Mexican food goes far beyond the menu at Chipotle or Wahaca. Establishments and vendors who offer more will do very well to provide quality Lonches and Tortas Ahogadas outside of Mexico. To those who have to Google Lonches de lomo and Tortas Ahogadas; they are actually types of sandwich.
Primera Taza, a hole-in-the-wall coffee shop in Boyle Heights, LA, has done so well at providing Mexican food to the masses it’s developed a large cult following, and drawn attention from top chefs like Eddie Ruiz, Wesley Avila and Ray Garcia.
The owner Chuy Tovar prides himself in importing key ingredients from Mexican cities and suburbs. The most crucial aspect is the the bread, and Tovar insists that “Mexico has some awesome breadmakers, but hardly anyone knows”.
Tovar uses his bread sourcing and unique sandwich-making skills to make sandwiches like his Lonches de lomo on birote salado. The sandwich is so tasty, it’s brought grown men to tears.
“I once served it to one of our regular customers who was also from Talpa, my hometown in Jalisco, and he just started bawling as he ate it because it reminded him of being a little kid in Guadalajara,” said Tovar, and he’s apparently not the only one.
It’s a powerful thing to have people ball over your food, especially as an emotional trigger and not triggered by spice related incidents. Tovar puts it all down to the bread he uses.
“I tried 20 different birotes salados around LA from everywhere you can imagine to try to find the right bread, even people making it in their backyards but nothing came close to the stuff you can get in Guadalajara, so I just started bringing them directly from there myself.”
Tovar can’t disclose the bakery he imports from, but the type of bread he uses is native to Guadalajara and is called the birote salado. It is the product of the short French occupation of Mexico during the mid-19th century.
A Belgian sergant named Camille Pirrotte was stationed at Guadalajara in the 1860s, and in an attempt to improve relations between the natives and the newcomers, Pirotte was ordered to teach the locals how to bake French bread.
The bread’s unique taste and texture differs slightly to that of French bread, as natural fermentation is used to rise the dough instead of yeast. In the early days of the bread’s genesis, heavy and crafty guerilla warfare drove the French out, but Pirrotte and his nouvelle cuisine stayed. He opened a bakery and subsequently changed the culinary landscape of Mexico with his style of cooking.
The bread’s rich history and tradition, added to the nostalgic flavors Tovar was able to implement into his cooking is something very few people can do. To be able to bring people to literal tears with your cooking, better yet, a sandwich, can only be a good thing.
Lonches de lomo on birote salado is available only for a week, once a month. Even if you’re not Mexican and aren’t thrown back into the easier days of your childhood, you can appreciate that if you have to call ahead or reserve a sandwich, you’re in for a good time.