Feed the world
Claim to fame: Hardships beget greatness with a little help from Mexico City’s best chefs
Reason to go: Terrific ingredients treated with ancestral Indian and Mexican techniques
To look out for: Hoja santa Patra, a good example of cocina mestiza.
Who knew that a regular visit to the market could spark such an epiphany? It was at the
Mercado de San Juan that partners Norma Listman and Saqib Keval realized they shared more than just your average, garden variety love. The Mexican chef and Indian ditto also shared a far-fetched gastronomical approach. Soon they were staging pop-up dinners with a novel theme: cocina mestiza, a cross-pollinated style of cooking utilizing ingredients and techniques from Gujarat, Kenya, Ethiopia, and for good measure, Mexico as well. It became buzz-worthy enough that they decided to find a brick and mortar space.
Things didn’t start as planned. Masala y Maíz opened right when the massive 2017 earthquake shook up the capital. Instead of a restaurant, it became a community eatery for people in need, something Listman and Keval both enjoyed. When they finally went into normal operation, their innovative menu was hailed both for its familiarity and its exoticism; the flavors were recognizable yet there were tangy, spicy sparks that conjured never-ending curiosity from the enthusiastic diners. Esquites, a corn snack with lime, chile and mayo is without a doubt Mexico’s most common street food, here it’s gussied up with coconut milk and Kenyan masala. Rice Uttapam, a dosa-like pancake with fermented chickpeas is given a sassy edge with chile costeño salsa and sweet and sour chutney. Super common fish aguachile gets a risky, yet precise twist with cumin papadums. Don’t call this fusion, call it a borderless dialogue exploring new culinary frontiers via research and progressive thinking. Maybe call it nomadic cuisine.
Besides the earthquake, there were other travails that forced Masala y Maíz to close for several months. Without going into detail, the ordeal went public, prompting the city’s restaurant community to come running with help. Suddenly, the “Mexindian” duo was hosting one-off suppers with big-name chefs such as Lalo García, Enrique Olvera, Marco Carboni, Mercedes Bernal, and Rodney Cusic. Today Masala y Maíz is back in business and thriving, which just goes to show you that cross-cultural concepts and kindness will always prevail.
Open for breakfast and lunch only, Masala y Maíz is a large eatery with a communal table and a very casual, neighborhood-style ambiance. Their beverage list boasts artisanal beer from local breweries and a particularly enticing selection of natural wines from Mexico, Chile, France, and Spain, including three varieties infused with aged hibiscus flower, passion fruit, and orange blossom. For dessert, try their orange cake paired with a cup of fortifying coffee from Veracruz, or a chai masala that taste like your mother’s hug.