And the Angels Sing: Turtux

Margarita Salinas

San Angel, pretty and old-fashioned, was never a gourmand’s paradise.  Everybody raves about the margaritas at the San Angel Inn, but its food is ho-hum.  The Fonda San Angel tried hard but vied with Sanborn’s and lost for quality.

But now one can travel south (of the Viaducto) for fine dining a la Mexicana. While Colonia Roma may be on the cutting edge gastro-wise and the centro is putting ‘histórico’ back into the cazuela, it’s Avenida de la Paz that’s finally getting on the upscale traditional bandwagon. First it was Paxia, now there’s Turtux.

The affable chef and gastronome Margarita Salinas de Carrillo is recognized for her work in promoting Mexican cuisine throughout the world. She has campaigned for the UNESCO proposal to designate Mexican Cuisine as ‘Intangible Patrimony of the World’. She is a notable cooking teacher, and has written about the regional cuisines of Oaxaca, Michoacán and Chihuahua amongst others. Her restaurant Don Emiliano in Baja California won umpteen awards, and her book ‘Tamales y Atoles Mexicanos’, was just published by Larousse. And she has cooked for President Obama.
A mosaic of octopus

With chef Margarita’s newest venture here in Mexico City, we can all dine like a president. The name means 'butterfy' in Maya, but the food is multi-regional.
Her menu—almost as good to read as the food is to eat--is 'tweaked traditional', which, I’m happy to report, is all the rage these days. Artsy-fartsy pretention is left at the door. Grandma’s recipes are revived, overhauled, put together from the best local artisanal ingredients, gussied up a little bit to appeal to the 21st century diner, and served on a plain white plate with a little drizzle of something just for effect. A case in point is an entrada 0f laminillas de pulpo al cilantro: the octopus, sliced razor thin and drizzled with a simple little cilantro salsa glimmers like a stained glass window – it’s lovely to look at, delightful in the mouth but simple, without annoying pretense.  

Spain's (or is it Italy's?)  gift to Mexico: fideo seco
The fideo seco, the classic dried noodle dish borrowed from the Catalán lexicon and ‘Mexicanized’ with chili, local cheese and avocado, is perfection itself, the pasta conserving just enough bite to please while the roast chili aroma dances around the nostrils.

Terciopelo de hongos is, as its name suggests, velvety and creamy and redolent of mushroom, the faint aroma of epazote the only reminder that you’re in the land of the Aztecs and not the Gauls.

Borreguito en Pulque
From the menu of platos fuertes a standout is borreguito en pulque con ayocotes. This is a stew of what might have been euphemistically called lamb, but is, in fact the more mature and flavorful mutton. But the meat is falling-apart tender in its brick-red sauce, made fruity and deep by the addition of fresh pulque. Little ayocotes (dumplings of corn masa) add body to this down-home dish.

Totol en mole de pistache (young turkey in a pistachio mole) is one of the more unusual offerings. The light celadon-green mole perfectly complements the delicate meat, which is nicely cradled in a huarache de maiz criollo (masa base of local corn). It works on every level.

Fish is perfectly done, not overcooked, and the 'salsa verde', reminiscent of the classic Spanish garlic/parsley sauce but here with the addition of perfumey cilantro.

Desserts are all muy mexicano and as good as they sound: titles like tarta Eréndira de chocolate de metate y chiles secos or flan de la Abuelita Celia are both tempting and sweetly descriptive.

The wine list, compiled by Margarita’s son  the sommelier – this is a family run operation –
is small but well chosen; most selections are from Baja California and prices are accessible.

The simple space, in a small ‘centro commercial’ is pleasant if non-descript: outdoor patio tables offer a more cheerful setting. The price range is $300-500 pp, depending what you drink.
Devoid of off-putting chichi snaz, Turtux offers well-chosen, carefully prepared Mexican recipes in a comfortable, casual setting. It’s a great addition to the growing roster of Good Food in Mexico City.

Av. de la Paz 57 (inside the mall)
Col. San Angel
Tel. 5550-3632 / 5550-2753
Open Tuesday - Saturday 1:30 -11:30PM, Sunday, Monday 1-6PM

A note to my readers: See my article on the best DF street food in The Guardian


Ladies Who Lunch: The Women of Mexican Cuisine

Market Women, oil on canvas, 1947, by Esther Gilman
Since pre-conquest times, women have prepared the food in Mexico; they ground the corn, patted out tortillas, and prepared the guisos, or cooked dishes. They were the ones who incorporated the new ingredients and techniques brought by the Spaniards. As few Spanish women came to the new world in the early years, indigenous women and sometimes African slaves were employed in the conquistador’s kitchens. Known as 'mayoras', they ruled the larders of the large haciendas and worked to develop a true mestizo cuisine.
Knowledge of their recipes and techniques was passed down from generation to generation until our era. Not until the last decades of the 20th century did young women have options other than to be housekeepers and cooks. Even in recent years a woman’s occupation was often written on official forms as “labores propias de su sexo” or “work appropriate to her sex.”

