a picture of one of the beaches we visited… it is ridiculously beautiful and unlike my last ten trips to Mexico, this time I managed to get out of the kitchen and actually hit a Mexican beach! My first one in six years….at last!

Thanks to everyone who helped me make the trip so much fun! More stories to follow soon.

tommi x

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Photos from an Oaxacan

Last week we were lucky enough to get a visit from Daniel Molina, who came in to sample our wares. He’s a potographer from Mexico, Oaxaca to be precise.

Keen to support those from the area that has supported us so well, we thought we’d share some of the brilliant work he’s done, with you good people.

The selection below is taken from his gallery of pictures entitled, “This is not London”. Now, not wanting to be pedantic, but I’ve had a hard look, and I’m pretty sure it is, I guess that’s just the Mexican sense of humour. Anyway, we’ll let you decide.

If you like this small foray into Daniel’s work, then be sure to check out his website for more of the same. And indeed if you know of any other up and coming Mexican photographers or artists, please let us know by commenting below. We’d love to make it a regular feature on the blog.

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Maya art lecture at The British Museum

If, like us, you’re a fan of the British Museum, and especially the Rulership and Ritual: Maya relief of royal blood-letting display, then here’s something to float your boat: As part of the BBC’s History of the world in 100 objects, Historian Simon Martin is leading a lecture about Maya art, and the unique window it gives on ancient American culture.

A queen pulls a thorny rope through her tongue as part of a sacred ceremony

The lecture kicks off on Thursday 8th July (That’s tomorrow, if you’re reading this today) at 18.30 in the Stevenson lecture theatre and tickets are £5. Check out www.britishmuseum.org for more details and to book your place.

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Mexican football dreams!

We’re all getting excited about the friendly match tonight between England and Mexico. A few of the Wahaca team are all heading down with a mixture of Mexican and English supporters.. luckily its a friendly match.

This made Julio, our Wahaca football captain, give his insight on the big games and chances Mexico will have this summer in South Africa.

With the world cup around the corner, Mexico smells like a safari, our black warriors are sharpening their boots, to achieve the dream of a nation, to play the fifth game in the southafrican land.

“La seleccion” are ready with their new striking black uniform to fly to the southern hemisphere, the hope of a country with 200 years of Independence placed in the feet of the 23 players. Preperations have been intense since the last world cup in Germany, exporting players to some of the most important leagues in the world like the Premier League where Carlos Vela plays at Arsenal, after being champion in the sub-17 and Guillermo Franco star of West-Ham Utd.

With a very solid defence and players that belong in the Bundes Ligas and la Eredivisie, our captain Rafael Márquez leads a formidable team. The creative midfield have a couple of young promises from TRI, with the likes of Andrés Guardo and Giovani Dos Santos, the star of the local league Cuauhtemoc Blanco and the terrific unstoppable duo that is Vela and “El Chicharito Hernández”, recently named by F.I.F.A. in the top six attacking duos in the world cup. The blacks are ready to get some leon tacos in the inaugural match against the host nation and intend to start on the right foot, and why not maybe they will play the final in the same Stadium?

Mexico is ready for the challenge that this presents them, and to show off a true Mexican wave to the opposing teams this world cup. Viva Mexico!