With the current economic conditions, new and delicious food options have been sprouting up in unexpected places. Several restaurateurs and chefs in Alberta have taken to sharing space with other businesses in order to drive cost efficiencies. One example is the popular Noble Pie, located inside Eighty-Eight Brewing Co. Another example is Con Mi Taco. The pop-up business has been creating some of Calgary’s most buzzed about tacos in the city and it features a rotating menu that includes homemade salsas, Mexican dishes, and tacos with unique ingredients including soft shell shrimp, bay scallops, and beef cheeks, all made out of a tiny kitchen inside Shelter Cocktail Bar.
The chef behind Con Mi Taco, Mikko Tamarra’s food is inspired by his experiences working and travelling across Latin America, to some of the best kitchens in Peru and Mexico where he learned about techniques and flavours of Latin cuisine.
After a brief stage at Astrid y Gaston in Lima, Peru, a restaurant on the “50 Best Restaurants” list for Latin America, Tamarra staged at acclaimed chef Enrique Olvera’s restaurant Criollo in Oaxaca, Mexico.
“I went to Oaxaca without knowing what to expect and it turned out to be a mind-blowing experience. It’s almost a cuisine of its own. There’s so much tradition and so many products that come from this region!” says Tamarra.
While travelling in Tulum, Tamarra came across a little taco stand owned by a man everyone called Tio, Spanish for uncle. Tamarra was blown away by the tacos al pastor and the tacos de cabeza (cow’s head) made at this stand. “It was the best taco I've ever had at that time. I went there almost every night,” Tamarra adds. This experience sparked a deep passion for Mexican cooking and a keen interest to learn how to make tortilla using traditional methods.
Tamarra makes fresh tortillas every day for Con Mi Taco with nixtamalized corn. Tamarra is currently using a few different corn varieties imported from Mexico for his tortillas, including blue corn (Conico Azul), red corn (Bolita Belatove), and yellow corn (Olotillo Amarillo). The corn is par-cooked, then soaked in an alkaline solution called “cal” (calcium hydroxide or lime water). Nixtamalized corn improves the texture for tortillas and increases the corn’s nutritional value.
Once the corn has been properly processed, it is ground and the mixture is mixed with just enough water to create a dough called masa. Tamarra then hand presses balls of masa into thin circles that are cooked on a griddle to produce nutty and flavourful tortilla.
Though time consuming, the traditional method produces tortilla that is more flavourful. Unlike store-bought tortilla, which can often be dry or brittle, a well-made fresh corn tortilla is generally soft, pliable, and offers a nice chew. “I decided to make my own tortilla from nixtamal because I love the flavour and smell of fresh tortillas. It also gives me a chance to show people what a good taco can be.”
Until the end of January, customers can try Tamarra’s tacos and other dishes every Tuesday to Sunday. After January, Tamarra will be travelling back to Mexico to continue his learning, which includes a weeklong stage at Pujol, another restaurant owned by Enrique Olvera that is currently third on the “World’s Best 50 Restaurants” list. During this trip, Tamarra will also spend time in Tijuana where ingredients and techniques are different from the other Mexican regions he has visited.
Once he returns in the spring, Tamarra plans to host more pop-ups with new dishes inspired by his latest travels. Follow his journey on Instagram @ConMiTaco to keep up to date on his upcoming pop-up's and travels.