From Humble to Haute

In Mexico City, incredible tacos, tortas and tamales abound on every street corner. Now, these simple favourites are popping up at the city’s finest restaurants 

In the pink-hued gloom of Dulce Patria’s dining room, my steak arrives borne by a white-shirted waiter. The meat is grilled in the arrachera style, cooked just-medium and deftly seasoned with garlic, thyme and rosemary. It’s thinly sliced, topped with a delicate nest of crispy fried onions and served alongside a tamale, a steamed bundle of corn meal and black beans wrapped in a banana leaf. With great ceremony, the waiter works with a fork and spoon to remove the wrapper and deposit its contents onto my plate. It’s an awkward process, like watching a robot attempt to tie a pair of sneakers, and his careful efforts result in the tamale landing with a wet thud on the white tablecloth in front of me. The waiter apologizes profusely, absconding to the kitchen to summon a replacement tamale.

Mexico City is a place whose culinary identity is inextricably bound to street food, the ubiquitous mobile kitchens hawking tacos, tortas and tamales on every street corner, and Dulce Patria is one of several top restaurants that have endeavoured to elevate these simple dishes to the realm of haute cuisine. The basic formula is the same as you’d find outside any metro station, but the ingredients, methods, and of course, price, are entirely befitting of a fine dining establishment. When the new Dulce Patria tamale emerges from the kitchen and is successfully unwrapped on my plate, it is superb. The cornmeal is buttery and pillow-soft, the beans delicately spiced and bearing a faint trace of smoky roasted chiles. Street food has made the transition to white-linen establishments, but it’s not without the occasional logistical hiccup.

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