Walter Mencken 11 a.m., May 24
I Found a New Food. It's Called "Tejuino"
A friend and I went to TJ for lunch the other day, partly to prove how quickly we could cross the linea. We totally failed in being swift because leisurely exploration got the best of us, but in wandering about Zona Centro we bumped into a glut of food carts at Third and Constitution.
There were plenty of aguas frescas, tacos, and sweet gorditas, but what drew my attention was a smaller sized cart made of galvanized steel and almost entirely undecorated.
All it had was a hand-painted sign that said "tejuino" and a big urn covered with a cloth.
The vendor, a venerable, soft-spoken, old Mexican guy, came over and tried to explain the nature of the beverage. I caught one phrase that sounded like "agrodolce," which is an Italian term for a sweet and sour sauce, and that was enough to pique my curiosity. The vendor explained that the tejuino is a fermented corn drink made from masa and brown sugar, at which point something clicked for me.
I'd heard of this, vaguely, somewhere in the past, but I'll be damned if I can remember where.
Naturally, I ordered a huge cup of the stuff and I watched as the guy half-filled the cup with shaved ice, squeezed in a lemon, added a huge scoop of coarse salt, and ladled in a thick, brown liquid from the amphora. He mixed it up by decanting it back and forth a few times into a pitcher and that was it.
The first sip was like, "whoa, this is something new."
As I've said before, discovering a new taste, whether I like it or not, is pretty much my favorite thing ever.
And I liked the tejuino. It was a little bit viscous, but not slimy at all, and nice and cold from the shaved ice. The tang of the lime juice was right up front, but underneath that there was this rich flavor that evoked sourdough bread or Belgian beer. It was a totally intoxicating combination of flavor, texture, temperature, and novelty and I relished every sip.
And it was only, like, two dollars. Score.
Fact: if some hipster bartender invents a boozy version of this drink with mezcal or something in it, he's going to have fairly unrestricted access to my wallet for a good while.
Looking about the internet later I learned that tejuino is a native of Jalisco, where tequila comes from, but it's making inroads into the other Mexican states and border areas. The premise is pretty simple: a slurry of masa (corn flour), water, and brown sugar gets boiled and allowed to ferment on its own terms. That's the whole process. I hadn't actually seen it until that unobtrusive cart on a Tijuana street corner, but I'll be keeping my eyes wide open in the future for my new (for the moment) favorite beverage.