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Monthly Archives: March 2015

The Origin of the Chihuahua – (Not the pink kind)

 

Ah, the feisty chihuahua. Small, nimble, slightly bug-eyed, looks great in a sombrero… but why is it associated with tacos and burritos? We’re here to give you a brief history of that tiny little dog we love so much…

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The origin of the Chihuahua is slightly murky – history doesn’t have a clear cut answer for where these adorable critters sprung up from. One thing that folklore and science does agree on – they came from Mexico. The Techichi were companion dogs favoured by the Toltec civilization in Mexico, and dog pots from Colima in Mexico, found in tombs which date back to 300 BC, are thought to depict them.

 

However, the earliest representation of chihuahuas have been unearthed at Tres Zapotes in Veracruz, Mexico, dating from 100AD. It wasn’t just as companion pups though – in a 1520 letter Hernan Cortés wrote that the Aztecs sold the little dogs for food!!! Thank goodness those days are done…

 

And what about the name? Well, an ancestor of the breed was reputedly found in 1850 in old ruins near Casas Grandes in the Mexican state of Chihuahua. The breed was first recognised as a breed in America by the Kennel Club in 1904. Hurrah!

Chihuahua-Puppies

 

And here are some interesting facts about the wonderful chihuahua:

 

  • 1) They are officially recognised by the Kennel Club as the smallest breed of dog in the world.
  • 2) Their coats can be long, short, silky or wiry, and any colour at all. Even Chihuahua puppies from the same litter can have very different coats.
  • 3) The Mayans, Aztecs and Toltecs believed yellow Chihuahuas escorted their owners to the afterlife. The dogs were often sacrificed before the owner died so that they would be there waiting. Red Chihuahuas, on the other hand, were believed to take on their owners’ sins and were often sacrificed in their funeral pyres.
  • 4) Chihuahuas have a very long life span for a dog – their average lifespan is ten to eighteen years, but it’s not unusual for a Chihuahua to live for twenty years or more!
  • 5) It’s not just El Camion that has some superb artwork of these little fellas – Bottiicelli included a Chihuahua in his Sistine Chapel fresco, “Scenes from the life of Moses.” If you visit the Chapel, you can find a Chihuahua curled up in a little boy’s arms.

 

So, that’s a bit of history about the origin of the chihuahua. As for the pink kind? They’re very rare and very special – pop in for a cocktail and maybe we’ll let you in on the legend…

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Meat Free Week at El Camion

Here at El Camion we’re proud of how fresh our food is – we make our dishes in house and it’s one of the many reasons people come from far and wide to sample the delights of our menu. Which is why we’re just as confident about our vegetarian offerings as we are about the meaty munchies we provide. When you use quality ingredients then the taste really shines through.

Since it’s National Meat Free Week then here’s a little insight into some of the hottest herbivore-friendly items on the menu…

Our nachos are huge bowls brimming with crisp tortilla chips, topped with our famous guacamole, pico de gallo and El Camion House salsa, smothered in cheese – and to make it even more indulgent then why not add black beans and jalapeños? They make for the perfect sharer, or bring an appetite and scoff them down by yourself.

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For a nibble, any heat-lover should try our Jaladas – Jalepeno chillies filled with cream cheese that have then been coated in breadcrumbs. Just as good as a chicken wing any day of the week.

Our famous mushroom and spinach quesadilla is a hit whether you’re a carnivore or veggie – filled with fresh veg and oozing with melted Monterey Jack cheese. If you’re trying to convert a meat eater who thinks that vegetarian food isn’t filling enough, then challenge them to a wet Vegetable Burrito. This flour tortilla filled with Black or Pinto beans as well as home-made salsa and cheese with coriander is hearty and kind of healthy. If something a bit lighter takes your fancy, then our classic Ensalada is baby spinach, Cos and Lamb’s lettuce, marinated tomato, sliced fennel and radish and home-made dressing. Is your mouth watering?

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You see, vegetables have always been an important part in the Mexican diet. When Europeans arrived in Mexico 1517, the food source of the indigenous people, including Aztecs and Mayans, consisted mainly of corn, beans, peppers, sweet potatoes and tomatoes.