As women’s lives changed, the store of culinary knowledge began to be lost. Information long kept private and not shared outside of the family was no longer valued by those destined to inherit it. It seems that all the best recipes come from somebody’s grandmother, but getting someone to part with these carefully guarded secrets is another matter. Often only after years of friendship, will a cook “spill the beans” so to speak. Diana Kennedy, who traveled the countryside in search of material for her books reports that getting people to divulge their secrets was her hardest job.

Woodcut by Irving Berg, c.1949
Today few culinary institutes in Mexico teach techniques of classical Mexican cooking. Since the 1980’s, however, many women chefs, notably, Alicia Gironella de Angeli, Patricia Quintana, Monica Patiño, Martha Ortiz Chapa and Carmen 'Titita' Degollado, have opened their own restaurants to international acclaim, with the aim of promoting both traditional and innovative Mexican cuisine. Before them came women who promoted the culture of Mexican cooking, including cookbook authors Lula Bertrán, María Orsini, María Dolores Yzabal, and researchers Janet Long and Lila Lomelí. Most of their work sought to improve restaurant standards, promote Mexican food outside the country, organize food festivals, write books, and collect regional recipes. They in turn followed earlier generations of women, among them, Josefina Velázquez de León and Adela Hernández, who at the beginning of the 20th century gathered recipes and wrote cookbooks. Even artists and arbiters of culture like Frida Kahlo, Olga Costa and Lupe Mariín who celebrated all things Mexican included the culture of food in their work.

Outside Mexico, it was also principally women who spread the word: Diana Kennedy, Josefina Howard, Zarela Martinez, Gabriela Cámara, Josefina Santicruz and Thomasina Miers are some of the most notable. Recently, collected knowledge from home and abroad has begun to be taught in a few culinary institutes in Mexico, notably at the Centro Culinario Ambrosia. While we must recognize the accomplishments of male chefs and scholars, such as Rick Bayless, Ricardo Muñoz, Salvador Novo and Jose Iturriaga, in no other world cuisine have women been so recognized and celebrated for their important contributions.

(This article, adapted from my book, is re-published due to popolar demand)

Where women rule the roost:
Taberna del León
Altamirano 46, Plaza Loreto, Colonia Tizapan de San Ángel
Tel: 5616-3951
Open Monday-Saturday 2pm-10pm, Sunday 2pm-6pm
Located in an old paper factory remade as a shopping mall, this lovely old house with a sunroom serves Franco-mexican food under the watchful eye of chef Monica Patiño

El Tajín
Miguel Angel de Quevedo 687, (inside the Centro Cultural Veracruzano), Coyoacán.
Tel: 5659-4447 or 5659-5759
Open daily 1pm-6pm
Owner Alicia Gironella d’Angeli is one of Mexico’s foremost chefs and authors (she wrote the new Larousse de la Cocina Mexicana among other books) is an original and tireless promoter of Mexican cuisine. Her mole xico is to die for.

El Bajío
Avenida Cuitláhuac 2709, Colonia Obrera Popular Tel. 5234-3763.
Open Monday-Friday 10 am-6:30 pm, Saturday, Sunday 9am-6:30pm
Three Branches:
-Parque Delta Mall, Av. Cuauhtémoc 462, Colonia Narvarte
-Alejandro Dumas 7, Colonia Polanco, Tel. 5281-8245
-Plaza Parque Reforma 222 Tel. 5511-9124, 5511-9117
Chef Carmen 'Titita' Degollado  author of several cookbooks, is another big name in the Mexico City culinary scene. Carnitas is the specialty, although there are many other tempting dishes on the menu. Her original restaurant is the most charming, although the Polanco and Reforma locations are open at night.

Izote de Patricia Quintana
Presidente Mazaryk 515, Polanco
This temple of gastronomy is one of the first chef/diva ruled houses. 

Dulce Patria
Anatole France 100 (around the corner from the entrance of Hotel Las Alcobas which is located at Presidente Masaryk 390) Polanco
Tel. 3300-3999
Open Monday-Saturday 1:30-11:30, Sunday until 5:30
Chef Martha Ortiz Chapa's (formerly of Aguila y Sol) delights the palate and the eyes.

A note to my readers: See my article on Street food in The Guardian: