One of the more fascinating and addictive Mexican foods is an acquired taste, perhaps because of its dreadful name in english, and its seriously unappealing appearance.
It’s called Corn Smut in english. Or Devil’s Corn. Not very appetizing, until you hear it called Mexican Truffle, or Mexican Caviar. Those names come from people who understand the earthy, fungus flavor with just an underlying hint of corn. The flavor is brought out especially well when served with a warm hand-made tortilla, and a sprinkling of cheese.
Corn smut is considered a disease by American farmers, and they take elaborate pains to eradicate it. Mexicans have been eating it at least since Aztec days, and grow it specifically for consumption.
I had never paid much attention to huitlacoche – it’s a subtle flavor, and can get lost in the company of some of the bolder Mexican dishes. But then I read Miguel Ángel Chávez Díaz de León’s wonderful novel Policia de Ciudad Juarez. A gritty “novela negra” with liberal doses of satire, its main character Comandante Amarillo is addicted to huitlacoche, but finds it hard to come by in Ciudad Juarez. Once I focused on it, I became a bit of an addict myself.
Fortunately, I live in Los Angeles, where huitlacoche is easily available. Today’s travels took me to the Olympic Mercado east of downtown, where food stands pop up on weekends.
Walking through the Olympic Mercado in downtown Los Angeles, I was drawn to the stand where they were making quesadillas. When I saw the big dish of huitlacoche, I was powerless, and placed my order.
Huitlacoche seems to be translated as “corn smut”, but it’s a fungus that grows on the corn plant, and has a complex, musky flavor of corn and… well, fungus. Mexicans are divided on the subject, but I tend to line up with those who love it with a passion.
Some braised chicken, grilled onions and shredded nopal on a hot, cheesy tortilla rounded out the experience, and I was a happy guy.
I’m really looking forward to this event on Friday – at Union Station, of all places! A long list of great Mexican restaurants and Latino-owned wineries will be there, and I’ll have the opportunity to try all their wonderful specialties.
The photos are a selection of Moles from La Huasteca, and quesadillas from Lotería Grill. Both restaurants will be represented on Friday. Here are their websites:
It wouldn’t have occurred to me to order quesadillas at such a serious restaurant, but that’s what my friend Greta wanted. And it was a wonderful idea. Soft warm and rich, wrapped in thick, hand-made tortillas, they were the perfect comfort food. A zesty guacamole and a spicy green salsa moved them into heavenly territory.