Tuesday, January 29, 2008

Florence...è bella

I am on top of things. Or else I am wishing I was still in Florence and am finding the only way to cope is to write about it, reminiscing about all the food that I ate there. One word of warning before I get anybody’s (including mine) hopes up with loads of pictures of piles of pasta—my camera died after a day there and I forgot my converter. Sad face here. But I did get some of my food captured, and the rest, I’ll have to describe, but I also managed to swipe a menu from our last dinner.

Oh Florence, one weekend is not near enough. At least everything was open this time, as opposed to August. Advice: if you plan on going to Italy or Spain, do not do it in August, as everything will be closed because they will all be on vacation. Maybe January’s not the best because it was pretty dang cold, but at least my favorites were open. So I guess I’ll just go in order.

When I dragged my suitcase up to the Piazza Santa Croce where we were staying nearby, there was a giant Feria di Cioccolato. I’m guessing yall can figure out what that means. I was like a kid in a...chocolate fair. But I was good and actually made myself wait until the third day I was there before I went through it (unfortunately for yall because there are no pictures). I’ll get to the chocolate fair later, but first I had a more important place to be: Vestri. This is the best gelato you’ll ever taste in your life, if you're lucky.
And this is the best chocolate you’ll ever taste in your life, again, if you’re that lucky. Especially that one at the bottom, what I like to call ‘layers’ because that’s what it is; layers of perfection composed of chocolate and hazelnut. Vestri is a chocolate shop, it’s covered in every inch of its tiny shop in chocolates, all flavors and shapes, cocoa powder, chocolate pastes, chocolate chocolate chocolate. But the best part of the Vestri is the gelato. I really have never tasted better stuff in my life. It is the smoothest, creamiest, and most-bursting-with-flavorist of all gelatos. And the thing is, they’re not at all showy about it. The gelato’s not even on display. It’s under the counter, they lift up these silver lids and beneath are buckets of different gelatos stored on top of each other. You go around the city to other gelaterias, and not only in Florence, and there are mountains of colorful gelatos with half a pineapple on it, or Baci candy sticking out of it, but Vestri is exactly the opposite. They don’t need to reel you in with that stuff, but thank God I discovered the gelato, I might not have even known it was there, but once you do, you never forget it. But it gets even better. Affogato. They have this golden vat on the edge of the counter and if you ask for gelato affogato, they pull the tap and drown your gelato in thick hot chocolate. No words can describe the ecstasy. Now I’m a huge sucker for hazelnut, and hazelnut and chocolate even more. At Vestri they have Nocciola di Piemonte (so Piemonte hazelnuts), and I get that affogato and the amazing thing is the hazelnut still comes through very strong, it’s not overpowered by the chocolate. It’s really is a thing of beauty.

The chocolate there is nothing to scoff at either. I’d put it up there with the best chocolate ever because it mixes my two loves of chocolate and hazelnut and meets my standards of creamy and rich. It’s like a bar of chocolate but is somehow not hard and crunchy, but melts right on your tongue.

Now to the chocolate fair, where I learned that these ‘layers’ are called cremoni, and they had a few different kinds, not just with hazelnut, but also with pistachio, as seen here.

These cubes of heaven were purchased at the fair, but I couldn’t get any pictures of the producers due to my dud camera or my stupidity. I even resorted to asking a group of Americans if they had a converter, but no such luck. Mainly there was just good chocolate to be seen, but some stands had molded chocolate, pieces arranged to make pigs, or white chocolate appearing as Swiss cheese, and one stand had a fish and a little boy walked up and said, “pesce?” Si. “E bello…” It was a beautiful thing, so many people coming together for chocolate, if only every weekend could be as blessed.

Alright, now onto some pasta. On my old street, Via del Moro that is, there was a great place called Trattoria Garga, it was extremely colorful inside, walls painted teal and murals and paintings all over the place, and the dishes had names like ‘tagliatelle della magnifica’ which is what I get. It’s a big serving of noodles in a creamy, orange sauce with bits of radicchio sprinkled on top. It’s addictive. The first time I had it I tried to recreate it, making what I thought would be a simple cream sauce with some orange zest, but it just didn’t turn out like Garga’s. I don’t know what they do, but I would go back for this pasta everyday if I could, but I can’t: it’s 18 euros. That’s the one down side of Garga. It’s a bit expensive, or more accurately, over-priced. But at least it’s got lively and great food, even if you are paying a little bit much. They have a salad there of greens, avocado, tomato, pine nuts, parmesan, and hearts of palm which is also right on the dot. And the cheesecake. We didn’t have any this time, but it definitely looked like the most popular dessert in the house. My sister tried it and loved it, and she doesn’t eat cheesecake. She was so impressed she asked them what kind of cheese they use, thinking it must be something special and he said “Philadelphia” in an Italian accent, of course.

The next meal was Saturday lunch which had been planned for some time at a place in the Oltrarno, or on the other side of the river from the center. It’s called Alla Vecchia Bettola, or as Dan calls it, just Bettola. When we walked in, the guy recognized us, which is saying something for not having been in about three years. This is your family-style kind of place, meaning they seat you at a table sitting next to someone else you don’t know, but by the end of the meal you’ll probably get to know them. At least we did. It’s got little wooden tables and wooden stools, and if you get the house wine it comes in one those cask things that’s very bulbous with the straw at the bottom, and get as much as you can drink. You have to get the penne alla bettola, their namesake dish, which is penne in a spicy tomato sauce, but not a chunky one, a very smooth, thick tomato sauce. We also got pappardelle con cinghiale, or papparedelle with wild boar ragu, very Tuscan, very good. The thing about a lot of the food in Florence is it seems so simple, but it’s all done so right. And I can’t go to Italy without getting myself some carpaccio. I’m squirmish about lots of things, but beef is my friend. And good beef is an even better friend. Tender carpaccio, salty Parmesan, green arugula, and a nice drizzle of olive oil is all you need. Simple and delicious. Dan had some sort of pork in a puff pastry, which I surprisingly really liked. And this is where my camera stopped. I even got a nice top-off at the end of the meal, some Vin Santo and cantucci, or biscotti to dip in my sweet wine and my battery was just too exhausted to do anything for me. But the biscotti were good, and they also threw in some other cookies, something with hazelnuts and lots of egg whites in them because they were crunchy and shiny. I left Bettola feeling very good, but a little full. I had to walk around a bit before I could get another affogato down me, but I did because I knew Sunday it would be closed.

So the rest of the meals are going to be photo-less, but I’ll try my best to elaborate with words the goodness of Florence. For dinner that night it was off to a restaurant called Fuori Porta, which is not only right outside the old city gates, as the name suggests, but on the Oltrarno as well. Simply put, it could be called a wine bar/toast restaurant. What the Italians call crostini (small) or crostoni (large) is like very very good toast with an array of toppings. They also have quite a large wine list by region, so we got a few quartos of different wines to taste, and some crostini: goat cheese with arugula, taleggio (a cheese) and radicchio, and finally taleggio and porcini. Cheese, bread, wine, what’s not to like. We took our time there eating and drinking wine for the night, it took us some time after going to aperitivo before-hand. I think this should becoming a mandatory institution everywhere, or at least in the United States. You go somewhere before dinner, order a cocktail and suddenly you get dinner with it too, in the form of pasta, polenta and ragu, bruschetta, cous-cous, salads, pizza/foccacia. There are plates and silverware and it’s all yours for the taking, and it’s good food too. Not just bar peanuts or something, this could be my dinner. And everyone’s happy and chatting, and why wouldn’t they be? They have a cocktail in one hand and basically a free, warm meal in the other. We went to a place called Negroni on Saturday night, and on Sunday a place in the Piazza Santo Spirito. If only I had had my camera to document this stuff.

