- The Dish: Sonoran flour tortillas
- The Place: Pollo Feliz, 13-23 Westgate St, Hackney, London E8 3RL
- The Chef: Michelle Salazar de la Rocha
Mexican chain restaurant Pollo Feliz made their UK debut in East London last month, with the grilled chicken experts bringing almost 50 years of northwest Mexican heritage to Netil Market.
Opening with a simple menu made up of Sonoran street food and staples, Pollo Feliz and its owner Michelle Salazar de la Rocha are eager to introduce the regional Mexican cuisine to what is an increasingly regional-orientated eating out UK market, with their signature pollo asado (seasoned grilled chicken), sopes (corn patties with a choice of filling) and chivichangas (deep-fried burritos filled with stewed meat) among the offerings.
A real standout at Pollo Feliz is their Sonoran flour tortilla, which is said to be a speciality of the Mexican northwest.
Traditionally hand-made, translucent and fortified with lard, these flour tortillas are light, soft and chewy, with Pollo Feliz’ filling theirs with melted cheese, refried beans and beef barbacoa (or hibiscus flower for the veggies).
Nowhere in the English capital other than at Pollo Feliz, if you take Salazar’s word for it.
“We’re fairly sure we’re the only ones making flour tortillas in London. They’re a northern Mexican speciality but change from region to region,” she said.
Said to be the most recognised grilled chicken brand in Mexico since the 1990s, Pollo Feliz have outposts in over 167 cities across the central American country, with a further five found in the USA.
Now with a first foray in the UK, the chain is championing the versatile delights of their regional flour tortilla, which is made with just flour, water, salt and fat.
“We make each tortilla by hand, which includes mixing the dough, separating, pressing, part cooking, and finishing off on the griddle,” explained Salazar.
“Crucially, there’s plenty of fat in them. Traditionally it’s 100% lard, but people make them with all kinds of fats now — avocado oil, duck fat, anything — and we use a mix of vegetable fats. The tortillas are our staple, so we want vegetarians to try them too.”
Here at Food Spark, we’ve been discussing the rise of regional in the UK for some time, with everything from Middle Eastern to Asian becoming much less blanket gastronomic entities, with individual regions given much more focus (and acclaim) of late, especially in the capital.
In terms of the Americas, we’ve seen the likes of Peruvian and Venezuelan enjoy the spotlight over the past year. But, aside from the world’s largest bakery company Grupo Bimbo entering into the UK retail market last month, there’s been very little to talk about regarding Mexican innovation/concept rollouts over the past 12 months.
Until now, it seems, with Pollo Feliz’s Sonoran street food launch. A typically arid and desert-strewn region, Sororan cuisine is a melting pot of different ingredients and recipes introduced over the years by incoming immigrants, with cactus, corn and squash blossoms (switched to hibiscus blossoms on Pollo Feliz’s menu) three commonly found foodstuffs in the north west of Mexico.
With Sonora bordering Arizona, a number of North American elements have found their way into the Mexican state’s cultural identity, with there being no better example than the Soronan hot dog.
Like Grupo Bimbo’s use of white corn rather than yellow, Pollo Feliz are being innovative through their use of authentic Mexican staples, with their fatty flour tortillas an interesting spin on the everyday corn.
With the hotly anticipated modern Mexican restaurant Kol about to drop in Marylebone and contemporary chain Tortilla Republic announcing plans for a London debut in Soho in the near future, Mexican may well appear on our agenda more and more as we go through the year.