It's... Cinco de Mayo! | Warsaw Insider
Warsaw Insider
Mexcellent! Fronting Dos Tacos since its inception, few chefs have done more to popularize Mexican cuisine than Isabel Balderas… WI: How has Poland’s Mexican... It’s… Cinco de Mayo!

On the occasion of Cinco de Mayo, the Insider speaks to three of its favored sources for Mexican-themed food...

It’s… Cinco de Mayo! It’s… Cinco de Mayo!

Fronting Dos Tacos since its inception, few chefs have done more to popularize Mexican cuisine than Isabel Balderas…

WI: How has Poland’s Mexican scene changed in your thirteen years here?
IB: Ooh, a lot. Back then, people were rarely interested in authentic. In fact, they were rarely interested in Mexican food – they just assumed it was super hot so tended to avoid it. Things have really opened up though, and I think the internet and global travel have helped Poles appreciate the cuisine more. I think nowadays they prefer their food hotter than I do!

How hard is it to find authentic ingredients?
Each year you find more and more products. When I arrived here, you couldn’t even find 100% corn tortillas.

Any dishes you simply can’t make due to missing ingredients?
Yeah – there’s some really exotic fruits we have back in Mexico that I doubt have ever even been seen in Poland: I’d love to use mamey for ice cream or the kind of capulin cherries that my parents have growing on their Hacienda tree. Then there’s tejocote –
a type of hawthorn – that’s essential for Christmas ponche.

You must have seen some nightmarish impersonations of Mexican food?
I remember seeing ‘Mexican pierogi’ once, not to mention Pozole soup without corn. For the last eight-years I’ve been involved in leading cookery workshops, and I’m really proud that I’ve helped share my knowledge and guide people towards more authentic flavors and cooking techniques.

What’s the secret to great Mexican food?
For centuries, it’s all been about the corn, beans and chili. Those are the foundations of an authentic meal – a simple bean taco with the right salsa is enough to live the Mexican experience.

What is the magic of Mexican food!
It’s all about the flavors and colors, but… to really feel the magic then you need to visit Mexico itself. Eating your favorite dish under a palm on a beach with the Caribbean in front – now that’s magic!

Dos Tacos
ul. Jasna 22, website
The bright, bold tastes of Mexico manifest themselves best in the al pastor tacos of chef Isabel Balderas – they’re nothing less than perfect.
Insider Tip: reckless thrill seekers take note – the salsa clandestinas will send volts of electricity coursing through your body.

The Taco Hero! 
Previously recognized as the creator of “London’s Best Taco”, we catch up with Brit chef Gareth Rowntree of Koko & Roy Deli

WI: A Brit cooking Mexican in Poland – how do you begin to explain that?
GR: Previously I was the Head Chef and co-owner of Cartel, a taco and tequila bar in London. That’s when I met my Polish girlfriend. As time went on, she became pregnant so I suggested that we move to Warsaw to be closer to her family. We were only meant to be out here for a year, but that’s already become two.

In 2017 you won the title of “London’s Best Taco”. How did you get it so right?
When we opened Cartel we wanted the kitchen to focus solely on tacos. There were already a couple of brilliant places in London, but none made those beautiful hand-pressed tortillas. I started reading about the various processes and putting them into practice. That was it! One night a Michelin-starred Mexican chef came in for dinner and told me the food was 95% perfect – that was when I knew I was doing something right!

What is the perfect taco…
For me, a great taco begins with the tortilla. A freshly prepared tortilla – when done properly – has the most beautiful flavor which can naturally make for the most amazing taco. Fresh and well-balanced ingredients top the whole thing off with vibrant colors and a touch of acidity.

Any favorites on the taco front?
I’m a huge fan of the baja taco because I love fish – the texture, colors and flavors are just incredible in this taco. Personally, I also make sure I’ve got plenty of freshly chopped coriander on hand, chipotle mayo and maybe a little salsa arbol for a bit of extra kick.

Any tips for us amateur chefs at home…
Get your tortillas from me! Aside from that, if you’re really keen, the best advice I can give to home chefs is to buy a tortilla press and start making your own – the difference is unbelievable and it’ll blow your friends away. Other than that, just cook with love and attention!

Koko & Roy Deli
One of the good things to come from Covid? The creation of this online service. Find high-quality, elevated comfort food including ready prepared meals by Gareth. It’s mostly stuff you’ll already know how to cook, the difference is that this reaches a level that’s of scintillating standard.
Insider Tip: there’s so much more than Mexican, but for a taco night to remember order G.’s signature tortillas and banging chicken tinga!

Si Señor!
From modest beginnings as an out-of-town food truck, Senor Lucas have got Warsaw buzzing with their magnificent take on street food staples…

WI: Why do you love Mexican food!
SL: The thing about Mexican is that it’s perfectly balanced: there’s something so special about the Mexican mix of flavors and textures – the sweetness and softness of the tortilla, the salty, juicy meat, the crunchy onion, the acidity of the lime and then that unique herbal tone from the cilantro. Add some spicy salsa and you have a real party in your mouth!

Your beef barabacoa is really quite something – is there a secret?
Certified meat! We searched high and low to find the right meat provider, and finally we’re really happy. Premium meat is essential!

You began as a food truck in the village of Zalesie Górne. That’s not really a Mexican hotbed, is it?
We’d worked the traveling food truck circuit for a year, and if I’m honest we didn’t really enjoy it. Then the pandemic happened and all events were cancelled. We decided to just park up in a quiet area and see if people noticed us – they did. Weekends, especially, proved overwhelming. We chose Zalesie Górne for no other reason than that is where we live. We’re currently working on a very cool garden which promises to be brilliant in the summer.

Back to food – your tortillas taste absolutely unique…
We make the wheat tortillas ourselves – it’s a hell of a hassle. We did consider just finding packaged ones, but we couldn’t disappoint people like that – so, they stayed! And look out: we’ve got corn tortillas on their way as well.

Do you have a hero ingredient?
Yes, the salsas. Most taco fillings in Mexico (with the exception of al pastor and some other regional meats) are plain, unseasoned meats, so they don’t really vary that much from stand-to-stand. What makes a taco stand great is their salsa. Your tacos are only as good as your salsa.

Señor Lucas
ul. Hoża 41 (enter from Poznańska 16), ul. Pionierów 11/13 (Zalesie Górne)
Submerged down one of those cramped, little walk-down units on ul. Poznańska, the tiny proportions of Senor Lucas (one table and a counter to lean on) and basic aesthetics (a blackboard and some crates) belie a standard that sits there with the best.
Insider Tip: the rolled beef barabacoa quesadilla is essential!

(Photos of Koko & Roy Deli by Natalia Poniatowska / NPA Photography)

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