Wednesday, June 06, 2012

Mexican Food

TAMALES! (before cooking)
Mexican food is commonly cited as a miss-most item for people who have moved to Europe from the US.  Most large towns do have a Mexican restaurant or at least a döner joint purporting to serve "burritos" - but they often leave a bit to be desired.  About a year and a half ago, Heidelberg did get a Mexican restaurant, Chimichanga, which is the best we've had in Germany.  Faint praise, to be sure, but it's not bad and we've gone back more than once.  One thing they have that's hard to find and a pain to make is good tortilla chips!

Still, the restaurant's range is limited and eating out is expensive.  While we'd been making a few Mexican or Tex-Mex dishes all along, when we were finally prodded by the closing of Heidelberg's only shop that sold corn tortillas, we decided to really take matters into our own hands.

Flour tortillas.  Sure, there are wraps at the grocery store, but the prices are absolutely insane and they aren't all that good. You can make flour tortillas at home with cheap ingredients and they taste amazing.  Our pan is small so our tortillas are small, but no way are we going back to the nasty Fuego brand.  (Did you know it's owned by the same guy who also does the other faux-ethnic foods found at Rewe?)

Corn tortillas.  To make corn tortillas, you need a special corn flour called masa harina which is not sold in stores anywhere near us.  Don't try it with the corn flour you find here - even if it says on the back that you can make tortillas with it, you can't.  We tried.  At first we had masa harina brought to us from the US, but it turns out you can order it online here from a company called Mex-Al.  Mex-Al is meant to be a restaurant and supermarket supplier so a lot of their sizes are huge, but they can be pretty handy if you have a place to store the extra goods.  Even with the masa harina, corn tortillas are slightly more complicated than flour, but they're hard to get otherwise and turn out really amazing.

Sauces and seasonings.  You can bring back dried chiles and chile powders from the US or get them from Mex-Al.  Ancho chile powder is great for making enchilada sauce, and chipotles are great for flavoring beans, soups, meat, etc.  Don't worry about bringing back salty flavoring packets (although it's easy since they're so small!) and just make up your own taco seasonings with cumin, chili powder, cumin, garlic salt, more cumin, or whatever you like.

Now you have your base. Avocados have become delightfully easy to get in the years since we moved here, which is awesome.  Make your own refried beans with beans and lard or broth.  (Don't by the grody Fuego ones unless you don't have 10 minutes to mash your own up!) Salsa is not hard to make, with good chiles being the usual limiting factor. Mex-al also has corn husks for tamales and canned chiles for chiles rellenos..and with that we move into the harder stuff.  Fresh chiles and cheese.  Fuego sells pickled jalapeño slices which are okay for some things, but fresh jalapeños are a bit harder to get.  We occasionally see them at Rewe and are sure to buy them up when we do.  You can make them into escabeche which will help them last longer, and they are better than the Fuego ones.  As for the New Mexican-style chiles, can't help you there.  And we still haven't figured out the best cheese to sub in.  If you have, let us know.  They say feta works in some applications but I can't imagine, say, chiles rellenos dripping in feta.

What are your Mexican food tips or problems?  Share in the comments! :)


  1. Back when I worked in a half-American office, we'd make group orders at a Mexican restaurant supplier in Hamburg. I even drove there once. Alas, I've forgotten the name and they may not exist anymore. These days we have an restaurant (owned by an American brother-sister pair) near us with a few Baja/Cal-Mex dishes to satisfy the occasional urge.

    At you can find a list of suppliers.

  2. I've found something calling itself masa harina at Tiger and Dragon... Not as good as the masa you can get at a Fiesta or HEB in Texas, but it will totally work.

  3. I've found something calling itself masa harina at Tiger and Dragon... Not as good as the masa you can get at a Fiesta or HEB in Texas, but it will totally work.

  4. Thanks for the website tip! I really do miss Mexican food a whole lot ;.;
    My biggest gripe is that I can't buy fresh chilis anywhere here. I don't like the taste of pickled ones so I've had to resort to growing them myself, which isn't easy with limited space. Plus I just don't grow as many as I used to cook with regularly.
    Maybe it's time to suck it up and buy some ground ones.

  5. @PapaScott - I love the name tacoweb :D

    @Astrodude - ECHT!? I go to Tiger & Dragon all the time and thought I had the place memorized, but I've not found the masa harina there! Where is it? It would be great to just get it there!

    @Chocolate & Cognac - Fresh chilies are definitely the biggest difficulty. The ones we pickle ourselves don't seem as pickly as the store ones, but then, they never really last long enough for us to find out if they would eventually get that way. ;)

  6. Are those homemade tamales in that picture? *swoon*

    We have a bag of Maseca hanging out in our pantry that I just cannot part with. I only have the one bag and I'm terrified to use it in something that doesn't turn out well. And since I would use it to make my own corn tortillas or tamales and I've never tried my hand at either, odds are good that I'd screw it up.

    Totally irrational, I know. Maybe I'll get more from the place you linked. And then I might need a tamale tutorial.

  7. @Sarah - Yes, we made those last weekend. You should totally use your masa harina, there are always ways to get more! :)

  8. @Astrodude - Found PAN flour at Tiger and Dragon today! Is it the same thing?

  9. I love Mexican food. I was fortunate enough to have a Mexican friend prepare lunch for me one day,which was delicious. She recommended hitting up one of two Mexican stores in Munich for REAL Mexican ingredients.

  10. Make your own salsa from canned tomatoes (look up recipes for restaurant style salsa). It's so much better than the yucky sweet German salsa and all ingredients should be available at the store (cilantro is often called coriander).


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