Do you remember the scene in Shirley Valentine when Shirley decides she’s had enough with routine and feeds that night’s steak to the dog. I’ll never forget the line from husband, Joe:
“I like chips and egg on a Tuesday. Today is Thursday. Where’s me steak?”
Why will I never forget that line? Because it reminds me so much of when I was growing up with my British parents. Sunday was roast beef night. Monday night it was shepherd’s pie. Wednesday was pork liver (because it was the dog’s favorite food). And Friday wasn’t Friday without fish and chips.
It took me a while to break that monotony. And I still get an occasional hankerin’ for fish and chips on Fridays.
In time though, as I became more excited about food, my palate (and my waist) expanded. I sought every cuisine from every corner of the world (there’s a fifth one if you’re a real food fanatic). I began scouring menus seeking out any dish I’d never had before. After my culinary passport had run out of pages to be stamped, I began to seek out regional variations.
I thought my journey for all things scrumptious might be nearing an end. Until last week. Last week I discovered Salsabor Deli Prehispanico.
Alfonso López de Anda, chef/owner of Salsabor calls the cuisine comida contemporania con espiritu indigena. I would call it Oaxacan with a large bow to the food that was eaten in Mexico prior to the arrival of the European conquerers and little nods to Italy and some of Mexico’s other regional cuisines. I would also call the cuisine unique and, to my palate, that makes it very special.
Salsabor is quite a handsome place in a casual sort of way. Chef Alfonso is quite a handsome man in a more formal sort of way. He comes from the Johnny Cash school of dressing. He has what Bob Dylan called cowboy eyes. His facial hair gives him a creative air, makes him look a little edgy. Ear jewelry adds to the edge.
Alfonso López de Anda has an obvious devotion to Mexican cuisine. He seems to welcome the challenges of its complexity. He doesn’t just practice his craft, he promotes it. Giving us a history lesson of the individual ingredients. Explaining the intricacies of blending them together.
Chef Alfonso told me, “I put chile in almost everything. It is the glue in Oaxacan cuisine. It holds everything else together. It’s not about the individual taste of the spice. It’s what it brings out of the rest of the ingredients.”
Our server, Eleanor Stevens, the very definition of prim, proper, polite, pleasant and proficient, brought corn chips and a cruet of three different salsas to the table. Eleanor appears to cherish the opportunity to learn from Chef Alfonso and share that knowledge with Salsabor diners.
She patiently listed the ingredients of each sauce. She told us which one to fear if we were afraid of a bit too much bite. And she recommended the one with chunks of vegetables and a generous squeeze of citrus.
Eleanor also brought a sample dish of Salsabor’s black mole for us to taste and enlisted Chef Alfonso’s help for the history of the dish.
“My grandmother was Zapotec (the indigenous people of Oaxaca). This is her recipe”, said Alfonso. “My grandma used lard in her mole. I use vegetables. There are over 40 ingredients. The secret is to make it not too salty, not too sweet, not too spicy.”
Bill Heublein declared, “The mole’s wonderful. The best I’ve ever had.”
Next came a soup combining chile poblano, corn, zucchini and epazote. It was hard to believe that something as creamy could be lactose free. The spice level was ideal. The blue enamel spoons were almost as big a hit as the soup.
Turkey was one of the very few meats available to the Aztecs and the only animal that was domesticated. The turkey came to the table in the form of a chorizo combined with alfalfa sprouts, guacamole and a local queso ranchero in an edible basket sculpted out of corn.
Chef Alfonso called the next course an “Afro-Oaxacan dish”. Estofado campesino is a slow cooked leg of pork in a hearty sauce with over 20 different vegetables and wild herbs. One of the ingredients is chepil, the tall flowering plant native to Mexico that, in the 16th Century, was traded in the giant market that the Spanish conquistadors were so impressed by in Mexico City.
Salsabor has a takeout menu that includes this pork stew. It’s more than a bargain at 250 pesos a litre, enough to feed four very hungry people.
One of the main reasons I was looking forward to eating at Salsabor was tyaludas. Commonly called the Mexican pizza, they’re, unfortunately, uncommon in San Miguel de Allende. The only other place I know that makes them is at Luna, the rooftop tapas bar at Hotel Rosewood.
Though the giant tortilla crust of a tyaluda may not rival an Italian thin crust in taste, it does in texture. While Alfonso toasted the corn tortilla on a comal, he sauteed marinated skirt steak.
The arrachera was placed on top of an Oaxacan black bean sauce, the Oaxacan cheese known in that state as quesillo, chopped lettuce and tomato. I always think someone in this town could separate themselves from the crowd by offering delivery of tyaludas as an alternative to pizza. Maybe it’s Salsabor.
I wrote a blog about ice cream recently resulting in emails from three different readers who insisted I try the biznaga cactus at Salsabor before I declare any ice cream in this town the best. They were right. It is very good.
Biznaga is that barrel cactus that’s very popular as a houseplant but almost extinct in the wild. Chef Alfonso has a source but only seasonally. The pulp from the cactus is boiled down with sugar to make a candy that’s combined with coconut, raisins and nuts in the ice cream.
The dessert uses coconut for its cream and it is definitely the best lactose-free ice cream I’ve ever had.
Salsabor opened its doors in Colonia Guadalupe about a year and a half ago. Around the beginning of this year, it moved up to Centro and, though it’s on a quiet street with little chance of walk-in traffic, it is a pleasant six-block walk from the middle of town.
The kitchen is wide open and Alfonso López de Anda doesn’t shy away from a little welcomed show biz. He’s also especially good at interaction with diners. His mother and grandmother get repeated plaudits for sharing the history and teaching him the art of Mexican cuisine. Though almost every dish has a contemporary flair, it is almost always steeped somewhere in tradition.
There are about 20 dishes on the Salsabor Deli Prehispanico menu. I don’t think you’ll find even half of them on any other San Miguel menu. Some of them not on any menu anywhere. A change is as good as a rest they say. I say this change is about as good as it gets.
Salsabor Deli Prehispanico Is located at Callejón del Palmar #13 in San Miguel de Allende, Mexico. The restaurant is open from Noon to 8:00 pm, Wednesday to Sunday.