Monday, April 26, 2010

The Portland Episode


Today's episode was:

Specifically, Portland

I know...You're probably thinking, "I thought this blog was called Sacramento Food in the Hood. What the eff?"

Well, you'd be right to ask that. However, when you get an invite to a new city from an old friend, the correct response is always, "You show me where and food is on me...but not literally on me though...ok?"

I'd never been to Portland before. The closest I'd ever been was Beaverton for a Nike soccer tournament as a teen. Which is, I suppose the equivalent of going to Roseville and saying you'd been to Sacramento. I was long overdue for a trip to one of the hippest cities on the west coast for food and everything else. Between all of my friends who had visited, raving about it and Mr. Bourdain deeming it a food destination, I knew I would not be disappointed. Let me assure you...I wasn't. The only challenge in Portland, however, was to find a place to gush about that fit the criteria of this blog- Humble food by humble people. This is not to say I would limit my eating, because I did have some pretty indulgent, high brow food.

My only fear about the whole thing was my utter dislike of the cold. I mean, my people were not designed to operate in the colder, northern climes. We are more suited to the sunny 105 degree heat of the Central Valley, not the cold overcast of the Willamette. Then again, I do sometimes have a habit of hyperbole. I provide the following conversation as proof of my hyperbole combined with my fear of the cold.

Aaron: I think I'm going to buy a scarf...maybe some gloves. I hate the cold. It makes my soul hurt.

Lori: Silly...this isn't Siberia

She was right. It wasn't soul crushingly cold like I had expected. In fact, the weather was awesome- mid-60s, overcast, slightly humid. After some confusion about where to be picked up, Lori and I were on our way to start eating our way across Portland.

After we ditching my luggage, we headed downtown, with Lori taking the long route, showing off some of the distinct neighborhoods around the Portland. What struck me most was the lay out of the place. Here in Sacramento, we have our fair share of cool little neighborhoods within the city (Midtown, Downtown, East Sac, Land Park), but Portland's neighborhoods have a different feel. Many of them aren't centered around a wide thoroughfare, like J St. in Midtown or Freeport Blvd. in Land Park. Rather, the shopping districts of Portland seem to appear out of thin air on the more regular "narrower" types of streets. Driving down a Victorian house lined street there suddenly appears a random restaurant between a couple of houses and then a little corner store and then a couple of blocks of boutiques and then more Victorians. The equivalent here in Sacramento would be if there suddenly were restaurants and little stores on G St., between 19th and 28th in Midtown (like that would ever happen...the NIMBYs would have a fit). All in all, very cool.

Once we got over the bridge into downtown, our first stop, because we are nerds, was not a restaurant, but:

Powell's- The largest independent new & used bookstore in the world

After coffee and books (I snagged an old paperback copy of Graham Greene's "The Quiet American") we made our way to the first of a few epic meals. Now I told Lori that I didn't care where we went. I just wanted to eat some of the good food Portland was known for. The Hood Food would find us eventually, kind of like the Zen proverb: When the student is ready, the teacher will appear. With the criteria of having no criteria, she suggested a place called Clyde Common in the Ace Hotel. If I had to compare it to anything, it would be to the Grange and the Citizens Hotel here in Downtown Sacramento. Both are boutique hotels with restaurants centered around the use of local ingredients attached. I took no pics and I'm not going to write about it per se, since it doesn't meet the blog criteria. I will say this: The food was great.