And you know what else is vegetarian? Churros smothered in chocolate. So there’s no excuse not to stay for dessert…

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Tags: , , , | Filed under: Food

Legendary cocktails at El Camion and beyond

This month, our legendary senior bartender, Dick, and his daughter Bea, were featured in The Cocktail Lovers magazine. In the 1980s, Dick changed the face of the London bar scene and pioneered the UK cocktail industry as we know it today. As the inventor of the Espresso Martini, the Bramble, the Russian Spring Punch, the Wibble and the Treacle, Dick also created a cocktail so good we named our basement bar after it: The Pink Chihuahua. Here, in an interview with The Cocktail Lovers back in 2013, he describes how it came about:

“I wanted to make a drink that was pink called the Pink Chihuahua. It was going to be with mescal but the flavour was too strong, so I changed to tequila. I worked on it for about two weeks, when I got it I danced around the corridor. I knew it was a good drink, it pleased me.”

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This got us thinking about other cocktails that have made it into the history books and some of the stories behind them are pretty interesting…

The Cosmopolitan

As is the story with many cocktails, this Cosmopolitan has a hazy history. The origins behind the Cosmo as we know it circle around three bartending legends, Cheryl Cook, Toby Cecchini and Dale DeGroff, although recipes for drinks known by the same name have been found dating back to the early 1900s. Cheryl Cook, however, lays claim to creating the Cosmopolitan in the 1980s by adapting a Kamikaze and adding Absolut Citron and a splash of cranberry juice. Toby Cecchini, though, says that he had come across the cocktail and had transformed it with Absolut Citron to impress the waitresses. But it was Dale DeGroff who made the cocktail famous while he worked at Manhattan’s Rainbow Rooms. He added his signature orange flame and it is his recipe that is followed today.

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The Manhattan

Apparently the whole thing about it being invented for Winston Churchill’s mum in 1874 at New York City’s Manhattan Club is all lies! She was actually giving birth to Winston at the time that she supposedly requested the drink to be made. Instead, a more probable account of its invention was in a bar on Broadway in the 1860s, where it was invented by a man named Black. Yet – there is still another story of it being created on a yachting trip in New York by a Col. Joe Walker, who decided to mix together the only refreshments left in the icebox – Italian vermouth and whiskey. He later experimented with it in his bar in New Orleans and named it after his friends on Manhattan Island.

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The Porn Star Martini

The ultimate modern classic, the Porn Star Martini only came to life in 2002 and is now famous around the world. Douglas Ankrah, of The Townhouse in Knightsbridge, first called this drink the Maverick Martini, named after a dodgy club in Cape Town. The name by which we know it today is apparently down to the usage of passionfruit in the cocktail, which you are meant to eat first, before drinking the Champagne and lastly enjoying the fruity martini. Ankrah went on to found the great LAB bar, which is now often associated with this deliciously lavish cocktail.

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Who knows what might be created next time you’re sitting at the bar in The Pink Chihuahua with our talented bar team… Maybe you will witness history being made!

Tonight – celebrate the birthday of Benito Juárez

Last Monday Mexicans all had a day free from work – banks, schools and most public transport was closed – and today is another national holiday, as celebrations are held for the birthday of Benito Juárez.

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Born in San Pablo Guelatao, Oaxaca, on March 21,1806, Benito Juárez was a lawyer who later held many public offices including as state legislator, civil judge, government secretary, and governor. He’s kind of viewed in the same way American’s view Abraham Lincoln. When the people were calling out for a leader, he stepped up to lead a nation. He was president for five terms in the turbulent years of 1858 to 1872, and is a national hero best known for making reforms to create a democratic federal republic.

 

One of the reasons it is perhaps so remarkable about the impact he made is his background, since he was a full-blooded native of Zapotec descent, and is the only full-blooded native to ever serve was president of Mexico. He didn’t even speak Spanish until his teens. This means he was held in very high regard by the country’s indigenous population, who view him as a trailblazer in native rights and justice.

 

There is a city (Ciudad Juárez) named after Benito Juárez, as well as countless streets, schools and businesses. On Saturday his birth city of San Pablo Guelatao hosts contests, tournaments, fireworks and popular dances in his honour. So if you’re in El Camion on Saturday night then be sure to raise a glass!

El Camion’s Favourite Mexican Joints Around The World

Now that the sun is finally starting to appear again, it’s got us all thinking about holidays. We get it – if you go on holiday, how will you cope without your regular dose of delicious burritos, expertly-made margaritas and great tequila? It’s OK – we have scoped the globe to find some of the best Mexican joints out there. Amigos to amigos – here are some awesome Mexican establishments in which we, at El Camion, would certainly enjoy a taco or ten.

Los Angeles – El Cholo

The first El Cholo was opened in 1923, making this place the oldest Mexican restaurant in LA. A true family-owned business, you will now find the 4th and 5th generation family members working in the restaurant. Not only is the food real, old school Cal-Mex, they claim to have been the pioneers of the Mexican restaurant industry in America and even brought nachos to California! And they make a mean margarita – in the 1960s El Cholo became the world’s largest user of Cuervo 1800 Tequila and championed premium ingredients in margaritas, making them what they are today. If El Cholo is the great-great-great grandfather of Californian-style Mexican food, then we’re family.

