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  • Bettina Applewhite

Corona Chronicles: Trip to Mexico

Updated: Jan 28, 2021

I took a my first trip to Mexico a couple of years ago. Yes, it took me awhile but I was not disappointed. The water was so blue and beautiful in Cancun. I want to go back there! At this point, the closest I can go it with this birria! And tacos made from the meat of the birria.

I made this birria with beef. But I bet it would be even more delicious with lamb. Lamb tacos makes me think of South Philly Barbacoa. It's more than a taco stand. It has some of the best and most authentic tacos I've ever tasted. The chef/owner is Cristina Martinez. She has a wonderful story of how she overcame hardship in Mexico and came to America for a better life for her daughter. (A mother's love and determination is unmatched) She started by making barbacoa on the weekends in her house. It became so popular that she opened a restaurant with her husband. She's been on Ugly Delicious on Netflix and Chef's Table on Netflix as well. If you watch either of these shows, you'll be making plans on how to get there and taste all the passion that she puts into her barbacoa.

I was able to meet Chef Cristina on my first visit to South Philly Barbacoa! It was such an honor to meet someone who's so brave. Hopefully some of her gumption rubbed off on me. It was a quaint restaurant but the food is 5 star.

Me and Chef Cristina Martinez at South Philly Barbacoa

Birria is a slow cooked meat soup with a thin broth called a consomme. My beef birria was slow cooked for hours. I made a homemade beef stock and made an intense sauce to cook the beef by pureeing lots of dried chilies and spices. The soup is garnished with fresh, raw diced onions and chopped cilantro. You'll also need a little spritz of lime. You need the acid to brighten up the dish.

While I was in Mexico I had cactus for the first time. I was nervous about eating it because I couldn't even imagine what it would taste like. I was pleasantly surprised. It was actually refreshing as a cold dish. South Philly Barbacoa serves it as a condiment for their tacos. It wasn't that hard to find jarred napoles (Spanish word for cactus) in grocery stores and some speciality markets even had fresh cactus leaves so you can make it from scratch. The recipes I found on Pinterest didn't look to be that difficult. Maybe I'll try cooking the napoles from scratch next time. I can say that I'm glad that I tried something new because I found something that I really liked. So before you say "ewww, no way", try it. It could be a new favorite or at least you would know for sure how you feel about it.

I was really feeling like some Mexican flavors and trying out my hand at a cactus salad. So I made birria, tacos from the meat of the flavorful soup, cactus salad, and bought some salsa and salsa verde. What I was missing was my yummy guacamole dip that would have made this platter from really nice to epic! I'll remember that for next time. The other part to these dishes that make this a great menu for a party is that it actually a great make-ahead menu. Everyone knows that soup tastes better the next day anyway. Even the cactus salad is better the next day. So for the day of the party, all you have to do is dice your onions and cilantro for the birria and make your margaritas.

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