Quick Rundown of the meal (for those keeping score)
Beef Carpaccio, Grana & Truffle Oil (Starter)
Grilled Whole Fish, Potato Hash, Saffron, Salmoriglio, Garlic (Lori)
Grilled Steak, Romaine, Poached Egg, Aged Balsamic, Piave (Aaron)

Bellies full, we wandered and drove in circles for a little bit until we found a parking spot across the street from the original punk rock Voodoo Doughnuts. We really couldn't help ourselves and were feeling a bit indulgent. I think it was the drizzle. Regardless, Lori opted for a doughnut covered in fruit loops while I had to get a maple bar topped with two pieces of bacon. So based on the old maxim, "You Are What You Eat", I reckon Lori is loopy, or sweet or both, and I am a ham, or sweet, or both. Go figure...Again, no pics because, again, as awesomesauce as the Voodoo Doughnuts are, they don't meet the Hood Food criteria, which I guess begs the question:

"Where is the Food in the Hood? If I wanted to read a travel novel, I'd have gone to Rick Steeves' website."

I'll grant you that.

So, wait for it...wait for it...

I present to you:


Where to begin...I have to give props to a colleague of mine (Mad Props Spencer!). When I mentioned I was going to Portland to eat, he mentioned a biscuit place there where they made their own biscuits and served soul food- gravy, greens, fried chicken, grits. If that isn't Hood Food, I don't know what is! Now I understand this place has been on the Food Network, but I don't have cable and I love biscuits. So there...

The place is small and is open from early morning until early afternoon. The place only has 4 small tables, so most people stand in line (yes, there was a line out the door for the yummy gravy goodness) and take it to go, or gamble and order it to eat there in the hopes a table opens up. As we've established my tendency to gamble on things we ordered our food to eat there.

You have to love a place with Golden Rules...

...and Cock Lamps!

As you can see below, the menu is a bit overwhelming. So much good southern food to choose from, but we had a plan. I was going to order biscuits and gravy topped with two eggs, over easy and Lori opted for a simple biscuit with egg and bacon with the two of us sharing a plate of hash browns and some collard greens (we had to get something remotely healthy).

The Menu of Gravy Biscuit Goodness

So we ordered and waited with baited breath. Not so much for the food, but in the hope that the universe would conspire to somehow get us a table to consume our feast.

This is where The Magic happens

So we waited, sipping on our Stumptown Coffees, contemplating how the universe seemed to be, generally, an ironic universe. However, we also discovered that the universe also conspired to give Sacramentans in Portland tables to sit and share amazing breakfasts. No sooner had our food arrived than a table opened up. Clearly, we were meant for this moment...I mean can you question it when you get to sit down in a place with only four tables and this?

Biscuits & Sausage Gravy topped with Two Eggs, Over Easy

Biscuit with Bacon, Egg & Cheese
(F.U. and your breakfast biscuits McDonalds!)

Plate O' Hash Browns!

Collard Greens
(because we had to order something vaguely healthy to overcome all of the grease)

Some local heat held in hands that look like mine...only with smaller pinkies

We kind of sat there in awe of all of the food in front of us. Had we ordered too much? Could we finish it all? Would we suffer massive coronaries on the spot? No. Yes. No.

Where to begin?

This was all home cooking...which is clearly why people willingly wait in line in the rainy Portland cold to get their fix. The gravy was creamy, but not coagulated like your run-of-the-mill Denny's/Lyon's type gravy you get, enhanced by the huge runny egg yolks (the mark of a great short order cook- able to keep the yolks nice and liquid when they get to the table). It was slightly spicy (which I had to kick up a bit with habanero sauce) with little sausage nubbins that seemed to melt in the mouth. The biscuits were soft and flaky (this was more apparent in Lori's biscuits- not drowned in gravy like mine) with the taste of fresh and salty butter teasing the tongue.

We both went nuts over the hash browns. We both seemed to agree as Sacramentans (Me: Current, Her: Former) that the industry standard for hash browns in Sacramento is the Lucky Cafe. Well these were better. I dare say that they were even better than the hash browns I've had the pleasure of eating at Morton's. Crispy brown on the outside, firm and potatoey on the inside, they were perfectly greasy without being greasy at all. Their awesomeness perfected by the slight hint of the griddle lingering ever so slightly on the front end of the flavor.

Lori pointed out the slight vinegar taste of the collard greens. Firm and just crispy enough, they provided a good palate cleanse between bites of biscuits and greasy gravy goodness.

