By THÉRÈSE MARGOLIS
When Jesús Torres was growing up in his native Guerrero, he wasn’t like most boys his age.
Instead of playing soccer and watching movies, he preferred to spend his free time in his home’s open-air kitchen, where he would help his grandmother prepare the family’s meals on a stone stove, incorporating whatever fresh ingredients she found.
At the heart of all of the dishes was corn, the main staple of most Mexican diets.
In his teen years, Torres and his family traveled across much of Mexico, where both he and his grandmother discovered new ingredients and new preparation methods, all of which were soon assimilated into the family’s unwritten cookbook.
So when Torres grew up and settled in Mexico City, he decided to pay tribute to his grandmother by recreating that stone kitchen in Guerrero and some of the traditional family dishes she used to create.
Opened a year and a half ago, Expendio de Maíz (Sale of Corn) is as close to downhome Mexican cooking as you can get in the capital, and while it is far from haute cuisine, it is a taste of true Guerrero flavors, all served up fresh in a hole-in-the-wall bistro with no menu and no price lists.
At Expendio de Maíz, you get whatever Torres and his staff happen to be cooking that day, which in most cases involves fresh meats, seafoods and vegetables boiled into a variety of spicy sauces and moles and served up on top of a freshly made corn tostada.
Just like in Torres’ grandmother’s kitchen, corn is the key ingredient in just about everything served at Expendio de Maíz.
Even the beer and atole served here are made from corn.
All of the corn used at Expendio de Maíz is locally sourced from organic, fair-trade farms in the nearby State of Mexico, and Torres says that when his annual contract for the maize runs out, so will the production of his dishes.
Torres works closely with the farmers to make sure that the corn is top quality and not mixed with genetically altered strains.
There are only two dining tables at Expendio de Maíz, stationed directly in front of the open-air kitchen along the sidewalk, along with a few wooden benches for guests to sit.
If you don’t like chillies or happen to not eat pork (the main protein served), Torres and his team will accommodate you with especially made non-piquant, veggie options, but if you settle for these, you are missing out on the main attraction of the eatery: Torres’ unique gift for mixing and matching flavors depending on what he has on hand, a trait he inherited from his grandmother.
The combinations are delightfully unexpected and sometimes jolting, but always appetizing.
None of the dishes have names; they are just what comes out of the kitchen and Torres’ vivid culinary imagination.
The sauces and moles are cooked in traditional clay comales and simmered for hours over the stove, which occupies the heart of the restaurant, so even if a dish served one day may seem similar to one served the day before, the flavors can vary greatly.
Expendio de Maíz — along with two other Mexican eateries, Ticuchi and Masala y Maíz — has been nominated for France’s Le Fooding restaurant guide’s Priceless Cities Best New Bistro award.
The winners will be announced later this month.
Expendio de Maíz is located at Avenida Yucatán 84 in Colonia Roma Norte, and is open for breakfast and lunch, from 9:30 a.m. to 6 p.m., Tuesday through Sunday.
If you are planning to go, get there early, because space is limited and demand is high.