So, I went on a Pambazo craze. A what? PAMBAZO CRAZE. They are wonderfully dipped tortas (but don’t call them that in Mexico or you will be corrected). I like to call them a Mexican French Dip. They are named after the stale, doughy bread Pambazo specially made for dipping. It holds a lot better than a French bread. The bread is dipped in a Guajillo chile sauce, grilled on both sides and then you stuffed with beans, chorizo, potato, lettuce, queso fresco and crema. They are not attractive at all but they are so delicious.
Chef Abraham Mendoza was the first one to describe them to me years ago. I immediately went in to my kitchen and made one for him. By the impression on his face and the tears in his eyes I had done a good job. He practically had a Ratatouille moment of Nostalgia! However, it has bothered me for years. “Am I representing something so delicious and addicting properly?” Just because I made a grown man cry does not mean that it’s perfect. As a chef, we have a great responsibility to represent our food and its origins correctly. It has been the base for my existence as a regional Mexican chef to educate and highlight our Mexican gastronomy in the IE. I was compelled to fly to Mexico City and try one for myself.
Trying My First Pambazo Sandwich in Mexico City
Mexico City is fast paced, energetic and very vibrant city. It reminded me a lot of New York. Some places are nice and others you must make sure that you lock your car door in case of an attempt of hijacking or kidnapping. Whatever you do don’t watch the movie Man on fire with Denzel Washington or you will never visit this city. As we landed and made our way through the airport, I couldn’t get away from the smell of sewer. I have visited many parts of Mexico and this quite frankly the smell of rotten eggs wasn’t what I was expecting.
“Welcome to Mexico senoritas’” our host greeted us. We hired a driver that would serve as a bodyguard at night, chauffeur during the day and a tourist guide in between. We felt safe with him and he gave us the 411 on how to dress, behave and what to expect. “Take us to get a Pambazo! Make sure it’s the real thing too’” I demanded then explained that my whole purpose of our visit.
He took us to the Mercado in Coyoacan-Del Carmen. We were instructed to remove our jewelry, avoid our cell phones, and wear our purses across our body. “Please stay close to me,” he instructed.
The Mercado is an open market where the people sell clothes, kitchenware, piñatas, food, candy, medicine, and black magic herbs to cast spells. I was a kid in a candy store! I wanted to stop in every station, ask questions and meet the vendors. I didn’t see any danger at all. I was ready to retire, make this place my home and start selling chiclets!
Immediately I was stunned by the aroma of the masa cooking on the grill, chilies roasting on the fire and the sounds of Ana Gabriel in the background. I turned around and there was my Pambazo served on a square styrofoam plate. The bread was a rustic, brick color with a dark burnt grill mark and my fingers burned fiercely as I touched it. I could smell the chorizo and the smokiness of the guajillo chile as I closed my eyes and took a deep breath. I took a bite and felt my heart race rapidly and a rush came over me. It was an incredible blend of flavors, sweet, spicy and savory. It was greasy, rich and could taste the fried potato as I bit into it. I sat there staring at my beloved and I felt extremely satisfied and content in knowing that I have done my customers justice.
About Chef Rosie O’Connor
Rosie O’Connor is the chef owner of Provecho Grill in Menifee and Xicana (coming soon). She is a Food Writer for Menifee Buzz and Valley News. She is also the winner of Farmer’s Market Flip, Season One, Episode One.