Our last meal was at another one of Dan’s favorites, Il Santo Bevitore, once again in the Oltrarno, but just off the river. I had been in there to get some wine occasionally, but never eat. This place is also all wood, but not so much elbows-on-the-table, it’s more refined with low lights mirrors angled off the walls. We got a bottle of Sicilian red, which I love (although it wasn’t Nero D’avola), and set to our food. This is the place whose menu I took, so I can tell you exactly what I got: Garganelli con pachino, zucchini e cipolla rossa di Tropea and Bue marinato con balsamico e pecorino. This translates to penne-like pasta (but with stripes around the tube instead of the long way) with cherry tomatoes and caramelized red onion and zucchini, and marinated beef with balsamic and pecorino. I was surprised at how much substance came with the pasta, sometimes you get lots of pasta and a bit of sauce, or a few veggies, but this one had a good amount and it was tasty. I plan on making this soon. And the beef was very similar to carpaccio except it was a little bit thicker, I’ve never had raw beef that was not paper-thin, but the flavors were all still there, and the portion was huge, for nine euros, they served me a plate full of good beef that I couldn’t even finish. So unfortunately no room for dessert, but the list looked good. And the next morning, I left Florence, not without stopping off to get a panino from my old corner shop, and of course a tub of pesto to take home with me. So, in an effort to say ciao, or at least a doppo I shall leave you with some pictures of the market in Florence so perhaps your mouth will water a bit and I’ll feel like I’ve done my job.

And just because it's so good...
Borgo degli Albizi, 11 R

Trattoria Garga
Via del Moro, 48 R

Alle Vecchia Bettola
Via Luigi Ariosto 34 R (or Viale Ariosto 32 R...I'm finding two different addresses)

Fuori Porta
Via Monte alle Croci 10 R

Il Santo Bevitore
Via Santo Spirito 64/66 R

Sunday, January 20, 2008

Soup: part I

I don’t know how it happened, but I’ve become addicted to soups. I used to look at them with contempt, thinking ‘I don’t want to drink my food, I want to eat it. Soup is of no use to me.’ Come to think of it, I think I started getting into soup when I stopped being at home and stopped having central heating. Thank God Barcelona winters are mild, but it’s still not the Caribbean or something here, so it does get cold, and you don’t want something refreshing on those cold nights, you want something warm and soothing. So there came the soup.

I always love a new cookbook too, a chance to attempt something new. And lately I’ve gotten into ethnic foods (still trying to work out how to cook them), but the Moro cookbook from the restaurant in London has been a good friend this winter. I’ve already made four soups out of it, things I thought I’d never be interested in, but once I started I couldn’t stop. Moro’s a mixture of Spanish and Moorish food, so I have most of the ingredients right at my fingertips.

I can’t say I liked this soup better than the others, because they’re all so different, I can’t decide, and they’ll all eventually be posted, so don’t worry. I think I’m posting this one first because it is the one that I would have thought I’d never liked, but it was so rich and different, I’m tempted to make it again. I normally don’t lean towards brothy soups, but this is full of flavor, color, and various components.

Garlic Soup
from Moro the Cookbook

4 Tbsp olive oil
4-5 large garlic bulbs, broken in cloves with the skin kept on
100g cooking chorizo, cut into pieces*
1 tsp fresh thyme leaves
½ tsp sweet smoked Spanish paprika
1 liter chicken stock
4 eggs
8 slices good bread (ciabatta or sourdough), toasted
salt and pepper

*The first time I made it, I actually used regular, already cured chorizo and it turned out really well, but if you do that, make sure you get a good quality one because the flavor is very evident, oh, and I used ham stock instead of chicken, so then you could definitely taste the chorizo more than the garlic. The second time I followed the recipe and it was a bit later and the garlic was a lot more evident…I’m not sure which I like better, both very tasty.