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http://elcholo.com

 

New York – Dos Caminos

A self-proclaimed modern Mexican joint and tequila lounge, Dos Caminos sells over 100 types of tequila. Sounds like a place after our own heart. The Third Avenue restaurant is bright and vibrant, with outside seating and a fiesta-style vibe. Dos Caminos is famed for its Mexico City style quesadillas and its fresh guacamole – that is made right there at your table. Nice touch!

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http://www.doscaminos.com

 

Paris – Candelaria

If you’re not travelling Stateside, why not hop on the Eurostar to Paris and head to le Marais, a hip part of Paris not exactly worlds away from Soho. Here, you will find Candelaria, a tiny taqueria that serves tostadas, tortillas and tacos made in front of your very eyes at the counter. There is a speakeasy style bar at the back where mixologists formerly of the Experimental Cocktail Club will whip up a crazy good margarita or one of their own creations, like the Guêpe Verte, made with tequila, lime, pepper, cucumber, spices and agave syrup.

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http://www.candelariaparis.com

 

Berlin – Santa Maria

Didn’t think Berlin did Mexican food? Well, this crazy little Oranienstrasse haunt is here to prove you wrong. Widely regarded as a pioneer of authentic Mexican food in Germany, Santa Maria celebrates the best of Mexican street food. Not only will your stomachs be well and truly sated by the Michoacan inspired carnitas tacos and chilaquiles, but your thirst will be quenched by their wide range of margaritas. In fact, Santa Maria is the biggest seller of margaritas in the country. Santa Maria – you had us at ‘Hola’.

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http://santaberlin.com/mexican-restaurant-kreuzberg/

The Glorious Daiquiri

You come to El Camion, you know that you are going to get a mean Margarita. You may also have been tempted by our cool, creamy Batidas. But there is one other cocktail from the Latin Americas that we do and we do very well, and that is the glorious Daiquiri.

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The Daiquiri is thought to have been invented, or at least developed, in the late 1800s by an American mining engineer called Jennings Cox, who worked in an iron mine in Cuba called Daiquiri. Apparently, the locals drank rum with limes and, to make it more appealing to his palate, he sweetened the drink with sugar and mixed it with ice, when he could get it.

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Whatever the history, the drink has been a favourite in American bars since the 1940s and it has a league of famous fans, including the late Ernest Hemingway, who loved it so much that there is a variation named after him. It is one of the six basic drinks listed in David A. Embury’s The Fine Art of Mixing Drinks, which features the formula that our very own Dick Bradsell follows, and in turn, taught Simon Difford of Difford’s Guide.

In our Daiquiris we use Havana Club 3 Year Old Rum, one of the most prestigious light Cuban rums available. It is a great quality rum and is perfect to mix in cocktails, without losing the authentic Cuban taste.

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Here is our list of Daiquiris:

Daiquiri Natural

Havana Club 3 Year Old Rum, fresh lime and cane syrup, fine strained and served straight up. The original Cuban Daiquiri.

Frozen Daiquiri

Havana Club 3 Year Old Rum, fresh lime, cane syrup and maraschino, blended with ice. Very refreshing on a hot day, and very, very drinkable.

Hemingway Daiquiri (Papa Double)

Havana Club 3 Year Old Rum, grapefruit and maraschino, available blended or straight up like Hemingway used to like it.

Daiquiri Deluxe

Havana Club 3 Year Old Rum, fresh lime, fresh pineapple and orgeat, blended with ice. Luxurious.

Strawberry Daiquiri

Havana Club 3 Year Old Rum, fresh lime, strawberry and liqueurs, blended. Everyone’s favourite – summertime in a glass.

Banana Daiquiri

Havana Club 3 Year Old Rum, fresh banana, creme de banane and cream, blended with ice. A totally tropical treat.
Winter is just about over. We make that Daiquiri Time.

 

This Friday Mexico celebrates Noche de Brujas

There’s something spooky going on in Mexico this Friday, when the festival of Noche de Brujas – Night of the Witches – descends on the pretty little town of Catemaco. In this celebration of all things mystical and medieval, a host of shamen, witches, sorcerers and fortune tellers join together in their annual convention, which sees tarot readings, palmistry, and other the opportunity to purchase a ‘limpia’ (cleansing).

