Mexican cuisine is often cheapened down to the vision of store-bought tortilla wraps, hard-shell tacos with sour cream and cheese, and giant indulgent burritos. This understanding of Central American food would have locals cringing, and it seems that many Australians are still trying to pinpoint what authentic Mexican food really looks like.
Where's the sour cream?
Gerardo Mancip, a native of Mexico’s central-southern city of Puebla, understands the pain. He’s been part of Sydney’s food scene for decades, and currently runs Calaveras Mexican Cantina in Newtown. He’s a loud voice for the authentic Mexican movement in Sydney, with the vision of correcting the perception of Mexico, one food district at a time.
“Australian customers are so used to having cheese and sour cream on their food, they’ll go into an authentic restaurant and wonder where their favourite toppings are,” he says.
Roca Mexican Cantina is Mancip’s current project. It bridges authentic Mexican cuisine and the Tex Mex import that we’re used to. The menu stays incredibly faithful to Poblano cuisine, which originates in his hometown, Puebla, south of Mexico City.
And the cheese?
Let's begin with the queso fundido – it’s cheese fondue in a decorative clay pot, with chorizo marinated in chipotle, garlic, and a number of different salsas to give it that extra zest.
All up, there are six traditional corn-based tacos to choose from, with palate-cleansing marriages of fruit, vegetable and meat, such as the Don Pastor, featuring guajillo pulled pork, pineapple, onion and chipotle sauce; or the Del Mar, a fish goujon (strips of crisp, fried fish) with pico salsa, slaw and chipotle sauce.
Ceviche is made in distinctly different ways around Latin America. While other countries keep the fish raw, in Puebla, fish is cooked and cured in lime juice. Here, it’s served with tajin (chilli and lime seasoning) and pico de gallo (special salsa). This makes for another great starter.
The quesadilla needs a mention. “In Puebla, quesadillas are often found being sold on street corners by Indigenous people,” says Mancip. “It’s a street food.” Roca offers both spicy chicken and grilled veggie options, both with salsa verde, slaw and homemade sauces.
Central Americans are not massive wheat consumers. In fact, Roca’s whole menu can be enjoyed without eating gluten. “Back home we rarely use wheat, because of how much corn is used. We do offer wheat tortillas for some dishes, but this is easily replaced with corn.”
The interior, like the food flavours, is lively. About 50 skulls, hand-painted by Indigenous Mexicans from Cholula, just outside Puebla, adorn the walls in fearless Day of the Dead-style. “The restaurant showcases a mockery of death that is very unique to Mexico,” says Mancip.
31 Alfreda Street, Coogee, NSW
Daily 6pm until late
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