Heat the oil over a low flame in a big pot that you’ll use for your soup and add the garlic. Gently fry for 15-20 minutes, stirring often, until the skins are golden brown but not dark, and the flesh inside is soft. Remove with a slotted spoon, and when cool, squeeze out the garlic, puree, and set aside. Meanwhile, add the chorizo to the pan and fry until crisp and caramelized. Add the thyme, fry for a few seconds, then the pureed garlic. Stir well, add the paprika and finally pour on the chicken stock. Bring to a gentle simmer and check seasoning. About two minutes before serving, poach the eggs in the soup (drop them in carefully and cover the pot with the top). To serve, ladle soup and an egg into a bowl, submerge a piece of bread. Now you should be nice and warm with your soup.

Thursday, January 17, 2008


Abac just got its second Michelin star. I’m not sure if this was before or after I ate there, it was only a couple months ago, October 27 to be exact. I think this was also my first Michelin-rated place to go to, although since I’ve gotten to Spain, I’ve been delving into the world of fine cuisine a whole lot more. Been researching the best restaurants and getting my hands on every tasting menu financially possible, which is not too often. But I’m glad of that, after only a few, I’d say maybe five in about a year and a half, I think I’m going at a good pace. They’re delicious, and it’s always suspenseful to wait and see what the chef puts on your plate, but at the same time if you do it too much they all start to melt together and seem repetitive.
We know their purpose is to dazzle you, to push things to the next level or to a new concept completely, that’s why we go, so our eyes and taste buds can be equally impressed. But there’s only so many times where you can see something typically savory used in a sweet dish and something typically sweet used in a savory dish, and still be awed. I guess the beauty is which ingredients they pick and what combinations they use.
One thing that stands out in my mind is the pea cake for dessert. But now I’m starting at the end, so I’ll come to that later. Let’s start at the beginning.
Of course, everything is pristine, white, and very spacious (for a Spanish restaurant which is normally cramped) and the waiters are dressed in suits. It’s nothing new, but it is clean and definitely doesn’t distract from the food. First of all, they brought out some paper-thin crispy sheets of potato that were golden brown, and a little cup of pork rinds. I guess you could call them ‘fancy pork rinds,’ although I’ve never been the type to go to the store and by me a bag of pork rinds, I did try these, and remember them being light and airy, kind of like a pork puff, if you will. Next up was one of the starters, cockles in some sort of green sauce. I’m sorry to say I don’t love cockles, but it seems to me they like to serve them at these swanky restaurants, because the last tasting menu I did also served them. I ate them, and they were fine, but anywhere I go I’m not going to swoon over them. Next came a yogurty thing with a few pine nuts on top and it didn’t seem like anything special until you got to the bottom and there was a layer of rich, crunchy goodness. Afterwards came a dish that I think was beautifully plated, the colors were really bright, but we agreed that the flavors didn’t work as well as they could have. And I’m very ashamed to admit right now that I didn’t come home immediately afterwards and write this review because I have my pictures but as I’m looking over the menu I can’t find what it is, so I’m going to try my best to describe it: it was some sort of fish or seafood, I remember thinking it was similar to scallops but not them, and it was wrapped in cucumber and had a watermelon sauce, and as the picture shows, garnished with green beans and bits of leaves. I wish the flavors had worked together, but something was missing. Next came what is translated on the menu as “squid packed with salad, ‘pil-pil’ sauce, iced tomato and cherry.” It was like a browned squid stuffed with lettuce and served with an almost ranch-like salad dressing. Dan was extremely impressed with this dish, and I thought it was very good, especially for me not loving squid. The only part that wasn’t amazing and that I didn’t feel I needed to eat the last drop of was the iced tomato and cherry. It was just so-so. Alright, about a year before this