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The town is generally quite a magical place on regular days, being the hub of Mexico’s witchcraft and witch-doctor collective. This spiritualism goes back to include Spanish medieval traditions, and is also a mix of indigenous beliefs, folklore, and voodoo practises from West Africa. Catemaco in Veracruz is located between mountain peaks and the shore of Laguna Catemaco in Southern Mexico, and year-round the streets are crowded with vendors selling charms, trinkets, potions and healings. If you’re looking for a spell then this is certainly the place to come, and in 1970 a local brujo (shaman) decided it was the ideal place to host a witchcraft convention.

 

But the festival of Noche de Brujas isn’t an occasion to fear, since the all-night event is in fact an opportunity for mass cleansing, intended to rid the soul of any negative energy from the previous year. Taking place at midnight on the hill of Cerro Mono Blanco, just outside of town, there is a definite air of carnival to the proceedings. So, if you’ve been thinking you need a lucky rabbit’s foot or a shamanic consultation, now you know for the future the best place to head!

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Churros, how we love thee…

Churros. How we love them – undoubtedly the superior, thinner version of the boring donut. They’re like the slim Latin American cousin that comes to visit one summer and steals all its bakery friends with their awesomeness. How can you not fall in love with this deep-fried golden pastry, covered in diamond-sparkles of sugar or spiced cinnamon, and just begging to be dipped in unctuous hot chocolate??

 

But there is a little more to churros than meets the eye. Sure, we sell them at El Camion as an indulgent dessert, but keep an eye open for our brunch menu soon, since did you know fresh churros are a traditional breakfast food in Latin America? Intended for dipping into melted chocolate or with a hot milky coffee… well, that beats cornflakes any day.

 

But there is still indecision about how the churro came to be, as a couple of different origin stories exist.

 

The first is that we have Nomadic Spanish shepherds to thank. They would spend long days on the inhospitable mountain sides tending their herds, and needed something they could easily fry in their pans. Thus these battered delicacies were created, named perhaps after the Churra sheep of the Iberian Peninsula, the horns of which look like the fried pastry. They would eat them rolled in sugar or pastry.

 

The other option is that Portuguese sailors brought the idea back from China, where they’d discovered a similar food named ‘You Tiao’. They put their Spanish mark on the treat by adding the star-shaped tip for those tell-tale ridges. That star shape ensures that the outside of the churro is perfectly crisp while the inside is fluffy as a pastry cloud.

 

As the for chocolate – it is thought this was added when Hernando Cortez returned to Spain with the secret of Aztec chocolate. Now they’re served in restaurants, by vendors, at fair grounds, as a great start to the day… who can’t resist a churro? We can’t – and neither should you by the end of this. Just in case, here’s a picture of our freshly made churros…

 

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Finger-licking good

 

We’ll see you soon!

Wine at El Camion – We uncork the reds…

If you fancy a drink at lunch but think it’s too early for cocktails and tequila (apparently, there is such a thing), we serve a fabulous selection of great wines by the glass, specifically chosen to pair well with the flavours and spices in Mexican food. In our last blog, we looked at our white and rose wines and gave suggestions of well-matched dishes. Now it’s time to look at the reds. Pass the corkscrew.

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Red wines

Our house red wine is the Tempranillo Pleno, Bodega Brana Vieja, from the Northern Spain region of Navarra. This wine is made from 100% Tempranillo grapes, which is the same grape variety used to make Rioja, and it has been aged in old oak barrels for at least six months, which is where it’s spiced oak flavour comes from.

Tastes like: Ruby red in colour, Tempranillo Pleno tastes like dark cherry and vanilla spice. Typical of Tempranillo wines, it is soft and fruity and has a pleasantly sweet finish.

Goes well with: A light and soft wine, it is lovely on its own or with grilled fish or grilled chicken. It would be a great match with a Chicken Tinga Burrito.

Prices: £19/bottle £5/glass

Pleno Tempranillo
The second red on the menu is the Merlot, Santa Puerta, which comes from the Maule Valley in Chile. The area is made up of rich and volcanic soils and produces powerful, spicy and aromatic wines.

Tastes like: At 14%, it is a strong and robust wine, with intense berry fruit flavours. It has been aged in oak for nine months, which gives it a deep, spicy layer of flavour. Warming and rounded, it has a pleasant, silky finish.

Goes well with: The depth of this wine can handle big flavours, plus its high alcohol content will help to break down meaty dishes. Perfectly paired dishes include anything with beef and pork. Why not try it with a Carne Asada Enchilada?

Prices: £23/bottle £6.50/glass

Merlot, Santa Puerta
Our wines are available by the glass or by the bottle – which one you order is up to you! Feel free to ask us to recommend a wine to go with your meal. ¡Buen apetito!