Chef Fernando Reyes Barba, born in Mexico City, spent 18 years in the US before alighting in Bangkok at the end of 2012. He stands in his small open kitchen and runs me through some of the menu options at Senor Pico, a restaurant with its focus on fiesta as much as the food.
“I make three styles here – Tex-Mex, Cal-Mex and Mexican,” he says, explaining some of the differences. “Americans want big portions and plenty of cheese and other ingredients in their burritos, including rice, beans, meat and sour cream. In Mexico it’s farmers’ food, made using leftovers. And Mexican ceviche is raw. Americans want it fully cooked.”
Fernando is about to show me how to prepare Mexican ceviche, in Ceviche de Atun y Huachinango (citrusmarinated tuna and red snapper, B395). “In Mexican versions there are different marinades,” the chef says. In this case I’m using fresh lemon juice, but some people use tomato, coconut milk, or [the carbonated drink] Orange Crush, which actually tastes pretty good. Especially with shrimp.”
Fernando, in a white chef’s tunic with his name and the image of a gaucho stitched on the breast, checks over the ingredients – bell peppers, onions, fresh coriander, jalapeno and fish – all fine chopped and laid out in bowls. He mixes them together with lemon juice, tops with shredded cucumber, and seasons with salt and pepper to taste.
“You can use any seafood,” he says. “My mother would make this the day before to fully cook in the lemon juice, because you wouldn’t be as sure about the freshness of the fish. When you have the quality of fish we use here, that’s not necessary. Before serving I let it stand for five minutes for the cooking process to begin, so you can see the tuna flesh start to turn from a red colour to grey.
“If I make this for Mexicans I will put more jalapenos and lime juice; Spanish guys like a lot of coriander. If you want to use tomatoes it’s OK, but I recommend you take out the seeds.”
As it rests, Fernando cooks the tortilla chips, which are made locally by a Mexican guy: “He uses white corn flour from Mexico, which is why I like them.” On eating, the ceviche has that short telltale pinch of jalapenos, which only burns the lips and tongue briefly, and there’s a lot of coriander to back up the zesty lemon.
It’s ideal party food, good for sharing to the sounds of the Mexican Band, Maria Cafe, when diners might leave the table to dance a little mambo or salsa. “It’s the kind of dish you’ll find in places like Acapulco and Cancun, sold from a cart in the street, the same as here in Thailand,” Fernando says. “The Mexicans who work in Bangkok are very happy.”
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