Morelia 2007: Pigging out in Quiroga

2/23/2007 – In Morelia it is currently all about chess. Our host are extremely gratious and treat us like kings. But not everyone is satisfied with the luxurious restaurants and fine South American wine. Some of us will insist on going out into the countryside, to see the "real Mexico." And to smell, tast and hear it. We invite you to an extraordinary culinary adventure.

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Pigging out in Quiroga

Report by Frederic Friedel

I suppose I brought it upon myself. During the first two days in Morelia I was taken to a very fine restaurant with very fine food and excellent Argentinian wine. So far so good. Everyone connected with the Super GM event here is "treated like a king" (a direct quote from Vladimir Potkin, the second of Levon Aronian). The organisers tend to anticipate your every desire, and are quick to fulfill any wish that might pop into your mind. And if you are not quick they will pay all expenses you might incur in your quest for happiness.

Anyway, on the second evening with the very fine food and exquisite wine I sighed to my host Jorge Saggiante that I still had not yet had a genuine, indigenous Mexican meal yet, one like on our trip to the volcano in the previous year. Jorge, who is going for the world record of nicest person on the planet, immediately volunteered to remedy the situation. I was told to stand by the next morning at 10 a.m., after partaking of nothing more than a cup of coffee for breakfast. "You will not be needing lunch, either, " he said. "Or dinner, or breakfast the next day."

The next morning at ten the big rented SUV was brought to the hotel and our trip to a culinary adventure in the Mexican countryside could begin.

Jorge (pronounced "Hor-he", the second being the Spanish fricative), is the organiser and main sponsor behind this year's World Championship in Mexico. He has an engineering company that builds houses, thousands of them, and he loves chess very dearly. He is full of fun, ready to enjoy anything that he encounters.

We drove for a little over an hour before reaching the city of Quiroga. When you enter there is a sign (which I did not catch with my camera) saying "Quiroga Capital Mundial de los Carnitos" – the World Capital of Carnitos. We will complete the explanation in a second. But first a few words about the city.

Quiroga is located on the northern side of a very fashonable lake, approximately 25 km from Pátzcuaro and 8 km from the archaeologically very interesting town of Tzintzuntzan. All of these places lie about two kilometers above sea level. Quiroga has a population of 25,000.

The bazar or central square – let us simply call it the focus of social activity – has all kinds of merchandize to offer. And food, prepared by families running little stalls.

Mangos, oranges, apples, pears and a myriad other fruit or vegetables, some quite indefinable, are offered for sale – and fill the air with an aroma that makes your head spin.

Above are two varieties of unknown fruit or vegetables. I asked every bona fide Mexican in the press room, but nobody could reliably identify them ("datil peppers" and "granada china", accompanied by an embarrassed smile, was the best they could come up with).

Above on sale are the ingredients for making gaspacho – not to be confused with the Spanish gazpacho, which is a cold tomato and vegetable soup. The Mexican gaspacho is a fruit cocktail which is spiced with chili, lemon and salt. Gourmets add grated cheese, power users Jalapeño slices and chili sauce.

Above is Vishy Anand (on a different occasion) enjoying a Mexican fruit gaspacho. He taught me to push the Jalapeño slices to the bottom of the glass, so they can unfold their aroma. Wife Aruna is sticking to jugo verde, a juice made of different fruits and green celery.

Levon Aronian, on the same different occasion, shows us how Armenians like their gaspacho – with lots of hot chili sauce. His second, Vladimir Potkin (from Russia) looks on in amazement and horror.

"You think this is hot?" Lev asked, "You should try my father's mustard!"

The Carnitas of Quiroga

We now turn to subject of today's discourse. We would like to warn our readers that people of certain denominations may find the following pictures disturbing. Continue at your own risk.

Carnitas is the Spanish diminutive for meat ("little meats"). In Mexico it refers to pork prepared in 5-10 kg sections, which are heavily seasoned and slowly braised or roasted. The entire process takes 8 to 12 hours. In the end the meat is so tender that it can be easily separated with a fork, or, if you are not a finicky gringo, with your fingers.

Before it is served the meat is placed in a shallow pan and roasted at high temperature to produce layers of caramelized, crisp skin and succulent meat. It is then put on a large wooden board, where it is cut up and served in the street-side stalls.

The carnitas of Quiroga in are famous throughout the Michoacán region. They are served in brown or white paper You can ask the vendor for different parts of the meat: aldilla, nana, crop (buche), rib (costilla), cuerito (little skin leather), maciza (solid part), kidney, etc. Just a little tip: the grizzle is delicious.

The carnitas are accompanied by small bags of onion and cilantro, chili salsa, sliced chilis (some extremely hot), lemon, cactus flesh and other spicy ingredients. All of this is served with fresh tortillas, in which you wrap the meat and the add-ons of your choice.

A carnitas meal is an affair for family and friends, who gather in the shade of the canvas canopies strung between the stalls. You often see three generations gathered around a table.

Above are the wonderfully charming daughters of my host, Sarah and Sofia Saggiante. They advised me on what to put on my tortillas and how to quench the unbearable burning sensation when you unwittingly include a slice of habanero chile, the deadliest of them all. Incidentally you might remember these two ladies from a lovely little story they wrote for us.

The mariachis are of course not to be missed, accompanying the meal with lively guitar music and song.


Such dedication, such virtuosity, such a sonorous voice!

Above is a spicy meat soup called "birrias" that tasted much better than it looked (they don't serve the teeth). Add limon to it and you have a feast fit for a king.

This is one of the things we did not try – another spicy meat soup.

And finally something for advance carnitas eaters – the works.

My host Jorge Saggiante with our carnitas chef. Thank you Jorge for this unforgettable experience. The carnitas were delicious, far beyond my expectations, and the atmosphere something you must experience, at least once in a lifetime. Of course if I lived in Quiroga I would probably be dead in six months, but can we do a repeat during the world championship later this year in Mexico?

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