dinner, I started to eat foie gras. I still think it’s inhumane and a bit gross (even though many try to persuade me otherwise), but what can I say, if it’s on my tasting menu, I’m not going to turn it down. On the bright side, it is extremely rich and soft and usually melts in your mouth. Everything in moderation, I say. So now came the foie gras. It was wrapped in a transparent leaf of lettuce and served over a bed of pureed corn and a few baby corns. Very good, nothing to complain about here. And I really liked the aesthetics of it, being covered with something, yet still being able to see through to the foie. The next dish might’ve been my favorite of the night, it’s hard to pick, but it’s definitely one of my standards: tuna steak. Abac translates it as “Tuna Fish with Marrakech cumin, suckling pig juice.” They were going through an apparent ‘Asian phase’ at Abac, as many of the dishes had a slight Asian touch, with the tuna being no exception. Giant, perfectly cooked (meaning barely done), slices of tuna fell onto each other, surrounded by a few baby mushrooms, some greens, suckling pig juice, and a crunchy something-or-other to top it off. The shame when I couldn’t finish my beloved tuna; this stuff was rich. I so badly wanted to save some for later because I knew how much I’d be missing it in a few hours time (alright, a little more than a few hours, this was no light meal). The tuna plates left us with a smile on our faces, but not much room in out tummies. Much to our delight, and horror in trying to figure out where this next entrée was going to fit, came out milk fed lamb with vanilla sauce. I’m normally a beef girl, and if you asked me to describe the flavor of lamb, I couldn’t do it, but I know this was extremely tender and tasty. It came out thick and pink, and it was so good I couldn’t stop, even after all my tuna. I got down most of the lamb as well. The sauce was definitely vanilla, Dan thought it was a little heavy on the vanilla side, I liked to get a bit in every other bite. It had a little bok choy on the side, which I never knew I liked until this day. Thank God—the cheese plate. I hate seeing such perfect, different food go to waste. Food that I’ll never prepare for myself they way they do, so it was a bit of a relief to see that the meal was winding down. I loves me cheese. They wheeled out this cart of different cheeses, and I don’t know how else to put it, and I hate to have to use this word, but it was a little cheesey. Let me explain: there were fake leaves scattered about, as if to add something, but it really did just make it look cheap and tacky. I thought this was the place that had the simple and elegant down so well upon first appearances, but this cheese plate did not go with the restaurant. Looks aside, they asked us each which cheese we would like and we got a little slice on a plate. Normally, I’d object to just one cheese, but considering my state of almost extreme-stuffedness, I happily accepted. Almost finally (there’s still one more thing after this) came our dessert: the pea cake. It was like buttery, moist, spongy, pea cakey goodness. Also served with a vanilla sauce. It always makes me happy to see those little tiny seeds from vanilla beans. On top was some sort of macerated fruit, I can’t even remember which, but it all worked. Over the fruit was an egg-shaped scoop of sheep’s milk ice cream, very subtle. It was all sprinkled with these very bright, deep green and red colored crunchy things, I’m not sure what they were and honestly wasn’t a huge fan. They looked like cheap candy to me and I think it would’ve been better looking without them, but they were easily avoided. In the menu this is called ‘Green peas, eucalyptus, and sheep milk,’ so I’m not sure which part was the eucalyptus, but I’d be happy going in there and just getting a pea cake if they’d let me. I’d also like to get that recipe… When we thought it was all said and done, they brought out a little tray of tiny treats. Chocolates on the steps and other little sweets like homemade marshmallows and thin crispy pralines on the bottom. At least they were all small. It’s amazing what you can get down with so much food coming your way. If you go to Abac for a tasting menu, remember to pack an extra stomach, and if you’re not in for that much, get the lamb. And the tuna. And the pea cake. And the foie gras. And some cheese. And those little chocolates at the end.

