Tepache at El Chilango
We had a commenter on our Stick a Fork In It blog last week ridicule our coverage of a Sri Lankan grocery store in Stanton, the heirs to the much-missed Wadiya restaurant—the only place in Southern California that served food from the former Ceylon—that closed earlier this year. The troll's argument was that the post was "filler" because we were covering a food with so few adherents locally, that it was a waste of our time and of readers.
Folks, we don't run a popularity contest. If we went by what had the most adherents, we'd do wall-to-wall McDonald's coverage, and the only Mexican food we'd bother with would be El Torito and Kogi clones. We wouldn't write about regional Mexican food, even if its stars in la naranja offer some of the best eats in Southern California. And if we wanted to cover the big guys and not the rarities, then I wouldn't be telling you about the tepache at El Chilango, a Southern California mini-chain of Mexico City-style restaurants—and then you'd be missing out on one of the best drinks around.
This drink pertains only to central Mexico and comes from that offshoot of the Mexican drinks familia created by fermentation. It's a genre—pulque, tejuino, tesguino, coconut beers and more—that have been imbibed by Mexicans for centuries but are just popping up stateside, as Mexicans from other parts of Mexico invade us. Tepache is probably the least-jarring of this bunch, a beverage created by fermenting the flesh and rind of pineapple for about a week alongside piloncillo (Mexican-style brown sugar) and cinnamon. El Chilango's is homemade, served in a frosted mug and chilled. The tartness of the drink tweaks your palate at first, but it's a small twist, nothing as gut-wrenching as kombucha, because soon after comes the great aftertaste of its sweet spices. You can't get drunk off it, but a buzz will emerge after a while, a lightness and refreshing aftertaste you can get with Mexican Coke or Jarritos.
Tepache isn't the star at El Chilango, though; that would be the gooey quesadillas (closer to crepes than what we know as a quesadilla), the entangled alambres (a mix of bacon, bell pepper, ham, carne asada, corn tortillas and cheese—a chilaquiles on HGH), the toasted pambazo sandwiches as large as an Aztec calendar. And weekends bring Texcoco-style barbacoa, lamb baked in maguey leaves until it's almost Jell-O. But the tepache is a gem, one we should all embrace. Sure, most of Orange County will never dare enter El Chilango and will retch at the idea of drinking rotted pineapple juice—but you, gentle reader, are not "most of Orange County." You are our better angels!
This column appeared in print as "We Report, You Imbibe."
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