This was without a doubt, an epic breakfast win.

We finished our food and kind of sat there in silence in awe of our accomplishment. We knew we had been able to overcome the odds to sit victorious over our empty plates. We bussed our table, as per the rules and went to try to walk it all off, rain and all.

We shared even more good food, which matters here nor there, since our food journey was more on the high road than the low road. That being said, we were sharing tapas at Toro Bravo when Lori looked over to me.

"Why aren't you taking any pics of this?"

"This isn't what I take pictures of..."

"But look at this!"

"Well, only 'cause you say so. I will make some food porn for you..."

Scallops with a Spicy Aioli Sauce
(Here's your gratuitous food porn...)

As quickly as I was there, it was back to Sac. I stuffed a whole lot of food and experiences in to what was essentially 48 hours. Thank you Lori for being such a great hostess and Portland Sherpa. You helped me discover an amazing place. Hopefully I can return the favor and show you some new places in The Hood here in the Golden State.

To everyone else, I hope you enjoyed this little stop: ???

Tuesday, April 13, 2010

The Food Time Machine

Grandmas are the best cooks in the world. Seriously, just ask anyone and they'll tell you how their Grandma cooked the best this or best that. And if I were a betting man, which I am (so degenerate I bet the coin flip at the last Super Bowl...and won), I'd wager you that one of your favorite meals or fondest food memories involves Grandma preparing an old family recipe; something so simple, yet profound, that when you have the same kind of food now, you tell a story about how your Grandma cooked the same thing when you were a kid and how great it was and you go on to tell the story of that day with incredible detail- not just the food, but the weather, who was with you, where you were, etc. Such is the power of Grandma and her food.

I was having a conversation about food with a reporter recently and had the revelation as I was rambling and thinking out loud (revelation for myself at least, because I'm sure "bigger & better" writers have articulated this before me and much better); that food can be a form of storytelling. But when Grandma tells a story with food, it is so much more than that. It's like traveling back through the generations to the first instance of that now "famous family recipe" ever being prepared.

I can tell you now, that my Grandma was the best cook ever. I mean, I know yours is too, but I'm talking about mine right now. She was my Dad's Mom and she lived in the city of Irapuato, Mexico in the state of Guanajuato. Here it is on the map, because I know people always ask where that is:

(As you can see, it is basically smack dab in the middle of Mexico)

It was always a big deal when Mama Elena, or Mamalena as we actually said it, would come up and visit. She would generally visit in the spring for a couple of months and stay with my family for a about two weeks before going off to stay with my Aunts in Woodland (and yes, if you're Mexican, you do have relatives in Woodland or Fresno...I didn't make up the rules, I just live by them). The two weeks she did stay with us were two weeks of classic, authentic, down home Mexican Soul Food. She was a force of nature in the kitchen.

Our Grandmas probably looked a lot alike, except mine was tiny, brown and wiry with a mane of white hair and more energy than you and I combined. In Mexico, she'd walk in the mornings from her house, to one of the churches in the center of Irapuato to pray. And when she did get on her knees to pray, she literally got on her knees on the hard, stone floor- no fancy padded praying knee guards like we have in churches up here. I mean, even my knees would hurt after five or ten minutes when I was with her at church in Irapuato. My Grandma didn't mess around. When she visited she'd be up at 6 in the morning to pray. Then she would begin planning and preparing for the food to be made later that day. She'd stalk the refrigerator and pantry, making a list of everything that would be needed for dinner; and after morning coffee, she would lead my Mom and Dad on missions to get the ingredients necessary to prepare the classics from her repetoire.

I always had two favorites: Her chiles rellenos and her potato pancakes.

I don't need to explain what chiles rellenos are, but the potato patties bear some explanation. My Grandma, odd as it may seem, cooked latkas...yes, as in the Slavic/Jewish latkas. I don't know why or how she learned to cook them, but she did.