Monday, January 14, 2008

24/7 Pancakes

There’s this great restaurant in Austin called Magnolia Café, and one of its best qualities is that it’s 24 hours. Another great quality is the food: you can get breakfast anytime (which includes pancakes and migas), Tex-Mex (like enchiladas and queso famously known as ‘Mag Mud’) and also some good basic American stuff (a delicious veggie sandwich to name one). I used to hate breakfast growing up, probably because it came at 7 am before school. Now I love it, especially at anytime of day, and I get my fix with Magnolia’s gingerbread pancakes.

Without my Magnolia here, I tried my hand at a batch of gingerbread pancakes, also because for those Brits, pancakes are more like our crepes. Strangely enough, mine turned out pretty thin, almost like a thick crepe. I found a recipe online that said they were Magnolia’s own, but I found the batter to be a little watery and they were lacking in spice, so I suggest throwing in more flour, more sugar, and more of each spice and you should end up with something very tasty.

Gingerbread Pancakes
From Magnolia Café found on foodnetwork.com

3 eggs
¼ c brown sugar (I suggest at least ½ cup)
1 c buttermilk
½ water (you could cut back on that to make them less runny)
¼ c brewed coffee (I think I cut the water out and made ½ c coffee)
2 ½ all purpose flour
½ tsp baking powder
¼ tsp baking soda
½ salt
1 tsp ground clove
1 Tbsp of each: cinnamon, ginger, and nutmeg
4 Tbsp butter melted

First, mix eggs and brown sugar in a bowl, then add the buttermilk, water (if you’re using water) and coffee, and mix well. In another bowl (or just on top of the wet ingredients), combine flour, baking powder, baking soda, salt, cloves, cinnamon, ginger, and nutmeg. Mix well with the liquid ingredients and stir in some melted butter (if it’s looking a bit runny, cut back on the butter.) If you’re not happy with the consistency, add more flour and brown sugar. Now fire up the grill (hopefully you did this before, even though I didn’t mention it) to medium high heat. I’d say do a little test pancake because I did and found that it was very thin and the spices still didn’t come through, so I put in more of each spice. After this, I tried a second one and they did come out thicker and tastier, so don’t hesitate. I also served with some fried eggs and my greasy stand-by, xistorra. But I think they’d go well with some slightly sweetened crème fraiche or fruit.

Friday, January 11, 2008

My Christmas Challenge

Well, I went home for a few weeks at Christmas and decided to occupy my time, I’d make cakes for people. So I had my mom put up some ads, and asked her to put pictures of cakes from Bon Appetit or something, just to grab attention. I was thinking little cutouts that would go around the text, but my mom really wanted to grab people’s attention. Before I even got home, I had an email requesting the Peppermint Ice Cream Cake that was in the ad….hmmmm. And she wanted it the day after I got home. So thence began my first ice cream cake.

I read the recipe on epicurious.com, and I decided that it wouldn’t be all that difficult; especially if I could find peppermint ice cream already made (if not, I’d have to throw in crushed peppermints and some extract into vanilla). Check one: Blue Bell peppermint ice cream, in a lovely pale pink shade with bits of green and red peppermint candies in it.
Oh and I forgot to mention that the ice cream cake from the ad was only ice cream and cake. So layers of cake and ice cream, then ‘frosted’ with ice cream. That would make it even more difficult, as ice cream melts and isn’t so easy to ice. So I tweaked that part and decided to do a cream cheese frosting. So now the main problem, which ended up being a problem till the end (I’m not sure how it turned out, after I gave it away to its rightful owner/purchaser), was that to keep the ice cream layers from melting, it’s gotta stay in the freezer, but then the cake freezes. And you don’t want to spend too much time spreading the ice cream layers between cake because then it will melt and take that much longer to freeze. Because of this, my ice cream layers weren’t extremely smooth, but I’m not sure if you could tell that in a slice or not.
And I was a little pressed for time; had I had enough time, I would have cut the cake into layers and let cool completely, to minimize ice cream meltage. So, below I have a basic assembly and you can pick cake/frosting recipes you like and mix with ice cream.

Peppermint Ice Cream Cake

1 chocolate cake in a standard loaf size
Peppermint ice cream
Cream cheese frosting (plenty of it)
Peppermint candy to decorate

So first, make your cake according to instructions and when it’s cool enough to cut, cut into three layers. Make sure you let these cool fully. When they’re ready, prepare some sort of pan to put them in with ice cream in the freezer. I put parchment paper on a 9x13 backing dish, then lined it with two layers of cake and quickly cover both with a layer of ice cream. It’s ok if it’s not perfect, you can touch up later. So put that in the freezer until the ice cream has gotten back to its normal state. While you wait, make the cream cheese frosting. Before you take the layers out of the freezer, make sure everything is prepared so you can work fast. I got a tray and parchment paper for the cake. When you take it out, fill in any gaps with more ice cream, then stack the layers so it goes cake, ice cream, cake, ice cream, and cake. Now it’s time to ice. Just spread it all over and make sure you can see any parts of the cake, it’s ok if it goes in a bit at the different layers, my ice cream didn’t line up with the cake. And finally decorate with whatever candies you have. Leave it in the freezer, until about 30 minutes before eating, so the ice cream (and cake) can soften.

