Brunchito at Pompa
Brunchito at Pompa

Mexicana Indica

Indian diners can’t seem to get enough of Mexican cuisine’s bold flavours

Early this year, brothers—Ryan and Keenan Tham—decided to deviate from their chosen path. Known for doing Asian concept restaurants in Mumbai and Bengaluru, their new place in Mumbai, Pompa has changed nationality. It is traditional Mexican. Suddenly Mumbai’s discerning diners had a fresh choice: Salmon ceviche, Lamb birria and Lobster tacos.

The country is in the grip of a Mexican food wave if restaurant orders are a menu metric. True Latino flavours are sautéing taste buds in major metropolitan cities such as Delhi, Mumbai and Kolkata. A menu analysis by GlobalData that analysed 5,02,967 items in Indian restaurants showed that Mexican restaurants are two per cent of all restaurant types in India. Going by a Mordor Intelligence report that estimates the size of India’s cafes and bars market in 2024 at $17.54 billion, it is a helluva lot of chili corn carne. Tacos are belling the Indian cat, thanks to Mexican food’s similarity to Indian food. Rajma chawal is originally Mexican, later Indianised. Tortillas could be easily mistaken for chapatis—with fillings. A taco could be a papad stuffed with salad. Which is why Indians dig (into) Mexican food, and the abundant use of onions, tomatoes and coriander in both cuisines offer a comfortable familiarity.

Plates filled with crunchy and savoury Aji lima churros fly off from the kitchen, making their way across tables at the recently-opened Lyla at Bandra Kurla Complex in Mumbai. Dusted with chilli lime seasoning, the addictive churros are served with a variety of dips: think chutney equals salsa. The concept of Mexican food with a Californian twist was a collaborative enterprise with Chrome Hospitality’s Chef Beena Noronha. “The Cali-Mex twist adds another layer of appeal since it includes elements of Californian cuisine, which has fresh ingredients. The fusion of flavours work. Indian diners now appreciate innovation and variety in their food,” says the chef.

Chille releno de quesso
Chille releno de quesso

Although Kolkata does not have an extensive culture of Mexican restaurants yet, Saket Agarwal, co-founder of Manifest Hospitality, says it is witnessing a change, albeit slowly. He took a trip to Mexico to study the culinary terrain. After 40 days of sampling, he opened Mehico, an experiential bar and restaurant in the City of Joy. “We came back with notes and lots of pictures and worked together to curate a menu that recreated the magic of Mexico in the heart of Kolkata,” he explains. The 40 days must have left an impression because the restaurant has the feel of an original Mexican cantina: bright colours and bold flavours. The bestsellers on the menu include Baby corn elote, Supreme nachos, Guacamole molcajete, Anaheim costra tacos and Chiles rellenos de queso.

Delhi had its Mexico moment quite a while ago; Noah Barnes, co-founder and chef at Miss Margarita by Arriba which opened over three-and-a-half years ago found that Mexican was the big enchilada. His next boarding pass was to Goa. “We’ve established a beautiful tropical setup with a spacious indoor and outdoor area featuring traditional Mexican barbacoa,” he says.

With both Indian and Mexican cuisines sharing a love for bold flavours and fresh ingredients, Karan Khilnani, partner at Juju, Pune’s first tequila bar, is not surprised at Indians taking to Mexican food. At Juju, the Lamb birria taco, Edamame guacamole with truffle and scallion, Blackened fish taco and Buffalo chicken tenders with homemade hot sauce are bestsellers. “Both cultures use a lot of legumes and beans, and we’ve got our own version of naan, roti and paratha, just like tortillas. In both cuisines, sauces and chutneys are a big deal.” Street food is a thing in both countries since a variety of tasty, affordable snacks and dishes are always in demand. “Samosas and tacos use fresh ingredients. Both Mexicans and Indians enjoy sweets,” he shares. The roughly 15,000-km distance between India and Mexico suddenly doesn’t seem that much when you call for the menu.

The New Indian Express