There is something hot happening in Ireland — Mexican food, one of the biggest food trends of recent years, has gone mainstream, and shows no signs of cooling down just yet.
The annual Taste of Mexico event in Dublin celebrates this bustling food scene with an abundance of tastings, workshops, competitions, and the hunt for Ireland’s best enchilada. Latin-American foods such as nachos, chips and salsa, fajitas, quesadillas, burritos and beans are now an everyday sight on the dinner tables of Ireland, and have become as commonplace as bacon and cabbage. A fleet of quirky food vans ensured we could get our taco fix at every festival and fair this summer.
While the streets of the capital proliferate with Mexican restaurants — Cafe Azteca, Little Ass Burrito Bar, Mission Mexican Street Food, Pablo Picanté — Galway will not be left behind. Even though La Salsa on Mary Street and Cactus Jack's have been serving us a Tex-Mex approximation of this zesty cuisine for years, it was the arrival of Boojum to the Spanish Arch a couple of years ago that really brought this trend to town. It was the first dedicated burrito bar, in the style of the popular American chain Chipotle. Since then Abbeygate Street, the spiritual home of street food in Galway, has got in on the act with the recent opening of Tuco's Taqueria and (although not a dedicated Mexican restaurant ) a pretty spectacular fish taco available from the boys Bite Club.
Mexican food has been embraced in more and more countries, much like Italian food has done over time. Just as all Italian food differs depending on the regional geography of the country, similarly Mexican food varies by region, local climate, geography, and ethnic differences among the indigenous people, who have been influenced by the Spanish to varying degrees. The north of Mexico is known for its beef production and meat dishes. Southeastern Mexico, on the other hand, is known for its spicy vegetable and chicken-based dishes. Seafood is commonly prepared in the states that border the Pacific Ocean and the Gulf of Mexico.
Never ones to ignore a trend, Supermac's also embraced the craze with the introduction of its fresh Mexican grill, Habaneros, last year. It caused something of a stir at the time with an attention grabbing publicity stunt during which a blizzard of burritos were given away to hundreds of eager customers. Such was the popularity the queue stretched from Eyre Square through the streets as far back as the post office on Eglinton Street.
Habaneros is based on the Mexican concept of a taquería, a restaurant specialising in burritos, although tacos and other dishes can be served as well. Originally, taquerías referred to the stands of street vendors and similar to that, there are no frills here, no table service, no bookings — just quick service at the counter from the helpful staff. First choose what you would like —burrito, quesadilla, soft or crispy tacos. Next select your filling — spicy chicken, slow roasted beef or pork, or a vegetarian mix of rice, beans, peppers, and onions with a dollop of guacamole. Then dress it up with some cheese, sour cream, and one of a variety of salsas, ranging from a mild and refeshing pico de gallo, a fresh, uncooked, salad made from chopped tomato, onion, coriander leaves, and lime juice, to the far more potent salsa de arbor.
Mexican food also offers great convenience in a fast food situation, you will be tucking into your taco in a matter of minutes, but behind the scenes it is a different story entirely. There is nothing fast about this food. Whereas most things in Supermac's are bought in largely pre-prepared for convenience, the food served at a Habaneros counter is far more labour intensive. The beef and pork are slow cooked for up to nine hours, the black beans soaked overnight and finished in the pressure cookers. The rice is simmered in Habaneros' own freshly made salsa, and the tortilla chips cooked to order. The pico de gallo is diced up one bain-marie at a time as it cannot be refrigerated without imparing the flavour. Similarly, the guacamole is made in small batches as it oxidises quickly, and more is made as it is needed.
Habaneros offers a relatively healthy alternative to other fast foods and as the most expensive item on the menu is around €7, it is easy on the waistline and on your pocket too.
Next time you're in Supermac's, instead of your usual Mighty Mac or chips curry, why not give Habaneros a try? Tasty fast food, properly prepared for a quick Mexican fix, especially if you are on a budget.
Habaneros Fresh Mexican Grill, Supermac's, Eyre Square, Galway. Phone 091 566555.