Rare Mexican ingredient spices up Sunday
May 11, 2022
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I follow several Charleston area chefs on Instagram, including Jackrabbit Filly co-owner Shuai Wang. I find it interesting to see where chefs go to eat when they aren’t cooking inside their own restaurants, and Wang recently made a trip to Taqueria La Jarocha. I decided to follow his lead to Remount Road in North Charleston.
Driving to North Charleston, I felt the excitement that I always get when seeking out a new restaurant. I pulled up to a food truck parked under a metal covering and placed my order: horchata, steak sopes and a huitlacoche quesadilla.
Simply calling Taqueria La Jarocha a food truck wouldn’t remotely set the scene because of the built-in outdoor dining area at the spot serving traditional tacos, tortas, tostadas, huaraches and quesadillas. After placing my order outside of the truck, I settled at a table on the spacious patio.
Rare Mexican delicacy
One of Taqueria La Jarocha’s handful of employees was in charge of taking orders and bringing food out to customers. When I ordered the huitlacoche quesadilla, the man smiled approvingly.
Huitlacoche is a sporous fungus that feeds off corn before its ears fully develop, according to Eater. In Mexico, the rare ingredient can be found inside dishes at food stands, markets and even Michelin-starred restaurants — Danish chef René Redzepi, who co-owns one of the world’s top-rated restaurants, Noma, experimented with huitlacoche during Noma’s pop-up in Tulum, Mexico.
Huitlacoche has yet to become widely popular in the United States, where the average price is around $15 to $20 per pound, while corn clocks in at around $5. Some have nicknamed huitlacoche the “Mexican truffle” in part because of its scarcity and flavor but also as a way to shake the black-colored crop of its fungus label.
Eater contributor Sylvio Martins isn’t a fan of the nickname, arguing that “treating certain Mexican foods as foreign novelties that exist outside of the norm promotes stereotypes that Mexican ingredients are primitive foods eaten by a primitive people.”
It’s a point writers, diners and chefs must consider before labeling food. “Authenticity” varies chef to chef, as each individual’s upbringing impacts his or her cuisine in different ways.
Having not encountered huitlacoche in Charleston since visiting a pop-up called Albatross Bar, I did not expect to find it on the menu at a truck parked just off a busy stretch of Remount Road, where it’s mixed with peppers and caramelized onions inside an $8 quesadilla.
This was not my first time trying huitlacoche, but for those who have yet to have it, the flavor is hard to pinpoint. It’s bitter, smoky, earthy and just a little bit sweet — all of which work well inside the cheese-crusted quesadilla. I mellowed out the spice with sips of horchata, a Mexican rice milk drink flavored with cinnamon.
When I was a kid, my dad would always order us rice pudding if it was on the menu, so this horchata naturally took me right back to those childhood trips to the restaurants that sparked my passion for food.
The steak sopes — thick masa corn cakes — tasted like what they’re made of: corn. It completely transforms the dish. (I discussed the impact fresh masa products can have on the final product at length last week in The Post and Courier’s Food & Dining section.)
The breezy patio, which is really a portion of a large parking lot, was exactly where I wanted to be on this Sunday afternoon. Kids were laughing and playing after finishing their meals; a father and son were sharing a plate of tacos and tostadas; and like me, one couple was taking photos of their food on what was clearly their first trip to Taqueria La Jarocha.
I posted a photo of my food on my Instagram story and instantly received a reply from a Charleston area chef saying he stumbled upon Taqueria La Jarocha a few weeks ago and can’t wait to go back.
Looks like I found the right place.
You’re reading an excerpt of CHS Menu, a new food newsletter from The Post and Courier’s Food Editor Parker Milner. The newsletter features new and undiscovered restaurants in the Charleston area. Plus subscribers get access to The Post and Courier food section. To learn more visit their website: https://www.postandcourier.