Top 10 is not Tex-Mex

Chances are, you do not know what Mexican food is. It could be stated that Mexican cuisine is one of the most famous types of cuisines but there seems to be a huge confusion –and interpretation– of what should actually be considered as real national Mexican cooking. According to UNESCO, this cuisine comprises different rituals, culinary techniques, and age-old skills. These culinary practices portray a cultural model of national identity where Mesoamerican cooking and Spanish elements have been mixed in order to create world-famous dishes.

Before entering Tequila-Boom I knew this. The concept would try to communicate ‘Mexican-ness’ using stereotypes: sombrero, poncho and dark skin. I was hoping that instead of typical features, I would find fragments of the true Mexican identity. Located on the corner of Voznesensky Prospekt, the restaurant brims with colourful spots, cozy tables, an abundance of vegetable appetizers, spicy garnishes, beans, chili soups and tacos.

A paradox!

The adrenaline rush of seeing so many authentic Mexican food names made me take a second look at the menu. The chef might be confusing Mexican cuisine with Tex-Mex: the most popular inventions of Mexican food in the United States namely burritos, nachos, fajitas, chili con carne, Tabasco sauce, Mexican pizza and wheat tortilla. These foods have come to characterise our culinary identity abroad.

The boundaries in the international arena might be blurred but UNESCO has not proclaimed this as part of the world’s intangible cultural heritage. Tex-Mex originated in southern Texas as an attempt by Mexican immigrants to recreate traditional dishes. It is common to refer to Tex-Mex dishes as Mexican food but the typical ingredients of both have minimal similarities.

Once you see the neon greenish-reddish marquee, your world is about to change. Wood tables, bright colors, Mexican flags serving as wallpapers, traditional decorations, such as the Aztec calendar, and tablecloths covered in bright vibrant hues create an atmosphere of coziness and warmth. It resembles a hut on the outskirts of Mexico City or even better, a spitting image of an ‘in-the-middle-of-nowhere’ chalet. The interior and eventful nights will tell you to stay.

Tequila-Boom was established in 2002 in St. Petersburg, Russia and now they have a couple of branches in the United States and Mexico. The menu includes fajitas with cheese and chorizo, tapas, nachos with chili sauce, cactus salad, cold shrimp entrées, burritos, corn with mayonnaise, spicy wings, quesadillas, enchiladas, mole, guacamole, red beans and jalapeños, all prepared with fidelity to the spirit of New Mexico’s small cafeterias.

Long Russian winters awaken a need for the exotic; the inherent warmth of spices and something fancy, wild, maybe even a little over-the-top. Though the number of Mexican restaurants is indeed quite small, Mexican cuisine has nonetheless a very special place in the hearts of restaurant-goers in St. Petersburg. Saint Petersburgerians are willing to experience Latin rhythms, hot dishes and crispy cocktails at night and Tequila-Boom qualifies as an authentic spot for it.

The restaurant has real people with real emotions trying to satisfy high quality standards. Farad, PR manager and waiter, comes from Bangladesh and was also influenced by preconceptions of what Mexican food is. He has been working here for a couple of years and he is enjoying the warm experiences and cultural exchanges while improving his Spanish. The staff reflects Latin American culture and the efficient service makes it impossible not to visit again.

The ingredients are not difficult to find and their leitmotif is to depict Mexican food adapted to the Russian customers. Dishes must be appealing to Russian standards, although misconceptions of the cuisine influence the guests’ opinions and perceptions. “People always think it is spicy so you have to give options that have the sauce is served on the side” Farad said.

Sanctions have not influenced the business as the premium tequila, Don Julio, is directly imported from Mexico and the meat from Argentina or Brazil. Their direct contracts with Latin American suppliers allow them to maintain high quality standards and affordable prices since they are located in the opposite hemisphere.

With sharp flavours and a mix of Peruvian, Spanish and Russian cuisine, this bright restaurant offers daily business lunch for 290 RUB. One of the most important elements in Tequila-Boom’s cuisine is the staff. They will make you feel and taste Mexico, Peru, Bolivia, Cuba and Ecuador. The chef is Russian but has traveled several times to Mexico in order to learn real culinary techniques. The sous-chef has also been to Mexico but he is from Peru and his influence modifies traditional recipes. The dark skin color, warm reception and subtle attention to detail are, definitely, precious elements from this place.

“The dark skin color gives an exotic atmosphere to the restaurant and customers have the feeling that they are in Russia but at the same time in Mexico” Farah added.

Tequila-Boom is not only a restaurant but also a community. They organize parties every Friday and Saturday night. While listening to merengue or salsa, you should enjoy their popular dishes and cocktail: Margarita and burrito. Mexican restaurants have short life expectancies in St. Petersburg but Tequila-Boom is known among locals as a great place to satisfy some desires. The cuisine is a cultural mix but “maybe we are something multicultural, that is not Mexican or Latin American but we are an exotic experience to try” Farad concluded.

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