¡Ask A Mexican! for Oct 08, 2009
One man's take on his culture's stereotypes
Thursday, October 8, 2009
If the pupusa is king in El Salvador, then the country’s tamales fall somewhere between viscount and baron in its culinary peerage: a standard but by no means necessary component. There are great Salvadoran food options in Monterey, including Migueleno’s establishment on Broadway in Seaside.
But here’s a guide for MoCo residents who might be making the big trip down South to Orange County, where The Mexican is based.
Take into account the cornmeal brick’s ubiquity across the Americas, and most non-Salvadorans have probably, rightfully, never bothered with the dish.
The tamales at Anita’s in Santa Ana are made in the morning and available until the day’s batch is gone. They’re kept wrapped in foil, the better for its juices to keep the tamale moist, for the banana leaf that serves as the usual wrapper to impart just a dab of bitterness. A waitress presents the tamale to you slit lengthwise through the middle, as if it were a baked potato; you can easily scoop up the insides. The chicken is slightly spicy; the pork, pulled. And the tamal de elote uses sweet corn instead of what the Mexis usually use to create a hearty dessert. Don’t forget the sweet black beans and salty cream on the side – at $3.50 for the combo, it’s the new steak-and-egg breakfast.
Anita’s is a straightforward Salvadoran restaurant – no rarities on the menu, multiple scenic pictures of the patria on the wall, television battling with a cumbia-blasting jukebox for aural supremacy. The beer selection is surprisingly vast, but I don’t drink cerveza. I start with horchata, spiked with cinnamon and a bit of chocolate, eternally better than the non-Oaxacan Mexican variety, or sometimes opt for a refreshing ensalada (literally “salad” in Spanish, but really a syrupy chilled beverage consisting of apple, pear, melon, and bits of about three other fruits). Pupusas are mandatory, and Anita’s makes great ones – thick, sturdy discs devoid of grease, crispy on the outside.
You can find Mexican touches at Anita’s, a necessity considering its hometown. All are forgetful save for the curtido, the pickled slaw that accompanies any pupusa order. I’ve never sweated while eating it until Anita’s, and now, I can’t imagine the condiment without heat.