The Star (Nairobi)

29 November 2012

Kenya: Mexican Tequila and Food Festival in Nairobi

I'm not sure why but I've always imagined Mexican food to be full of hot but sweet chilli pepper - food so rich and so mouthwatering as to inspire a person dining on it to write furtively home about it.

That said, and as a self-confessed lover of all things pepper, I must admit to being slightly disappointed at what was offered during the launch of the Mexican Tequila and Food Festival.

The chilli pork, cochinita pibil and the tinga (beef in red sauce) though delicious was not at all what I expected in as far as pepper quotient is concerned.

Incidentally and though I'm usually averse to plain white rice, the most delicious thing on the menu was pea rice with its perfect firm-to-the bite, not-at-all-wrinkled peas and a hint of olive oil and salt in the rice.

I expected the Mexican Red Rice to taste as spicy as it sounds but this too was a bit of a let down - I had the urge to split a bunch of hot red hot peppers in half and toss them in the red rice which nonetheless looked appetising with its orange tinge.

The tequilas, about 30 brands brought in from Mexico, looked more promising . Apparently, as far as authenticity goes, tequila should be made in Mexico but can be bottled elsewhere.

Tequila is a distilled alcoholic drink made from the agave plant and thus those bottles which boast at least 51 per cent in agave content on their label can be taken to be legit.

Many brands made in Mexico are 100 per cent agave. The brand names of these bottles brought from Mexico all had appealing, roll-of-your-tongue pronunciations.

There was Milagro, Tekali, Jacarandoso and Jose Cuervo among many others. Some of these tequilas were priced for as little as $13 (Sh1,105) while others fetched $120 (Sh10,200) per bottle.

Of the thirty brands, I only sampled two - 1800 Tequila Anejo and the lemon-flavoured Milagro. The first tasted smoother, "a real kiss of love," remarked Jose Briseño of the Embassy of Mexico - it was definitely not as harsh in taste compared to the locally bought tequila brands available in the Kenyan market.

On the other hand, the lemon-flavoured Milagro, though not as smooth as the 1800, was still delicate in its flavour but I nonetheless had the urge to have it in a cocktail form. Sadly, only about a handful of the guests (those nearest to Briseño during his presentation) got to try out the tequilas.

The mixologist Eli didn't seem like he had a very high opinion of members of the fourth estate as he was quite the sour puss with a stinky attitude when guests flocked to the bar after the presentation; quite unlike his more pleasant self during Jazz Night at Ole Sereni, now postponed until the end of the tequila and food festival tomorrow.

Back to the food, the pork, cochinita pibil, which I'm told had chilli was not chilly enough for me but was quite delicious nonetheless - soft to the bite and not fatty in that way that would make you want to gag at that sticky-fatty feeling that sometimes comes after chewing on really fatty pork.

The garlic shrimp flambéd in tequila sounded good on paper but could have been a bit more crispier to take away some of that fresh-from-the-sea quality preferred by many a sushi lover.

This was made up for by the plantano macho tortitas which was very sweet and which I actually preferred to the usual store-bought tortitas found in Kenyan supermarkets.

The puebla mole chicken was rather interesting for those keen on unusual flavour-combinations as it is coated with a thick layer of chocolate and sprinkled with sesame seeds.

I enjoyed the desert fruits laced with tequila - they were rather refreshing especially the kiwi fruit which is absolutely delicious when chilled.

For Sh2,950 per head, the Mexican Food and Tequila Festival which ends tomorrow is an interesting affair for those into mildly-flavoured but still tasty food.

According to Briseño, there are many ways to take tequila - with lime, salt and right off the belly button of a beautiful woman. Enjoy!

Star ratings: ***

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