Everything she made was good, but when she cooked these two things it was amazing. Her chiles rellenos were so good, that they were one of the few things she cooked that my Dad never ever attempted on his own. He would do the Mexican Latkas sometimes, but the chiles rellenos were a no-no.

I won't go into details about the food itself. I have no pics and there are no words. Suffice it to say that you just had to be there. The Food. The Stories. The Laughter. The Unity of Family...And I'm sure you'd tell me the same about your Grandma and her epic meals.

This post really isn't about the meal itself. I guess this whole thing centers around the Mexican Latkas.

I would watch my Grandma make them and my Dad make them. The recipe was a very simple one: boiled potatoes mashed and mixed with cheese formed into hamburger sized patties battered in flour and deep fried until crispy golden orange brown on the outside. Now, my Dad is a great cook in his own right, but my Grandma's Mexican Cheesy Latkas were just a little better than my Dad's.

Those Mexican Cheesy Latkas popped into my head as I was having the food conversation this week. My Dad learned them from his Mom who likely learned them from one of her parents and so on and so on. It never really occured to me that I was tasting the food from generations ago. And as I talked about it more, the questions started to pop into my mind: Who was the first in my family to make it? Where did they learn it? How long ago?

I will never see or talk to those who gave me my genetic code from hundreds of years ago- those whose blood flows inside of me, whose mannerisms I no doubt share, whose eyes and hair line I was born with, but everytime I have my Dad's cooking, I can share a meal with those faceless names from the past, without whom I would not be here today.

So next time Grandma cooks you the best meal in the world, cherish it and think about what message from hundreds of years ago is being sent to you in that meal. It may blow you away...

Friday, April 9, 2010

Pho Sho!

So...a round trip to Vietnam is going for around $800-ish, depending on where you fly out of. Off the top of my head, it's cheapest to fly round trip out of Oakland into Saigon. I want to go over Thanksgiving. I reckon, being freshly separated and likely freshly divorced by then, I'll have no reason to be around Sac as I have no family here anymore and my job schedule would allow me to get out of town for two weeks. Depending on the cost, the plan will be to fly into Saigon and work my way north to Hanoi, stopping along the way in Hội An and random other places. Besides those three places, the plan will be to have no plan; to just wander aimlessly and anonymously- invisible, surrounded by unfamiliar words, foods, and faces. To be honest, I'd like to go now to escape the relentless tedium of current real life, but I have some actually enjoyable responsibilities that I can't just drop in spite of the unenjoyable stuff.

For now, I've got to take the bitter with the the old blues song sings.
(Maybe the song was about Durian...huh? We'll get there soon enough.)

Barring some miraculous lottery win that allows me to get lost, I can take solace driving down Stockton Boulevard. In Sacramento, Stockton Boulevard is to Asian Food as Franklin Boulevard is to Mexican/Latin American food.

Like Franklin, Stockton Boulevard is one LONG street. It runs 17 miles from the very urban Alhambra Boulevard, on the edge of Midtown, south all the way to the very rural Kammerer Road on the outskirts of Elk Grove. The heart of it, however, lies between Broadway (where the old Fairgrounds once stood) and Florin Road. This is, for all intents and purposes the part of the 'hood where some of the best Asian food in the city is to be found. Granted, being in diverse Sacramento, there is a sprinkling of Mexican and Soul Food restaurants, but the main food to be found there is Asian, with a leaning towards Vietnamese food.

Today my food accompanist was my friend Dawn, who was excited to participate in the Hood Food experience. When we spoke to make arrangements, I told her it was time to head down Stockton Boulevard since I had had way too much Mexican food over the past week...which is not necessarily a bad thing, but I needed some new food to taste and write about. So after meeting at the good ol' and centrally located Espresso Metro, we ditched my car and she drove down 12th Avenue into the hood. What a difference a freeway makes.

From Land Park through Curtis Park through Oak Park, we turned right on Stockton and just drove.

