13210 Bissonnet @ Synott and 8 other locations
THE BUSINESS AT THIS LOCATION HAS CHANGED NAMES AND POSSIBLY OWNERSHIP. IT IS NOW LA FRONTERA MEAT MARKET, FRUITERIA, ETC. THE OFFERINGS IN THE TAQUERIA APPEAR TO BE QUITE DIFFERENT AND THERE ARE PROBABLY OTHER CHANGES TO THE MERCHANDISE LINEUP. I HAVE NO IDEA IF THE OTHER CELAYA LOCATIONS ARE STILL IN OPERATION UNDER THAT NAME. 9/15/11
A now closed location of one of these was visited by the Carniceria Connoisseur in the Press last year and I’ve been intending to check this one out for some time but just got around to it recently.
Browsing the cramped aisles of this small grocery store/meat market/taqueria I was happy to spot Salsa Huichol, a hot sauce I had been looking for all of about 2 days since reading about it online. It’s made from cascabel peppers grown in the Huichol Mountains of Nayarit, blended with naturally fermented vinegar and spices. Vinegar is listed last among the ingredients. According to the website recipes it’s good with seafood and it’s a welcome addition to the hot sauce cabinet.
I also spotted a can of Maiz Morado, purple maiz. I don’t know, maybe this is widely available at markets around town too, but, like the salsa, I’ve never looked for it nor noticed it before. I’ve enjoyed experimenting with this in soups and stews and ‘popping’ it but it got shoved to the back of a lower shelf in the fridge and forgotten about and went sour before I got around to finding a recipe for the Chicha Morada, the purple maiz drink of Peru that I sampled recently at Pollo Bravo.
The meats on the steam table in the taqueria didn’t look all that good but I tried a platillo anyway. The ladies have resolutely tried to speak English with me, offering only one word descriptions of the dishes such as ‘beef,’ ‘pork,’ etc. usually. The meat I selected which looked most interesting was ‘pork with potatoes.’ It turned out to be pork country style rib sections in a chile sauce with potatoes and was actually pretty good, the meat very tender. There were also the usual rice and beans but I spotted a vegetable dish with large chunks of cheese that looked interesting and, hoping to avoid the inevitable, asked for the ‘vegetales.’ Apparently Celaya is like Carniceria La Michoanan and you get 2 meats on a platillo ($5.49) so I got the vegetales and the rice and beans (which were just the usual suspects).
The servers just call this ‘cheese’ but an appropriate name might be calabacita con queso de soja. It’s a variation on one of my favorite recipes from the first Diana Kennedy cookbook, Calabacita con Jitomate, with the surprising and pleasing addition of tofu - a Mexican vegetarian dish. It was the highlight of the meal. The large chunks of tofu went very well with the calabacita, tomatoes and onion, although it took me some time to convince myself it was tofu. Going by the texture, lack of milky or cheesy taste, and firm, definite edges to the chunks, I finally concluded that’s what it had to be.
I had read up on Celaya online before visiting and knew that it was located in Guanajato, was the site of a decisive battle in the Mexican Revolution, and was the birthplace of cajeta, the goat’s milk version of dulce de leche, but on my first visit I totally forgot to look for any. On a second visit, however, I found two products, a jarred version produced by the Mexican food conglomerate Bimbo and a wafer produced in Monterrey (CORRECTION BELOW). Both of these have corn syrup in addition to sugar, however; I’m hoping to find a version with just sugar. The Bimbo product is undoubtedly widely available, perhaps even at some Walmarts. Like most taquerias and other Mexican markets, the area around the check-out is cluttered with lots of impulse-buy displays, which is where I found the wafer. They may have other varieties of cajeta that I haven’t spotted yet.
This time around, getting as weary of rice and refritos as I am of potato salad and beans at barbecue places and french fries everywhere in the universe, I just went for tacos. The ‘beef’ on the left looked like barbacoa but tasted more like fajitas (there was another pan that looked like fajitas); the ‘pork’ was al pastor, the ‘cheese’ was again the best item and it seems to be quite popular. A guy in front of me in line was getting a pint to go while the guy right in front of me was getting three ‘cheese’ tacos. It did seem to me that the ‘cheese’ this time had a little more of a cottage cheese like texture -- maybe they make it both ways. The other meats I sampled this time were a little tough, there was no pineapple in the al pastor. I found no other examples of cajeta on this visit; in fact, there were none of the ‘wafers’ available either.
I stopped by again on a Saturday. The parking lot was full and all the tables in the taqueria were occupied. Like most canicerias, Celaya does some meats only on weekends and one of their specialties was barbacoa de chivo, so in addition to 3 tacos I picked up a half pound of that to go. I think I inadvertently wound up with the same meats in my tacos this time around except the one I had really wanted, the ‘cheese’ was not available. A really interesting looking one, though, was the one on the bottom which was almost black and very moist and appeared to have a granular texture. I understood it was pork of some sort and heard the name mordita pretty clearly, or so I thought, and expected to be able to find out just what it was online since they were unable to explain it further to me. It was abbreviated ‘mor’ on the ticket and I guessed from the color and exterior texture that it might involve pig’s blood but I have not been able to find anything that seems to fit in articles about Mexican foods and Spanish dictionaries online. Although the first few bites didn’t reveal any meaty texture, there were some pieces of meat deeper in the taco. There were large pieces of pepper in the pan but none of them wound up on my taco. If I ever see it again I’ll have to ask some more questions. POSSIBLE CONCLUSION BELOW.
The barbacoa de chivo was moist and flavorful, among the best I've had; I used it over the next couple of days, along with some of the great corn tortillas from El Bolillo and the salsas from Celaya, to make some very good tacos at home.
The tacos here are on smallish tortillas but have reliably included 2 ounces of filling and are only a dollar apiece so they’re a good bargain. You can have a pretty good meal for $3. The barbacoa de chivo, pork with potatoes, and ‘cheese’ have been the best items I’ve discovered here but other than that I think there are other carnicerias that are better options.
According to the imprinted plastic bag, there are 9 locations including Tomball, Conroe and Porter, plus 2 on FM 1960. There are several Celayas listed on b4-u-eat.com but from the reviews they appear to be sit-down restaurants, not meat markets
The Hot Sauce of the Month Club page on Salsa Huichol.
CORRECTION: I mistakenly assumed that Obleas was a brand name but the word means wafer and refers to a type of candy made in Nuevo Leon, made with goat's milk but apparently not the same thing as cajeta? Obleas are also found in other cuisines of South America. My education continues!
Also I've come to the conclusion the word I heard as mordita was perhaps morcilla which would mean blood sausage and would make sense.