Dos Caminos is one of the city’s more upscale Mexican restaurants, but chef Ivy Stark has a soft spot for Mexican street food. So much so that she just wrote a book about tacos, tortas, and a bevy of other street snacks titled, appropriately, Dos Caminos Mexican Street Food. We called her up to learn more about her favorite street eats and learned why you might just find vitamin C tablets and Animal Crackers in a Mexican meal.
So how does a nice girl from Boulder end up cooking Mexican food in New York?
Boulder has a little bit to do with it. It’s close to Mexico, so my family took family vacations in Mexico regularly. I started going when I was five; we’d go to Puerto Vallarta, Cabo San Lucas, etc. And you know, there are also good Mexican restaurants in Colorado, and my parents made us eat what they were eating; we never had kids’ menus. We ate at a good hole-in-the-wall Mexican restaurant in a strip mall once a week and I always loved it.
Your book focuses specifically on Mexican street food. How is that different from the types of food you’ll find in restaurants?
Mexicans are huge snackers. They’re constantly grazing, and there’s a great love for food, period. If you go to Mexico, you’ll see everyone selling corn on the cob for snacks, or sandwiches or tacos, ice creams and ice pops, agua frescas. It’s an incredible cuisine of its own. It wants a cookbook of its own.
What’s your favorite street-food snack?
I love the street corn that they roast. You can smell it from a block away and it’s slathered with mayonnaise and lime juice and cheese. It’s wonderful. And I love the cut-up jicamas and melons and any fruit they sprinkle with chile and lime juice.
Mexican cuisine is very regionally focused; is that the same case for street food or is street food more unified as a whole?
I would say that it varies. The type of taco served along the coastline might be different than the tacos from central Mexico. You’ll see more meat in central Mexico, and seafood and ceviches along the coasts. And places like Oaxaca and Michoacán are especially well-known for their ice creams.
Can you find many of the recipes in the book at Dos Caminos?
Absolutely. Many are on the menu. We have the corn on the menu. And all of the tacos, like carne adasda and fish tacos. And the guacamole, of course.
What’s your favorite fancier dish from the restaurant?
We have some more plated dishes. We have a wonderful rib eye alambre. It’s like a kebab with onion, poblano, and mushroom over a creamy poblano rice.
Sounds tasty. So if you had to describe your cooking in one word, what would it be?
One word? That’s hard! Creative with respect to authenticity. Is that too many words?
One recipe I found really interesting in the book was the shrimp in aguachile, which uses a vitamin C tablet. Is that a common ingredient?
It’s not uncommon, but it’s not commonly used. It’s a good example of inventiveness by the cooks and using what’s at hand to create the green color. Lemon juice wouldn’t work [in place of the vitamin C tablet] because once you cook lemon juice, it doesn’t have the same chemical reaction.
What were some other unusual ingredients you discovered in your travels?
One ingredient that I love that’s unusual is that cooks in Mexico will use Animal Crackers in their mole. The recipe calls for a sweet bread but Animal Crackers produce the same flavor, and they’re easier to purchase and handle. You’ll go to mole stores, and you’ll see Animal Crackers in the spice mix.
You talk about your love of traveling in the book. How do you know where to find the good street food?
In New York, I’d go to Sunset Park. You can go from stand to stand or store to store and get tacos or tortas. Or you could go to 116th up in Upper Manhattan. And in Jackson Heights you can go from stand to stand, too. My favorite is Taqueria Tulcingo.
Check back in tomorrow, when Ivy reveals her ideal New York City food crawl.
This article from the Village Voice Archive was posted on October 18, 2011