"Anywhere in particular?"
"Nah...we'll know it when we see it"

So down we drove, passing the old Colonial Theater, the cemetery and just as we reached Fruitridge she looked left and pointed.

"I've been there. They have good food."

And there is was:


That was good enough for me.

I love pho and Vietnamese food in general. I think being Mexican makes it easier to love Vietnamese food and Asian food in general. These foods, though literally a world apart, share many of the same flavors and ingredients along with a penchant for peppers fueled heat- the glorious make you sweat under your eyes kind. I at a Mexican joint on Franklin or a Vietnamese joint on Stockton? Doesn't matter. Jalapeños, for the win!

So I knew this was going to be good when we were greeted by the following things as we entered:

I love rock walls of any kind.

Yes...I know you're thinking the same thing: WTF? (but in an appreciation of life's little randomnesses)

So once we got beyond the sheer awe of the awesome rock walled entrance and water buffalo pied piper awesomeness, we sat down and got to business.

We sat and got our menus from the overly-attentive-in-a-good-way/just-on-the-edge-of-too-attentive waitress and took the whole scene in: Paintings on the walls depicting scenes from the farming fields of Vietnam. Random sculptures of seafood. Families with their faces in huge bowls of pho.

What really tied the whole thing together though, was the music that was piped through the sound system in the restaurant. It was cheesy Southeast Asian pop music, which I love. Don't ask me why. I just do.

[Brief musician sidebar: some of the microtonal stuff played by guitars in Asian music is so bluesy and incredibly funky, not in a James Brown kind of way, but in a Mississippi Delta Juke Joint kind of way]

As we peruse the menus Dawn opted for some grilled chicken with spring rolls and an avocado milkshake...

"They make milkshakes out of avocado? Seriously?"

"Yeah, their drink menu is on the back."

Again, the Asian/Mexican connection made with the avocado. Curious as to what other kinds of milkshakes they might whip up I scanned the drink selection and found It.


What, you might as, is durian? Well I didn't know what it was until I saw an episode of Anthony Bourdain visiting Singapore. It is a fruit found in Southeast Asia with a stench so putrid that it is actually banned from public transportation and many hotels. Yet in spite of that, people eat it and like it.

Here's the wikipedia lowdown on durian:

My favorite part of the entry:

"The edible flesh emits a distinctive odour, strong and penetrating even when the husk is intact. Some people regard the durian as fragrant; others find the aroma overpowering and offensive. The smell evokes reactions from deep appreciation to intense disgust. The odour has led to the fruit's banishment from certain hotels and public transportation in southeast Asia."

I had to try it. If Mr. Bourdain went there, then surely I must. Dawn was a little skeptical after I explained what it was, followed by a quick wikipedia consultation via the blackberry.

"It looks like brains. Like liver! Do you even know what it smells like?"

I didn't, but I was dying to find out. We did agree that I would wait until we were done to order the dreaded durian milkshake. In the mean time I ordered pho with beef and tripe (which I just called menudo since that's what Mexicans call it) and an appetizer of shrimp and pork spring rolls. Our food arrived promptly, ending our debate about durian.

Grilled Chicken & Egg Rolls

Avocado Milkshake

Pork & Shrimp Spring Rolls

Vietnamese Coffee (the durian milkshake had to wait)

Pho with Beef & Tripe

The food was great- fresh tasting, which made me feel like I was actually eating healthy...I especially loved the pork and shrimp spring rolls if for no other reason than pork makes everything taste better. Combined with the medium sized whole shrimp surrounded by the crunchy greens...the whole thing was good. It was like pork without the guilt.

The pho was total comfort food, just like mom would have made, if we were a Vietnamese family. I did, however, have to spice it up. I love pho for this reason. It comes very basic and it leaves it up to you to make as hellishly spicy as you please. And believe me, I went a little crazy with the heat. Add some jalapeños and chili oil to the mix and Voila!

