This past Christmas my family and I had the opportunity to visit my birthplace, San Luis Potosí. We visited many places I yearned to see, but what we really enjoyed the most was the food.
One of the first meals I had upon arriving was caldo de res, also known as cocido de res, which is a beef broth with different vegetables, including cabbage, carrots, sweet corn, potato, green beans, and pico de gallo or a homemade salsa to make it spicy and flavorful.
Caldo de res is a warm bowl of hearty soup, similar to Vietnamese pho. It is a popular meal prepared in most Mexican households, usually on school days when parents need to make something quick and wholesome for their kids. This particular dish took me back to my childhood as my grandmother used to prepare this for us very often when we were kids.
Later that same day, I tried something I’ve been craving for the last ten years: frituras or fried Mexican wheat crisps with hot sauce. Frituras were a favorite snack of mine when I was growing up in Mexico. My mom bought my sisters and me frituras after school. Back when we were kids, this was also our movie night snack.
The next day, my cousin surprised me with a tostada borracha or a “drunken tostada.” A tostada is a huge tortilla that is baked in an oven to make it crunchy. A tostada borracha is a popular Mexican snack, eaten any time of the day. More specifically, tradition dictates this is the best food to eat after a bad hangover; henceforth, the name “drunken tostada.”
This past Christmas was actually my first-time having tostadas borrachas in San Luis Potosí. The one I had was a huge flat tostada, covered in a mixture of nopales or cactus salad made with pinto beans, onion, tomato, and cilantro and topped with a really good homemade spicy salsa. The blend of flavors from the baked tostada, the pinto beans and the freshly cut nopales was everything I had hoped for and then some.
Since I arrived to San Luis Potosí on a weekday, that first Saturday there I tried my beloved grandmother’s pozole blanco or white posole, which is a Mexican traditional soup or stew. It is made with hominy corn and your choice of meat. Each cook has their own special sauce for pozole. And pozole was my grandmother’s signature dish. Everyone remembers her special pozole blanco, which she made with a special red sauce that you would add at the end. The secret behind this delicious stew lies in both in the flavor of the sauce and the kind of meat cuts used.
During this visit, I had the opportunity to prepare my grandmother’s white pozole with my aunt and cousin, both of them learned to cook all of my grandmother’s dishes by her side when she was alive. We even got the eat the pozole we prepared in the same clay bowls my grandmother used back when I was a kid.
Of all of my grandmother’s dishes, pozole was one of my favorite ones. She made pozole blanco on special occasions. If there was a birthday party, graduation, baptism party, or any other celebration, this is the dish she would prepare. Sometimes she would prepare it on Sundays, especially if she was in a good mood or we had company in the house.
Tasting once again my grandmother’s pozole blanco took me back to those Sundays when she would make it and everyone came to the house. They claimed they came to visit her and see her, but what really lured them to the house was her pozole blanco. Every pozole is served different depending on the region of Mexico one is from. For example, in some states in Mexico, pozole is white and served with different garnishes such as avocado, pork rinds, cheese, lettuce, sardines, and the sauce varies in flavor. While in others, like in Mexico City, Sinaloa, Nayarit and Jalisco, pozole is red and people eat it with just a few garnishes like lettuce or cabbage and radishes.
On the day before Christmas Eve, we had a big day ahead of us as we were getting ready to go to the Mercado or open market to buy the ingredients for the Christmas Eve dinner. Early that morning, I was surprised with a cup of coffee and a gordita de horno for breakfast. Gorditas de horno are savory pastries made with ground corn masa and cooked in a traditional adobe oven, which give the gorditas a smoky, rustic flavor. They’re stuffed with different meats or vegetarian fillings such as queso con rajas (cheese with roasted pepper), shredded beef, or ground beef.
These gorditas are typically eaten in the morning, with a good, strong cup of coffee. This is what most people eat in the morning on their way to work. Many women make a living selling gorditas de horno in the mornings, setting up their food stands in high traffic areas. It is important that you grab one of this gorditas early in the morning because they’ll be gone by noon. They are that good!
This is a picture of a regular gordita with shredded beef, but typically the food stands will put the gordita de horno in a plastic bag and fill it with a very mild, watery homemade sauce made of tomato, chile (hot pepper), onion and cilantro. The gordita has to be eaten warm and drenched in the sauce to be able to really taste its flavor, otherwise, the gordita will become hard to the bite and very dry.
After this delicious breakfast, we were ready to head to one of the most popular markets in San Luis Potosí: Mercado República. People go there to buy the necessary ingredients for their Christmas festivities as well as everything they’ll need for las Posadas. To learn more about las Posadas in Mexico, check out my blog post, A Very Special Christmas in San Luis Potosí, where I share more about my Christmas this past year in San Luis Potosí and my visit to this market.
After moving to a completely different country as a young teenager, my world changed from one day to the next. Knowing this was the same market where I used to go as a little girl with my Mom to buy specialty foods, brought me so much joy. Not much had changed: colorful piñatas still hung on the ceiling, stands of women preparing enchiladas potosinas from scratch, art crafts displayed at every turn you make. I was even surprised vendors still sold replicas of lucha libre wrestling masks and toys!
The essential ingredients found in Mexican cuisine during Christmas such as tejocotes or Mexican hawthorn, canela or cinnamon, spices, manzanas (apples), a variety of chiles (hot chili peppers), chocolate, chorizo, copal incense…all these smells combining together immediately transported me back to pleasant childhood memories of Christmas past, growing up in San Luis Potosí.
At the mercado we bought ingredients to prepare our special Christmas Eve dinner. This market sells special quality ingredients that you won’t find anywhere else such as fresh cinnamon and other spices needed for Christmas favorites such as ponche or fruit punch and mole, a Mexican dish reserved for special occasions.
Christmas in Mexico is the perfect time to make elaborate dishes. Some of the more popular ones are tamales, ponche or fruit punch, roasted pork leg, mole, menudo, pozole. All the best of the best food is prepared during this season, which one of the reasons why I wanted to travel to Mexico during this time of year. At my grandmother’s house in Mexico, we prepared pierna or roasted pork leg along with some side dishes as well as Mexico’s beloved Christmas drink: ponche.
Ponche Navideño Mexicano or Mexican Christmas Punch is a traditional hot drink made during the Christmas season in Mexico. It has tamarind, tejocotes, prunes, guavas, sugar cane, cinnamon, and piloncillo (a type of brown sugar). Many people also include other ingredients, depending on their taste, such as apples, oranges, raisins, and other fruits. Some even use jamaica or hibiscus flower in their punch, which gives the drink a red color. It all depends on the person’s taste as well as their own family traditions.
Mexican Christmas Punch is not the same as Ponche Navideño from Spain or other Latin American countries, which is prepared similar to eggnog and has a creamy consistency. Mexican Christmas Punch is made with a plethora of fresh, in-season fruits. Its consistency resembles more an American apple cider, which is a popular drink made for the fall season in the United States. This cider is usually watery, non-alcoholic and sweet.
Of all the delicious foods I ate while in San Luis Potosí this last Christmas, pozole blanco was my favorite. The taste of it flooded me with memories of Mexico, my childhood and, above all, my grandmother. It is a dish that I will never forget.
As soon as I arrived back to the U.S. I tried to replicate my grandmother’s pozole blanco, it wasn’t the same as the one she prepared, but I prepared it with love, the special ingredient needed it in all great comfort food dishes.
I will continue sharing this story on Part II of The Delicious Foods I ate in San Luis Potosí during Christmas. Stay tuned!