Considering Mexico is a huge country with a million and one regional variances in food (both home cooking and street food) it’s no wonder why it’s hard to feel as if I know the food. I mean, I know Mexican food because it is what I grew up eating but then again I don’t really know Mexican food. Not when we’re talking about the entire country. Perhaps if I was Rick Bayless or Diana Kennedy I could fashion myself an expert but outside my world of Tex Mex food I sometimes feel as if I barely know a thing. And I’m comfortable with that.
You want to know what I’m not comfortable with? Regional Mexican specialties in my own city that I haven’t tried. Make that regional Mexican specialties just up the freeway from me. As in East Los Angeles.
Right next to downtown, East LA isn’t a neighborhood that I can claim I visit regularly. Heck, most of Los Angeles isn’t on my daily radar for me and so many others I know. We’re spread out, we’re congested, we’re busy and all those other excuses come to mind. But I received a call from Jamie Oliver’s production team a few weeks ago as they were looking for places for an upcoming show. I didn’t feel comfortable passing along my dusty list of favorites that I hadn’t been to in about 5 years and knew a refresher was in order. We made our way up the 5 freeway with my list of favorites and a few new places to check out.
The best suggestion came from my friend Anita from Married With Dinner. Now I’d normally suffer from guilt and a slight sense of shame when an out-of-towner recommends places to eat. But this is Los Angeles. I have yet to meet a person who knows everything about the Southland. Even my beloved husband, a Southern California native, can give you a list of neighborhoods he’s never been to.
But all this is besides the point. The point is this: I am embarrassed and ashamed that a certain sandwich has existed all these years right under my nose. The sandwich is called a Cemita, or Cemita Poblana as it hails from Puebla, Mexico. And clearly I missed the bit by our own hero Jonathan Gold in the LA Weekly. It’s all water under the bridge now because I’m quickly making up for my ignorance. Sesame seeded egg roll meets carnitas or milanesa and is joined by slices of avocado and mexican white cheese. Maybe some sauce. And this is where heaven begins. Because for me I’ve never really been a fan of tortas, the Mexican sandwiches, but this right here is different. To me that soft egg bun makes all the messy difference in the world. Adding chiles or jalapeños will give you heat, your tastebuds will give you pleasure, the rest is history.
Or a newly learned history, that is.
Cemita de Carnitas
Again, no recipe here but more of a serving suggestion. It’s a sandwich and that means exact measurements are never in order. You can add a bit of this and a little bit more of that, but make sure you are using a seeded egg roll. In the photo I made mine with brioche and purists can hate me later but let me tell you it was fantastic. Que rico.
sliced avocados or guacamole
Oaxacan string cheese or Panela, found in Latin markets
Perhaps some chiles
Perhaps some salsa roja
Put all the ingredients between the bun. Like a sandwich. I even added lettuce because I needed texture. Inhale.