Saturday, April 4, 2009

Celaya Meat Market # 5

13210 Bissonnet @ Synott and 8 other locations


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 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.


Rubiao said...

In your exploration of Houston have you found many places that serve Birria de Chivo or Barbacoa de Chivo? I used to go to that little place Trudi's on Beechnut and Bissonet, but the hours are hilariously limited. I've tried El Hidalguense, the one on Long Point though there are a few of them, but the cabrito is way overpriced. Strangely enough, I was at Max's Wine Dive (an unusual occurrence) a few nights ago and they had Birria de Chivo on their menu, though somehow they braised most of the goat taste out of it. Even so it was pretty tasty.

I'm going to try this place today as I find most places include Fridays as the weekend when it comes to Barbacoa. Any other places you've found good goat?

Bruce said...

Rubiao - I’ve been to Trudi’s a couple of times, probably the best I’ve had but the hours are frustrating. Borrego seems a lot more common than birria around here.

There’s a birrireria right next door to Tortilleria La Reyna, Bissonnet @ Hillcroft; I had some birria from there once. At the time I understood birria always meant goat but I think that’s not necessarily the case. I thought what I got was goat but I didn’t think it was as good as Trudis.

There’s a new place on W. Bellfort next door to Taqueria 100% Michoacan called Tortilleria Milpa Real. I’ve been in several times but they haven’t had anything to serve most times. I got some pretty good tamales but want to try the pollo rostizado. A sign in the window says Birria de Chivo on weekends. 281-879-0409 if you want to give them a call.

Ostoneria La Michoacana on Bissonnet @ Lugary, just up from Sharpstown Hi has a sign in the window which says Borrego but on the menu it’s translated as goat. I went a couple of times but food went down hill and the place has changed names so I don’t know if the menu has changed. Check b4 for a phone # for the old place. I never tried their borrego.

You might check Supermercado Teloloapan - can’t remember what all they had on their menu.

You probably know of the borrego at Gerardo’s on Patton which contains both lamb and goat?

I had cabrito at Casa de Leon on Longpoint once and I remember they had other goat dishes on the menu but can’t remember what. Check the Press for Walsh’s review - he may mention more. For that matter, search the Press restaurant archives for mentions of chivo. Seems to me I first heard of birria de chivo from a taco truck review by Walsh but can’t remember where it was. I have seen other taco trucks around the SW side with birria listed but never tried any.

I had birria at Altamirano a long time ago but it is not on their menu anymore.

Please let me know what you find and what you think is good.

Bruce said...

Correction - I got that phone # for Milpa Real wrong. It should be 281-879-0405.

Rubiao said...

Gerardo's is delicious. I believe they have multiple Barbacoas on weekends, one of which tastes like goat. Borrego is usually mutton and regular Barbacoa I always took to mean steamed cow head. I was actually there twice last week trying to get a pork dish and both times they didn't have it. They told me only on Thursday and Friday.

I went to Celaya on Friday and they didn't have anything that looked that great, plus I was there for the Birria, so I didn't stick around.

The barbacoa at Casa Grande over near 45 north and Main was delicious the last time I was there. They had cabrito as well, but it was pricey.

The barbacoa plate at La Jaliscience on Yale and 13th is the best deal in town. 5 or 6 bucks for a pound of barbacoa.

I'm always looking, but I tend to stay near the Heights/Montrose as thats where I live.

Bruce said...

Thanks for getting back to me. Wish I lived closer to Gerardo's; I keep looking for stuff out here on the SW side and don't get up there that often. Never heard of those two places you mentioned in the Heights.

Let me know if you find anything else.