Today I was invited down to “Cacao”, a Latin American restaurant in Kits. We were here to get a first hand look at their new salsa line through an interactive cooking demonstration. I have never been to the restaurant, so thought this would also serve as a great introduction to it.
Here, we would meet Marcela one of the house chefs, who serves her traditional Mexican cuisine every Thursday night. Her credentials include her own cooking show, radio show, and books in Mexico. In Vancouver she is a mother of 4, launching her own salsa line with her daughters. It was her recipes and they took care of the packaging and marketing. Marcela found a need for her product given the abundance of tex mex in Vancouver. She simply wanted to offer real, traditional, Mexican salsa. And today, I would learn to tell the difference between it and Americanized Mexican cuisine.
Marcela was a sunny person, happy and welcoming in her deep purple and fuchsia chef’s coat, with colourful embroidery. She was patience in explaining to us what we were having, spelling out their proper Mexican names for this blog. She took the time to teach us about a few of her traditional Mexican kitchen utensils, including the carved wooden chocolate milk muddler pictured above. We also learned about chilli, how to buy them and how their name varies based on it being green on the plant, or dried and red.
Our night began with some “Tepache”, a traditional Mexican drink made from fermenting pineapple skin in water and sugar. It is comparable to kombucha in taste. Great for hot weather and best mixed with sparkling, like how we enjoyed it was today.
To snack on we had “totopo”, the Mexican word for chips. These are made by deep frying tortillas. They don’t make there own tortilla here, but do cut up, fry up, and season what they get from local “Chancho Tortilla”. Marcela declared theirs the best and most authentic tortilla that a Vancouverite can get. And true enough, these tortilla chips were amazing. This snack had the whole room going back for chip after chip. Their thick crunch and salty coating, the perfect vessel to scoop up fresh made guacamole salsa. Salsa prepared using one of Marcela’s bottled ones below. Together this was so good that I inquired about purchasing a bag of “totopo” to take home. However, they don’t offer them by the bag, making them a good reason to return.
Next we had some “Gorditas”, doughy circles that were cut down the middle and stuffed with a creamy avocado spread. The table loved these too. I liked the texture that sprung back after you took a bite, but I found it was lacking in flavour, especially compared to the “totopos” above. It reminded me of a mild corn, but made into dough and baked.
When the demo began we were invited around Marcela’s makeshift cooking station. She had her three bottles of salsa on display and all the fresh and dried ingredients she would need to prepare a full meal with them. She began by explaining to us that salsa isn’t just for dipping. And that when you purchase one of her salsas you get a snack and a meal helper all in one. Each is all natural and keeps for two months in the fridge, once opened.
She would show us 4 quick and easy recipes that you could prepare at home, yourself. But first prefaced the demonstration, explaining that in her cooking and for her recipes nothing is exact, it depends on the day, time, and mood.
First was an oven baked fish. BC red snapper prepared with lemon, salt, and her “Papa Carlos’ salsa”. Each of her three salsas are named after the family member who taught her the recipe. This was her grandfather’s recipe that her family used as an emergency mealtime solution. This pickled salsa is great with any seafood. You top your first with it generously, wrapping it all up in tinfoil, then allowing it time to bake in the oven. The result, a juicy fish made spicy with the vegetable mix. I could have used more salsa to enjoy with each bite of fish. But be warned, it is on the spicier side.
Next was a Mexican fried rice prepared with her green “Tio Emilio” salsa. She added oil to a hot pan and to it fried onions and poblano chilli. Next went in garlic, corn kernels and her uncle’s sauce, jalapeño, garlic, water, salt, oil, and fresh cilantro. When simmering you add in half a cup of salsa and half a cup of water, with one cup of rice. Stir, add salt, and reduce heat. I really enjoyed the rice and thought it was a clever way to use salsa that I could myself copying in the future.
All “Salsas by Marcela” can be utilized hot or cold. The green sauce was also great as a salad dressing. It was tasty with mixed greens, sunflower seeds, and tomato.
Next Marcela showed us how to make her favourite enchiladas using the red “Mama Luchita” salsa. You start with oil in your pan and to it add in her mother’s smokey sauce. With a bit of water, allow it to boil, before submerging a tortilla. Once fully coated, plate said tortilla, fill with feta, fold over, and top with more sauce from the pan. Once again these tortillas came from “Chancho Tortilla”. When trying it, you definitely got the two types of chilli smoked and cooked in oil that went into the bottled salsa.
Our meal ended with a dessert that embodied “Cacao“ and the Latin American food prepared traditionally, with original flavours, in an European style that they specialize in. These are “Borrachitos”, Mexican sweets known as “men drunk”. Sweet jelly candies made with corn starch, sprinkled with sugar and filled with alcohol; hence the name. They are normally either red, yellow, or green. But tonight’s rendition was dyed purple by the violet flowers they used. You don’t taste the flower, more the punchy tequila that hides with. I really liked them and wished we had more. One to try, and the second to really enjoy and taste.
If you want to try Marcela’s authentic Mexican cuisine for yourself, and not just bring a bit of her into your kitchen, visit “Cacao” on Thursday evenings to enjoy a five course meal that includes dessert. Marcela herself, made sure to note that you will get to try many different types of Mexican food, that it isn’t just tacos. And every two weeks they change up the entire menu, but mole (a chocolate based sauce) is always included.
“Salsa by Marcela” is currently only available at local health food store, “Fresh is Best”. Grab and jar and get more recipe inspiration from their Instagram @SalsaByMarcela.
Given my teaser of “Cacao”, I would love to come back and try more of their menu. I don’t recall the last time I had traditional Latin American cuisine. Don’t deny your cravings.