3 Alarm Spicy Goodness...Vietnamese/Mexican Unity...Orale!

So after a good sweat on my part and some sensible, healthy freshness on Dawn's part we had reached The Moment of Reckoning.

"Are you really going to order the durian milkshake?"

"Hell yes I am. If Bourdain could do it, then I must."

"OK, but if it stinks, you have to put it over on the other table."

"Fine. We'll see how bad it really is based on how the waitress reacts when I order it."

We managed to flag down our waitress, who was all smiles until the words came out of my mouth.

"Can I get a durian milkshake?"

Dawn had to hold back the laughter as we saw her subtlely roll her eyes, a look of near disgust replacing her once happy face. She said "OK" in a way that meant "What kind of moron are you? Do you know what you're getting yourself into? Oh well...the customer is always right, unless it's durian."

We envisioned the staff having to don hazmat suits as they cursed the guy ordering the durian, all supplies used in making the shake having to be either sterilized after use or dumped in a state approved bio-hazard bin.

The milkshake of doom...

We giggled as we saw it in a covered plastic cup, a contrast to the presentation of the avocado shake Dawn had ordered earlier. Was it really so bad that it had to come sealed in a plastic container. Scared & excited, I tasted it.

It was hard to describe at first. Durian is a two-step flavor. The first is a bitter and slightly sulfur (the sulfur flavor was described to me by a buddy of mine that I conned into tasting without knowing what it was later). The aftertaste was actually really good- a sweet almond custard flavor. Dawn opened up the container to smell it and see what the shake looked like. To an unsuspecting victim, it looked like an innocent custard.

"Eww! This smells like B.O. No, wait, seriously, it's like tasting dirty socks!"

Needless to say, she was not a fan. I was fascinated. Not to say I'm a fan, but it wasn't as horrible as I was expecting. Slightly gross? Yes. End of the world? No.

After paying the check, we headed out into the perfect Sacramento spring evening and we drove back to Espresso Metro, with Dawn making sure to let me know that my breath smelled like ass. Which was fine. My belly was too happy to care. She dropped me off at my car and off I went to meet some friends for bowling in West Sac, moon roof open dwelling on durian...and it occurred to me:

Durian is kind of like life. Sometimes you have to endure a whole lot of bitter to taste the sweet...a notion that resonates with me as of late.

Pho Xe Lua is located at 5331 Stockton Blvd.

Tuesday, April 6, 2010

Great Expectations

My mom had, and I assume she still does, a total fear of driving on the freeway. She just wouldn't do it, under any circumstances and I suppose it was just as well. When I was growing up, our family lived in the Valley Hi neighborhood of South Sacramento, just off of Mack Road & Center Parkway. My dad worked for the state and would take the bus in the morning to get to work. Instead of taking the bus home, my mom would pack my brother and sister and I into the family vehicle and drive downtown to pick him up. Instead of hopping on the Highway 99 (which would have made sense, going against traffic at that time of day), we would take Franklin Boulevard all the way from South Sac to my dad's office downtown. Traffic being how it was heading back south, we'd take Franklin Boulevard back home- the scenic route past the Campbell Soup factory bellowing the smells of tomato soup, the long since gone Cal Worthington Chevrolet, and the old Southgate Plaza (which did make sense considering the bumper-to-bumper action on southbound 99 at 5 pm). The ride was such a chore and many evenings my mom would have to cope with 3 rambunctious, fighting siblings who wanted to be anywhere but stuffed in the back of a car driving from South Sac to Downtown and back.

Some days, though, were different...

On those once-a-week-treat-days (usually fridays) we'd stop at La Esperanza Bakery (Esperanza translates to Hope or Expectation) on the way home for glorious Pan Dulce...which the three of us would promptly stuff our faces with, keeping the peace in the back seat until we got home.

