Is there anything better than a Mariachi band? Those smiling men strumming catchy songs on their over sized guitars make for a seriously good time – especially with a couple of Mezcal shots keeping you warm. Yes some might consider Mariachi cheesy, brash and even a little over the top, but sometimes in life we need a bit of light entertainment. What better than sombrero wearing musicians in colourful suits to help break up the sameness of your everyday? Last week I attended a preview dinner for the upcoming Mexican Festival. With all the dancing, bright costumes and tequila tastings we were transported from our usual Wednesday evening to someplace cheerier, warmer and a bit more fun.
This is the fourth year for the Mexican Festival and I must admit I have never got there. With the endless foodie events going on in the city it’s impossible to keep up with them all. But the Mexican Festival is not just about food. Run by the creative folk at Mexfest and AuzMez (the Australian New Zealand & Mexico Chamber of Commerce and Industry) these guys truly want to share a piece of Mexico with Melbourne. It’s all about authenticity and tradition – think spit-roasted pork nestled inside floury tortillas, exuberant dancing with waving skirts and tapping feet and the heavy wooziness of a tequila hangover.
The festival will see some of Melbourne’s best Mexican restaurants offering an authentic dish from one of country’s 32 states. We started our preview evening at Mamasita with margaritas, mezcal tastings and a zingy snapper ceviche with Spanish influences of tomato, olives and red onions. Mezcal is an intensely strong spirit made from the agave plant. We were encouraged to savour the flavours by tasting it in three stages. Firstly, to coat the tongue with it, then to swish it around the mouth and then finally to sip it. I was blown away by the complex smokey flavours that came through on the second swish – definitely one to try again.
After Mamasita, we were joined by our own Mariachi band for the evening who serenaded us as we walked (and while we were on the tram!) to our next stop – Mesa Verde. After a tequila tasting we dove into plates of queso fundido – a Mexican style fondue made with the super stringy oaxaca and local cheeses and topped with cactus, chorizo and caramelised onion. Scooping up strands of melted cheese with crunchy tortilla chips is always going to be fun and was the perfect way to line the stomach for the margaritas ahead.
After a short walk in the rain we came to our third stop, Touche Hombre. Tacos al pastor were presented as colourful spheres of cornflour tortillas topped with spit-roasted pork, charred pineapple, white onion and crisp fried pork rind. This dish was by far the highlight of my night. Perfect flavours melded together with the saltiness of the pork, the sweet and smoky pineapple and the fantastic crunch of the pork rind.
We finished up our Mexican fiesta with a ‘paleta’ from Melbourne Central newbie, Chillbro. Paletas are a Mexican style ice cream on a stick but with typical flavours like salted caramel and dulce de leche they taste very much like your usual ice-cream. Chillbro add some interest by dipping your paleta in chocolate and covering it in your choice of toppings. I couldn’t go past the Snickerone paleta – a mix of Toblerone and Snickers with a layer of chocolate and peanuts in the middle.
Our preview evening of the Mexican festival was a truly fun, colourful and delicious night and gave us a great impression of what this event is all about. As with everything I write about, the highlight is sure to be the food. Look out for restaurants like Mamasita, Touche Hombre and La Tortilleria who will be serving authentic Mexican cuisine. The festival cantina deserves a mention too – opening at 1 pm there will be Mexican beers, mezcal and tequila tastings on offer. Enjoy!
Mission Mexican Festival– Sunday 13 September 2015 – 11.30 am to 8.30 pm – Federation Square