What can I say, I love corn chips. Blue corn, yellow corn, cheesy, spicy, in nachos, on my sandwich (do it!) and on their own with a bowl of guacamole, I love them all.
So I jumped at the chance to speak to Mexico City Foods owner Diana Garcia about what it takes to go from corn to corn chip.
See how it's done...
A corny love story begins...
Before Mexico City Foods, Garcia worked in banks for over 20 years. When she arrived in Australia from Mexico nine years ago, she struggled a little bit finding authentic Mexican food. "I had this crazy idea to start a business based around Mexican tortillas – tortillas are the basis of Mexican cuisine and such a great part of our diet and I eat them every day," Garcia says. "I convinced my partner and I really wanted to show what authentic Mexican food really is about.
“I went to this Tex-Mex restaurant and I wanted to see how they were serving tortillas. So I ordered their soft tortillas and they were serving them with BBQ sauce and with tomato sauce and mayo. I almost died. What is hard is that so many people are trying to do Mexican but it’s just not there.”
“From start to finish, all you have is corn.”
Mexican food in Australia - does it even compare?
"When I first came to Australia, I could see Mexican food had a place here - supermarkets already had dedicated sections, so there was already a demand. However, for the most part, it was taco shells and a very Tex-Mex-style of food. The salsas were a little bit sweeter and some ingredients such as cumin were used in everything. My early Mexican food experiences here were very different from that of home. We don’t have taco shells, we have soft tacos and our tacos shells are flat tacos - tostadas."
When Diana first came to Australia she was asked all the time about Mexican food. Was this Mexican food? What did she eat back home? "It was really hard for me to explain what a soft taco should be. How the tortilla has to be warm, it has to be melt-in-your-mouth and blend beautifully with all the flavours that you put into it. There was virtually nothing like this in the market nine years ago when I came and that's what I wanted to bring to the table - something you could eat in Mexico but around the corner here in Australia."
No taco shells in Mexico?
"This one will disappoint everybody in Australia... and this is a question I had when I first came to Australia. In Mexico we don’t eat taco shells, that really doesn’t exist. We eat a flat tostada, that’s the most similar thing to a taco shell. We eat it flat -you top it with a mountain of ingredients and when you eat it, it doesn’t break. if it’s flat, it doesn’t break. A taco shell when you bite it once, twice – it breaks! In Mexico, we don’t really understand the concept around the taco shell - that’s more Tex-Mex" says Garcia.
It's just corn, right?
Mexico City Foods is said to be the first company to do the nixtamal method here in Australia and while the company started in 1978, Diana Garcia and her husband bought it in 2015 with the hope of being able to share an educate others about what Mexican food is really about. Mexico City Foods uses Australian corn, grown locally in Newcastle, "We use a white corn and we blend it with other corns, like yellow, to balance it and give it the right taste and texture," says Garcia.
Garcia explains that the corn in Mexico is mostly white and it gets it’s yellowish colour when cooked in a stone lime solution. She also shares that white corn here in Australia tastes a little softer so what they do is blend it to get the right flavour balance and texture as close to the Mexican version as they possibly can. "What you want is the corn to explode in your mouth as you eat your taco."
This nixtamilisation process originated with the Aztecs, and nixtamal is the word used to describe the cooking and soaking of the corn. "We cook our corn in an alkaline stone lime solution so that’s a natural ingredient that comes from the stone. So we cook the corn and it rests overnight in this solution. The next day we wash it and then we grind it using volcanic stones (metate)." That’s what nixtamal process is – this process of making things from scratch. When you do your masa (dough) from scratch that makes such a difference and this process enhances the taste and nutritional value of the corn as it increases the calcium, iron and zinc levels." From there, the masa is then pressed and cut into shapes before it goes from cooking to packaging all in one simple production line.
Now we cook!
The first cook is oven-baked. The chips then move through the oven on a tray that flips them several times to seal them and ensure a more even cooking process. Then they move between the oven to the fryer. During this time it’s very important that the corn chips dry before they go into the fryer – otherwise, they'll end up soggy and lose their crunch. "We don’t deep-fry our chips, we lightly-fry them to give them that crunch without being oily." Garcia also discusses the health benefits of using corn, "Remember that corn is naturally gluten-free and from start to finish, all you should have is corn – cooked the Mexican-way.”
Whether you are at home or at a restaurant, beans and chips live together. "They're always presented together and that’s the way we eat our chips. And of course, we love our guacamole," Garcia says. "It’s a very special thing and we eat avocado and guacamole with everything!"
What is your stance on pea guacamole – yay or nay?
"Made with peas? Instead of avocado? I haven’t really come across this. I do believe you can eat corn chips with anything, I eat mine with hummus, but that’s also because I eat tortilla chips with everything. As for pea guacamole, it’s not a typically Mexican thing and I wouldn’t call it guacamole, because I expect purely avocado when I hear the word guacamole, but you can dip your chips with everything."
The breakfast of champions...
Chilaquiles is a popular breakfast dish and is "the perfect hangover cure," according to Garcia. You serve tortilla chips with lots of spicy red or green salsa, cheese, cream and any protein you like - chicken or eggs. Get our breakfast recipe for chilaquiles rojos - tomato and chipotle bated corn chips with fried eggs!
To find out more about Diana Garcia and Mexico City Foods check out their page right here.
Top intergalactic blue corn chips with spiced black beans. Dab with soothingly cold crème fraîche and avocado, and drizzle with your favourite hot sauce (try Frank’s RedHot sauce or Sriracha).
We eat taco salad at our house at least once a week. Its mixture of textures, flavours, and temperatures are so satisfying, and it doesn’t take much effort to prepare. It makes for a good party food or a ‘it’s really late at night and we have no ingredients’ kind of meal. Like making regular tacos, you can really add or subtract whichever ingredients you like - so you could easily switch out the lentils for beans, or add hot peppers if you want it to be spicier.
Black bean soup is a classic for a reason. It’s comforting, hearty and one of the most versatile soups you will ever come across. You can add your favourite vegetables and herbs and spices to complement and liven up the earthy nature of this soup. This version uses bacon and ham hock to develop a really solid base and is served with pumpkin (winter squash) and goat’s cheese crema for sweetness and balance.