So unassuming & non-descript

Look for this sign just north of Fruitridge...And be very afraid of La Pantera Club (ask Chris Macias)

Pan dulce is sweet bread, basically pastries- stuff to have with coffee in the morning or for dessert after dinner. In and of itself, it's no big deal. The French have their croissants. The Italians have their cannolis. The Germans have their strudel. Breakfast pastries are neither new nor earth shattering...But let me ask you this?

When is the last time you actually had a warm pastery that literally just came out of the oven?

And then I will follow up with question #2, supplemental:

How much did you pay at Starbucks for that preservative filled, dead inside pastry?

Don't answer yet...

Two things hit you when you walk into La Esperanza: The temperature and the smell. The minute you enter, your nostrils are filled with the smell of sweet, sticky dough. It's seriously intoxicating and can put you in a little state of bliss that is enhanced by the warmth emanating from the ovens inside, hidden behind the thin partitions separating the retail area from the baking area where spanish radio blasts as the bakers get their sweet groove on (last time I was there, I seriously heard a version of Billy Joel's Piano Man in spanish). Get there on a weekend morning and you find yourself waiting in line, surrounded by families from the nearby neighborhoods speaking spanish, catching up on the latest gossip, patiently shuffling towards the front of the line.

You want yummy goodness? You gotta wait!

Need a Hannah Montana piñata?

When you reach the head of the line, you are confronted with all sorts of colors, shapes, and sizes of cooked-within-the-hour pastries. It's sometimes overwhelming.

As you can see, I got there between batches out of the oven...

On this particular day I experienced a slight fail. Normally I buy a bunch of Empanadas con Crema, which are thin turnovers coated with fine sugar on the outside and filled with a heavenly custard cream. Seriously, my favorite sweet in the world. This day, I had to settle for my second favorite. They're called ojos (eyes). They are a sort of firm dense yellowcakeish pastry covered with a berry glaze and coconut shavings, filled with a heavier slathering of the berry glaze.

Mine eyes have seen the light!

I ordered five of those bad girls, fresh out of the oven and paid less than $5!

(Feel free to answer those two previous questions now)

So I'm set with coffee treats for the rest of my weekend and head over to Espresso Metro to read a book and drink a latte....but I am tempted to buy one of these:

No, you're not having a weird acid flashback from Catholic School

or some of these...

Got Salsa?

Next time you want warm pastries, make the effort & get to the 'hood early in the morning. You will never want to have "regular" pastries with your coffee, ever again...ever

La Esperanza Bakery is located at 5044 Franklin Boulevard...

Thursday, April 1, 2010

An apple a day...

...keeps the doctor away. Or in this case, Sidral Mundet will surely cure what ails you.

If you are in Mexico, or other places where there are lots of Mexicans and other Latinos (Like Franklin Boulevard), you will find soft drinks that you won't find at your run of the mill "Stop n' Rob". The first one that comes to mind is Mexican Coca Cola.

For those who haven't had the pleasure of suckling from the teat of the Mexican Coke, I'm sure you're thinking, "A Coke is a Coke is a Coke. What's the difference?"

The difference is simple: Cane Sugar vs. Corn Syrup...Mexican Coke made with the former and U.S. Coke made from the latter. It also doesn't hurt that the Mexican Coke still comes mostly in glass bottles, which I think keeps it colder. I can't really describe the difference, but it is a difference both subtle and extreme. So much so, that the venerable New York Times has chimed in on the Mexican vs. U.S. Coke divide:

If you haven't done so, do yourself a favor and get yourself a few bottles of Mexican Coke. I promise you, you will like it better than the Coke you grew up with...that is if you grew up drinking just U.S. Coke.

But I digress...

When you do find a place that sells Mexican Coke, there is little doubt that you will find this not too far away in the cooler:


How do I love thee Sidral? Let me count the ways: 1...2...3....1,297,236,573,213

What is it? It's yummy apple goodness!

