Is Tucson the best city for Mexican food in the United States?
“At [Top Chef], I would add fish sauce and sesame to a mole – if an old lady in Mexico had seen that, she would have hit me with a wooden spoon, ”says Maria. But it was this kind of risk-taking that helped propel her to victory. The same goes for the dishes I devour in his restaurant: grilled cauliflower tacos with madras curry, orange zest and coriander oil; a chorizo with mushrooms; and the famous volleys of ever-changing chips and salsa. Today, Maria’s signature chips are paired with everything from Mexican chipotle salsa to Asian peanut sauce. On the one hand, she says, “I’m going to give you a real Mexican experience – and it’s wonderful.” But, also, she adds, “I’m going to make you a salsa that can be influenced by Indian cuisine, Japanese cuisine or Italian cuisine. And that, I can confirm, it’s beautiful too.
While Mexican desserts like tres leches cakes, orejas (puff pastry cookies) and conchas (sweet buns) abound in Tucson, especially Sonoran candy are harder to find. But I was determined to hunt down these coyotes. They’re a staple in the town of Hermosillo, three hours south of the border, but elusive in Tucson. According to Maribel, “They’re still a cottage industry in Sonora – and if you live in Tucson you’re probably talking about someone bringing them to you from Hermosillo.”
I did however find a local seller: Dolce Pastello. When I passed by yesterday, the owner, Aide Almazan, told me that she had two kinds in stock: pineapple and pumpkin. For the record, I’m grateful for all the coyotas, and the pineapple in particular was transcendent. Still, I had been disappointed that I couldn’t find the traditional variety filled with cane sugar – and when Aide said she would try to get some for me, my harassment began.
Finally, as I’m sitting there waiting, I see her phone light up with what must be the long-awaited call: the man I need is outside, so I jump off my bar stool and walk with Help. to the parking lot. The man, who happens to be Aide’s stepfather, doesn’t know what hit him as I take custody of the basket with which his wife, baker Maria Ofilia Almazan Serecer, sent him here .
Apologizing for my behavior, I bring my booty to a counter, where I search it like a jackal. Caramel? Great! Strawberry? Why not? More pineapple? I take them. But cane sugar is nowhere to be found. Then I look over to the counter and see that Aide has some set aside for me. Without wasting time, I remove the protective plastic. Right after the rich, scaly surface, my teeth dig into all of the cane sugar filling. I saw the ingredient – which looks a bit like a big chunk of crystallized honey – in Mexican stores, but never imagined how flexible it could be, or how ethereal it could taste. . If I had known, I might never have left Tucson.