Welcome to Mexican Cuisine 101. Today’s lesson: How to Make Authentic Mexican Cooking Popular in Iceland. Case Study: Culiacan restaurant, situated in the strip-mall wastelands of Skeifan.
The testers were, appropriately, two genuine Mexicans, ready to provide expertise on their nation’s favourite dishes. The third was the naïve, I’ve-never-been-to-Mexico-so-don’t-know-what-I’m-talking-about individual, also known as your humble scribe. We ordered a chicken burrito (690 ISK) and tacos (790 ISK) with extra guacamole (100 ISK); quesadillas and salads were also on offer. I avoided the urge to get a side order of nachos. Apparently this is not authentically Mexican and when in Rome…. The time being 1pm, I also decided against ordering a Corona with my meal, although this is certainly a noteworthy addition to the menu.
The first thing I am told about the authenticity of the food is that “this is too healthy to be genuine Mexican.” Apparently some burritos in the real Culiacán, a city in the Pacific coast state of Sinaloa, are fried in grease, and then spread with mayonnaise and fried onions. Surely the restaurant’s healthy focus is actually a good thing.
How to Eat at Culiacan: One: choose your fillings wisely. Apparently tacos with ground beef, and in fact all hard shell tacos, are in fact “gringo food”. Two: everything tastes better with a squirt of fresh lime juice. Culiacan has limes on offer; you just need to ask. Three: the tortillas. Flour tortillas, such as are found in Iceland, are traditionally only used in burritos, a food from Northern Mexico. Tacos should technically be made from corn tortillas, but, since we’re in Iceland, I think we can cut them a bit of slack. There is some mild banter about the fillings, but the general conclusion is positive: “They have the idea. It’s food you can eat with your hands”.
Is there anything missing from what’s on offer here? Tacos and burritos are a big part of everyday Mexican cuisine (fajitas, I am told, are also gringo food). However, stories are gleefully recounted about delicious fried sliced cactus with cheese (grilled cheese cactus??) and roasted spiced crickets, a delicacy of the south. Culiacan does not offer these on their menu, but frankly, I don’t think they’re any worse off.
At the end of this lesson in cookery, my Mexican companions proudly proclaimed Culiacan to be the best Mexican restaurant in Iceland. Buen Provecho!
Faxafen 9, 104 Reykjavík. Open Daily 11:30 – 22:00, Tel. 533 1033