A Celebration of Mexican Cuisine and Culture at the InterContinental Hotel.

 

I love all things Mexican and I have my friend Miguel to thank for that. Miguel and I met at a university event and we instantly bonded at a cheese and wine as we were looking for the hot sauce. A couple of tacos, tequila shots and sombrero hunting made me realize Miguel and I were meant to be siblings and the stork had fuddled up my delivery.

So when my friend Kevin from ‘Tell em’ invited me to a Sunday brunch that the Mexican government, through the ministry of foreign affairs and the conservatory of Mexican Gastronomic Culture was throwing at the Intercontinental Hotel, I was beyond excited as I missed my Mexican ‘family’.

From the minute we walked in I was blown away-and it had nothing to do with the spicy food. The intercontinental poolside had been transformed. Various food stations like Mexican, Indian, Italian, Western and a ‘Kiddy Korner’ had been set under a huge, beautiful white tent that also housed dining tables, a marimba station with musicians, a jazz band, a trampoline and bouncing castles for the kids, a clown, face painting and gorgeous colourful Mexican decorations all over the tents.

Looking a little lost Kevin came to our rescue and immediately introduced us to the lovely Janine Gerlich, InterContinental’s experienced and charming Food and Beverage Director. She pointed us to the tequila station, as contrary to Kenyan custom it is not meant to be downed on a drunken night out, but sipped as an appetiser.

There we bumped into the charming Marie Carmen Saenz, a gastronomic promoter from Mexico, whose smile twinkled in her eyes. And while I declined a shot, my companion said it was the best brand of tequila he had ever tasted. I did accept a glass though of a delicious red Mexican wine-L.A. Cetto, petite Sirah 2007, valle de guadaloupe- which was fruity, warm rich and very earthy, a perfect companion for spicy Mexican food and I would even recommend it for Indian food. An undisclosed source happily told me it would be sold soon in Nairobi.

But before we could pounce on the food, I was introduced to the dashing and popular marimba king-Javier Nandagapa-who had a family of brothers who also excelled at the Marimb and together they have successfully interpreted contemporary marimba music. Dancing to his beats we worked up quite an appetite and were ready to indulge.

From there we finally headed to the food, and what a gastronome’s delight that was. Mexican cuisine of course took centre stage as the inclusion of Mexican cuisine as Cultural Heritage of humanity was being celebrated. The reason the wonderful Mexican community decided to celebrate this in Kenya was because their cuisine will be inaugurated into the Cultural Heritage of Humanity at the UNESCO meeting taking place in Nairobi. The aim to let the public sample this cuisine is so that aspects of the most authentic gastronomy of the country is celebrated. A contingent of renowned chefs and traditional cooks all offered representatives examples of regional cuisines of the very diverse Mexican community that I had no idea even existed!

I was so used to eating tacos, quesadillas, fajitas and frittatas that I had no idea that was more to Mexican cuisine than this.

Hunks of meat like chicken, goat, beef, pork all being tenderly spun and roasted on grills was what drew our attention at first. Then I sampled Ricardo Munoz Zuritas ‘Ha sikil pal’-toasted tortillas with little vegetables cooked in chilli and garlic and I knew I was about to experience a once in a lifetime opportunity. From there we tasted Enrique Olvera’s vegetable and fruit salads and it’s amazing what culinary delight this man created out of corn and green bell peppers!

Other true delights were Anna Gonzalez Arroyo’s ‘Cochinita Pibil’ a pork dish that burst with flavour and spice. The ‘Rose en Chilmole’ beef dish that was tender, succulent and mouth watering, ‘Centomatado de Cerdo’ another pork dish and ‘Pescado tikin-xic’,  a fish dish were also equally delicious.

We also marvelled and loved all the salad provided like smoked salmon, King prawns, shrimps, poached salmon, seafood terrine and smoked sailfish. At this point my stomach began groaning with all the food going in so i stopped to chat with Enrique Farjeat, an outstanding innovative chef from Mexico who gushed about Kenyan hospitality and even mentioned he wouldn’t mind moving here and opening up a restaurant.

After an animated conversation we headed back to the cuisine. While Mexican dishes were being paraded, The InterContinental Hotel was not to be outdone either.  The famous Bandhini restaurant had an Indian cuisine station boasting dishes like Malai kebab, Chicken curry, aloo matter and my favourite the Malai chicken that came grilled on skewers and cooked in the tandoor.

At another station we sampled the Potato Gratin-an infusion of cheese, cream, carrots and potatoes that was simply to die for; the unbelievable lasagne from their Italian restaurant; roast duck, South African Boerwoers –Ii was truly home; baked whole king fish and roast pork leg.

After all this I barely had time to sample the African cuisine like Irio, ugali, Kunde, Matoke, Sukuma, Irio and Mbaazi stew.

What did have space for though was the delicious dessert like the strawberry millefeuille, sweet potato cinnamon cake, steamed ginger pudding, star  anis brulee, American pancakes, various croissants and pastries, black cherrie bavaroise, black forest cake, caramel  and the limitless amounts of fresh fruit.

I indeed went home stuffed and content and I have to applaud the Conservatory of Mexican Gastronomic Culture for taking the pain and time to preserve the common trunk of Mexican cooking as after tasting all their delights I can see its definitely worth conserving; and The InterContinental Hotel for hosting such a remarkable celebration of food with organisation, generosity, warmth and decadence.

I went home four kilos heavier but completely content and with only 1 regret-that I wasn’t a cow and didn’t have four stomachs.

  Published November 26th 2010 in The Star

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