Mex-imise your pleasure
THE Singapore food scene is embracing the proliferating Mexican restaurants.
Joining long-time establishments such as Margarita's, La Salsa and Cafe Iguana over the last year is a wave of at least six new casual Mexican restaurants, both authentic, such as dive bar Chimichanga, and fusion, such as Korean-Mexican joint Don't Tell Mama.
However, most do not have a native head chef working in the kitchen.
Luis Rodriguez - one of the few Mexican chefs in Singapore - currently runs the kitchen at contemporary Mexican restaurant El Mero Mero at
Chijmes and also doubles as general manager of taqueria brand Senor Taco.
He estimates there are fewer than five in the country.
"I've tried to bring some of my friends here, but out of 10 people, only one or two would even consider it. Flight tickets are also expensive - at least $1,800 - and it takes three days to fly here," he said.
"Secondly, they hesitate to come to an Asian country because of the difference in culture. I think (Singaporeans) are more familiar with occidental things than (Mexicans) are with oriental things."
But what is authentic Mexican cuisine? Even the Ambassador of Mexico in Singapore, Rogelio Granguillhome, is hard-pressed to come up with a definition, saying it is too vast and it goes beyond tacos, burritos or spiciness.
"Every region in the country has a unique style of cooking, with distinct tastes and flavours," he explained.
However, using Mexican ingredients is a way to preserve the cuisine's authenticity.
Here are four eateries to get your fill of Mexican cuisine.
36 Dunlop Street
Opens Mon & Tue, 11am to 11pm; Wed to Sat, 11am to midnight
Cilantro, avocado, chilli, chipotle and lime were the ingredients that co-owner of two-week-old Chimichanga, Joy Chan, worked with to create the menu.
As first-time food and beverage owners - she runs the dive bar with creative agency Insurgence - they have chosen to play safe and launch it with conventional Mexican dishes and bar bites such as jalapeno pops ($10), chipotle wings ($10) and patatas fritas ($10).
The tacos ($10 for three of the same variety) and quesadillas ($10) feature three options for fillings - carnita pork with pico de gallo (fresh salsa), spicy chicken with pico de gallo, and shrimp.
31 Ah Hood Road, HomeTeamNS-JOM Clubhouse, #01-07
Opens Mon to Fri, 11am to 3pm, 5.30pm to 10pm; Sat, Sun & public holidays, 11am to 10pm
When the Singaporean owners of FIX Cafe in Balestier wanted to revamp their eatery to serve Mexican food, they decided to mix it up with some local influences and components.
Not only does that help them maintain their halal certification, it also makes the food more accessible to locals, and the ingredients easier to find.
For instance, director of kitchens Mervyn Phan included chinchalok (fermented shrimp paste) in their tomato salsa, and local dried chillies in their enchiladas, instead of Mexican poblano chilli.
Dishes such as the chicken fajitas include achar ($18) while the prawn and lime fajitas are spiced up by kimchi ($22). Even the signature dessert - the bunuelos with ice cream ($8) - is glazed in gula melaka instead of sugar syrup.
320 Tanglin Road
Opens Tue to Fri, 11am to 10.30pm, Sat, Sun & public holidays, 9am to 10.30pm
After seven years of serving modern American cuisine at its Phoenix Park location, Spruce was recently rebranded to make way for a new Texan-Mexican concept, and is now known as Coyote.
The menu features dishes such as chorizo y papas ($19) - grilled chorizo with potato wedges, spicy tequila wings ($17), a signature papaya cod fish ($38) served with kerabu salad, frijoles (beans) quinoa and papaya sauce, and a variety of tortilla-based items such as enchiladas, quesadillas and tacos.
Don't Tell Mama
52 Tanjong Pagar Road
Opens from 5pm to midnight daily
Korean kimchi and Mexican quesadillas seem like quite the odd pairing. Yet a wave of Korean-Mexican fusion restaurants has managed to gain a following in both the United States and Korea, and the ripple has found its way to our shores.
Don't Tell Mama - named after a tongue-in-cheek reference to visiting a bar and hiding it from your parents - is a Korean-Mexican fusion bistro by the Redz Group, which also runs the Korean fried chicken brand Chicken Up.
It serves straightforward casual Mexican fare with Korean components, such as a beef bulgogi salad served with fresh salsa and guacamole ($16) and quesadillas stuffed with sauteed kimchi, mozzarella cheese and chicken ($14).
THE BUSINESS TIMES