Thursday, January 10, 2008

La Michoacana

I remember a few summers ago when I volunteered in a day care for kids whose parents were learning English (read: everyone was Mexican). There was one little boy who wore a shirt one day that said "La Michoacana" and I asked him what it was and he told me that his dad worked there. Follow the natives if you want to find the best food, so later on I looked up the restaurant and found that there were at least seven listed with the same name, I'm still not sure if they're all related. I never went by any, and then one day last summer I was driving on the East side of town and what did I stumble upon but La Michoacana. And I'm so glad I did.

Not so much a restaurant but a Mexican market with a taquería inside and it’s one of the best things there is. In Austin. In Texas. In the world, I don’t know, but it’s good. One of the things I love about it is walking in and the gringo alert goes off and you’re literally the only person in there who doesn’t speak Spanish (natively, that is). The first time we were in there, we drooled over the counter with all the juicy meats and different gorditas (stuffed fried tortilla) and sope (kind of a thick, flat, fried doughy tortilla with a lip so you can pile stuff on top) shells, as well as chile rellenos and soups. Mexican Spanish was flying all over the place, and they sent someone over to translate for us (probably the only person who worked there and spoke English). They way it works is you place your order at the checkout counter and then take your receipt to the taquería counter and you tell them what you want in your gordita, and they’ll pile on high the crema (sour cream), cheese, tomatoes, lettuce, cilantro, whatever you want. There are a few tables behind this counter with rolls of paper towels, definitely necessary.

The second time I went I know exactly what I wanted, because the first time I had been so awe-stricken with the food, I ordered a gordita and a sope (my sope seen below) and couldn’t even touch the gordita. So the next time, I went straight for the gordita al pastor. Al pastor is something you can find at lots of places in Austin, and it’s become one of my favorites. It’s pork cooked in some sort of sauce so it turns out orangey on the outside and they usually serve it with cilantro, white onion, and pineapple. It’s a great combination. Michoacana has everything but the pineapple, and I’m never one to turn down cheese and sour cream, so I had my own version and sometimes I like to look at the pictures and just reminisce about that thick, greasy, fried gorditas stuffed full of al pastory goodness, dripping with rich juice. I should find out how they cook that stuff, but I’m sure it’s with tons of lard.
That’s another plus about La Michoacana: you can find a lot of your obscure, necessary for Mexican cooking groceries. It’s actually a pretty small market on the East side, but they got their stuff, like all kinds of chiles, tortilla presses, all parts of the animal that you probably don’t want, and fridges full of tubs of lard.

The first time we were there, Dan was aching for some menudo, that Mexican soup that uses the cow’s head as its main ingredient, but they only serve it on weekends. When I went back this most recent trip on Saturday, people were getting buckets of it to go. Not that I’d delve into that, but I guess it must be decent if you’re into those less popular animal parts, such as head. What else can I say? Ah yes, the price. Seven bucks for my gordita and my mom’s chicken gordita. And my mom doesn’t like to order chicken out for fear of gnawing on some cartilage or ligament, and she gave Michoacana an A+ in the good chicken department, as well as taste.
One last thing: they have trays full of all different kinds of meat cooked different ways, it’s hard to get an answer out of them what exactly is what, but I’d like to go in there one day and just have a go at all of ‘em. And you can stuff your gordita or sope or tortillas with whatever you want. As we went behind the counter to the table area, I saw a lady stuffing something in banana leaves. Actually stuffing by hand, getting ready to steam (I assume). She’s making the food homemade, right in front of our eyes. Now that’s what I like to see.