Anyone who has grown up in an around Sacramento has no doubt been up Highway 50 to Apple Hill. I used to love when my parents would pack my siblings and I in the family vehicle to do the driving tour of all the apple orchards. The best part was stopping at the places where they made apple cider. I remember going and watching the machines sweating pulp as they made fresh cider- no chemicals or preservatives, just the flavor fresh from the tree. And the free samples! That milky bronze liquid, chalky (in a good way) with pulp and other apple bits was such a contrast from the run of the mill apple juice my mom would make us our of the frozen concentrate. My parents would buy a couple of bottles of the fresh cider and my mom would ration out glasses of it until it was gone. As far as refreshing goes, based on my programming as a youth, anything apple hits the spot.

Now for most of my youth, my apple refreshment was limited to the apple juice from concentrate, the occasional Apple Hill cider, and various kinds of Martinelli's apple juice products. That all changed however when I went to Mexico as a teen.

My dad and I took a non-stop bus from Mexicali to Irapuato (This was an adventure worth writing about, but not here). Along the way, we'd stop at little roadside restaurants, literally in the middle of nowhere, where the drivers would trade places sleeping in the luggage compartment in the bottom of the bus (yes you read that right, there were two drivers and one slept where the luggage went, set up with a bed, little light and tv, while the other drove) and give the passengers a chance to stretch out and get some food. At one of these little midnight stops, my dad bought me a bottle of Sidral Mundet. My life was forever changed.

Ice cold, it was syrupy but very light, if that makes any sense. The huge difference between this soft drink was the carbonation. It was unlike any other I had ever experienced. The best way to describe it would be that the bubbles were "tighter" and more numerous. Up to then, I was accustomed to standard "big bubble" carbonation on my palate, very airy and gassy. Sidral's bubbles were like little crackles of cold apples washing over my taste buds. This was a completely new flavor and texture to me. I know when most prople think of carbonated apple drink, the Martinelli's faux-champagne apple drink comes to mind, but it's not even the same. Comparing the Martinelli's carbonated apple juice to Sidral is like comparing Bud to a good Hefeweizen- both beers, but completely different flavor and texural experiences.

From Sidral Mundet's website:
"Sidral Mundet’s, popular apple-flavored soft drink from Mexico has a great taste that comes from real apples and not artificial flavorings.

Made with natural apple juice, natural sugar and no artificial flavors or colors, Sidral Mundet boasts a unique and delicious taste.

Started by Don Arturo Mundet in 1902 when Porfirio Diaz was still governing Mexico, Mundet still remains the 100% Mexican soft drink with a flavor that really does come from real apples!

Don Arturo pioneered the use of what became the popular hermetapa, which assured the brand’s consistent great flavor. Today Sidral Mundet is among the best known brands in Mexico and one with great tradition. Mundet still maintains its high quality, which has been endorsed by Mexican mothers who give their children Sidral when they are sick to provide hydration.

Since Mundet’s flavor comes from real apples and apple juice, the drink is pasteurized which gives it taste as well as health benefits."

Now what isn't included there, and what I would have added, is that it is the perfect drink when hungover. Believe me...when I used to drink...well, not just drink, but drink a lot...Sidral was a godsend. I actually think they should change their website and replace the sentence that reads:

"Mundet still maintains its high quality, which has been endorsed by Mexican Mothers who give their children Sidral when they are sick to provide hydration."


"Mundet still maintains its high quality, which has been endorsed by Mexicans who down bottle after bottle when they are hungover to provide hydration."

Thankfully, Sidral is becoming a bit more available outside of the 'hood. I've seen it at my Safeway, but not at others, and I've been told that some Nugget Markets carry it. I just don't feel the same, however, buying it in Midtown or Downtown. Part of it's taste comes from where you experience it- whether it be a humid, mexican midnight or a hot little taqueria in the 'hood...washing down spicy anything. It is memory that makes the experience of eating and drinking as much as any flavor or preparation. Go and find some Sidral in it's natural environment and create a memory...