Imagine that you are traveling through Mexico, through an inland region far from the big cities. On your tour of the area, you enter a rural area in the mountains and there, in a village -little more than a handful of houses in a bend of the road-, you will find a bar that serves Galician specialties: a lacón with turnip greens, a good caldeirada de raya or an octopus á feira de manual. Well, that, but the other way around, in what happens in Beariz, a small municipality in the western mountain of Ourense where for a few years there has been a great Mexican cantina. And it is not a rarity: in the region there are many Galician locals who emigrated, returned and missed tacos and chiles.
The thing sounds strange, although there are some elements that make it really make perfect sense: for more than a century the inhabitants of the regions in which the provinces of Ourense and Pontevedra are located used to emigrate to Mexico. While over the decades the villages were emptying, the number of their inhabitants living abroad grew at the same rate. Beariz (Ourense) went from the 3,000 inhabitants it had around 1900 to the barely 950 it has registered today. Meanwhile, 1160 of its registered inhabitants reside in Mexico (and probably a few more who no longer appear in the municipal registry).
In the center of Beariz, in front of the butcher shop, there is a place without a sign: only a couple of tables on the terrace and a black awning indicate that there is a catering business there. When you enter, the decoration makes it clear that this is not just any bar: you are in the premises of Javier and Pablo López; El Mexicano de Beariz. His story begins half a century ago, when Javier's father emigrated to Mexico, where he lived for 40 years. The rest of the family stayed in Galicia, although years later Javier himself would emigrate as well; he spent nearly a decade in Mexico City, where he worked in two cantinas and where his son Pablo was born.
When Pablo was two years old they returned to Beariz, where five years ago father and son inaugurated this place, in the style of a Mexican cantina, informal, with no more pretensions than to feed tasty and with adjusted prices. Javier is in the kitchen and Pablo is in charge of the living room and the terrace: if any place fits the definition of a family business it is this, a small place with just four tables inside and a terrace with two or three more that, in high season, expands if necessary. There we sat on our last visit, behind someone who ate alone and ordered a tortilla soup and some tacos: Beariz style menu of the day.
Plaice ceviche toast: a fish from here with a technique from thereJorge Guitián
"It's a simple kitchen," Javier explains, "but very elaborate. Red sauce, for example, takes two hours to make, just as I learned it there." It shows in the results, quick bites in many cases that, however, have a complexity and a depth of flavor that distances them from substitutes that are so often limited to putting almost anything on a tortilla bought in the supermarket and placing some cilantro on top.
"The menu is not very long and includes the basics," continues the chef, "but every week we have a couple of dishes off the menu." This time he played a plaice ceviche toast with mango. "Do you like spicy?" asks Pablo. "In summer we increase the intensity of the sauces, because that's what customers demand." It catches my eye, so I ask why. "In summer there are many people who leave Mexico and less than 48 hours later they are sitting here, asking for food. In winter we lower it a bit, because the clientele is more local and here there are many people who tolerate spicy less, but there it is, so we do it that way, and the comments of those who come from Mexico are usually very good. "
Then come the fried, another off the menu: one of cochinita, cooked slowly in achiote and citrus, the other of carnitas candied in butter. If you think about it, the latter are not so far from some Galician rixóns (chicharrones), it is logical that they have fit well with the local taste. Chilaquiles and shepherd's tacos finish our command: in other visits we tried tortilla soup, golden tacos, sopes or gringas; All simple, without complications that do not make any need, tasty and with a more than reasonable price. The portions are generous and of contained prices: ordering more than half of the letter we pay about 22 euros per person, maybe if you come up with the tacos you ask for a dessert and repeat michelada, you reach 25 or 27. It's hard to get past there and pretty easy to stay underneath.
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Something that is surprising is how they manage to source from here products that even in larger Galician cities are not always easy to get. "There is a company, Importaciones Prisma, from O Carballiño," says Javier. "They bring most of the products directly from Mexico." The fresh chiles, especially serranos, habaneros and jalapeños, are sent from Valencia by a Mexican couple who a few years ago decided to grow them. "We don't manage to get everything, but we do get most of what we want," they say.
The other Mexicans in the area
It is not an exception in the region: from the neighboring town of Avión, just over 15 kilometers away, there are about 4,000 emigrants, most of them in Mexico, compared to 1,700 people living in the town. That shows: in the festivities of the town, which in summer triples its population with the return of many immigrants, it is not uncommon to find mariachis on the street, charro hats here and there and even a Mexican day. Even the tycoon Carlos Slim spends some seasons there, and considered getting a house in the area.
All this makes the region have a surprising representation of Mexican cuisine. On the side of the mountain range that falls towards Pontevedra is the Meson Mejicano, in Tourón, a town with about 180 neighbors, while on the Ourense slope the names follow one another. The Belmont, in O Carballiño, is considered by many the pioneer of this current. In the same town is El Rincón Azteca, Avión has the Teleclub - Café bar El Mexicano and, closer to the capital of the province is the Mexican restaurant in Brasas, in As Airas.
There are people in these towns who spent years, even decades, in Mexico and long for the cuisine of that country. Some of them learned to cook there, and on their return they opened places designed to feed all those Galicians who lived in Mexico and who at some point returned, perhaps with partners and children born in that country.
Green Chilaquiles from El mexicano de BearizJorge Guitián
In Mexico there are about 15,000 emigrants from the province of Ourense, more than half from this mountainous area. Many return after a few years, but many more, several thousand, frequently accompanied by family and friends, do so every year to spend a few weeks here during the summer. They are responsible for the existence of what we can define as Ourenxican cuisine: Mexican cuisine made in Ourense.
Beariz capital currently has about 100 inhabitants: it is little more than a bend of the road around the town hall, the pharmacy and the bank. The only more or less important road that crosses the area is the N-541, the old national road between Ourense and Pontevedra that today does not have much more than local traffic between the villages of these mountains. When passing the Alto do Paraño you have to turn off and go down about six kilometers until you reach the town. There you only have to park behind the curve and look for the place without a name: if there is a restaurant that responds to that definition applied by the Michelin Guide – although to other types of premises – and that says that a place "deserves the detour" is this.
El Mexicano de Beariz: av. de Merelles, 25. Beariz (Ourense). Phone: 640 225 145. Map.
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