Reporting Jay Lloyd
It’s bigger than Tequila and Tacos, beer and Burritos. This year Cinco de Mayo also brings reflections of visits to our southern neighbors and our interactions here at home, in the markets, restaurants, on-the job and in our conversations. Did you know that among the biggest attractions at the Alamo in the last century were the Chili Queens? They were the vendors who introduced the heat and flavor of Chili con Carne to American diets? Their food stands became nightly fixtures in front of the storied church. Food is often the great leveler that brings a common interest and enjoyment to people of many cultures as we travel the world. So, as the Fifth of May celebrates a victory by Mexicans over an occupying French army, let’s look at a few spots to absorb the fun and food in the Philadelphia suburbs, but also consider travels – past and future, to the land of Mexico.
The boroughs of Norristown and Kennett Square are the two most prominent centers of Mexican life here in the Delaware Valley. The vital agricultural lands of Chester and nearby Lancaster Counties have sought out Mexican farmers. Norristown is at the heart of labor intensive landscaping and food industries. As a result, Mexican cuisine has taken hold at restaurants and retail food markets. A favorite is just a few blocks from the Montgomery county Courthouse and the KYW Suburban Bureau.
A colorful dining room and well populated tables tell you that this is the “go-to” place if you’re looking for the flavors that define Cinco de Mayo. Chiles Rellenos are a daily fixture. The menu displays a wide range of Mexican dishes that go beyond the state of Michoacana to include the familiar combinations of coastal and inland regions. Tortilla wrapped meats and seafood are infused with the unique blends of Mexican spices. For American tastes with a border flare, a variety of
Fajitas fill the bill.
SUPER GIGANTE INTERNATIONAL FOOD MARKET
1930 Main Street, Norristown, PA 19403
If you see a Mariachi Band in the parking lot as you drive by on Ridge Pike in West Norriton, you’ve found the place. This mid-size supermarket specializes in Latin American cuts of meat, spices and groceries. You find the mild to the fiery in chiles, fresh avocados, plantains and limes. Everything you’ll need for a do-it-yourself Cinco de Mayo fiesta at home. Can’t remember seeing a pinata hanging over the peppers here, but store staff may be able to steer you to one. A bi-lingual staff helps you brush up on your high school and vacation Spanish by putting Spanish names to familiar foods. It’s a fun place to browse and learn.
A southern Chester County friend introduced me to this cozy Mexican eatery near Kennett Square at Avondale after a visit to Longwood Garden. There’s a full bar, but with heavy emphasis on Tequila and Mexican beers. I’m a sucker for the Steak Fajitas here, but for a light change-up, try the Vera Cruz Shrimp in a Latin spiced tomato sauce. Mary hails the Taqueria Chiles Rellenos.
EL NAYARIT MEXICAN FOODS
520 S. Union Street, Kennett Square
The fresh produce and specialty Mexican foods for home built Latin flavors are stocked in the cases and on the shelves at El Nayarit. You can also get some help from the staff in building a palate friendly Mexican menu for American tastes.
READ ABOUT EATS
Find a fascinating narrative of how Mexican food influenced American cookery with the introduction of chili powder in chef/author Sarah Lohman’s “Eight Flavors, the Untold Story of American Cuisine”, published last year by Simon and Schuster.
I remember more tranquil days in Mexico, chatting with a merchant in the Matamoros town square and sharing some bar space at a Cantina with locals and a strolling musician. Unfortunately, travel to many areas of Mexico are now being discouraged because of continuing drug wars. But the vacation hub in and around Cancun and the bustling capital at Mexico City are still considered safe for foreign visitors. My daughter recently visited Mexico City and gives it a thumbs up. You can stay up to date on travel conditions by checking with the U.S. State Department travel warnings web page related to Mexico. travel.state.gov/content/passports/en/alertswarnings/mexico-travel-warning.html