“At [Top Chef], I was adding fish sauce and sesame to a mole – if an old lady in Mexico had seen that, she would have hit me with a wooden spoon,” says Maria. But it was that kind of risk-taking that propelled her to victory. The same could be said of the dishes I devour at her house: grilled cauliflower tacos with madras curry, orange zest and coriander oil; a mushroom-based chorizo; and the famous ever-changing fries and salsa flights. Today, Maria’s signature potato chips come with everything from Mexican chipotle salsa to Asian peanut sauce. On the one hand, she says, “I’m going to give you a real Mexican experience, and it’s beautiful. But also, she adds, “I’m going to make you a salsa that can be influenced by Indian cuisine, by Japanese cuisine or by Italian cuisine. And that, I can confirm, it’s beautiful too.
While Mexican desserts like tres leches cakes, orejas (puff pastry cookies), and conchas (sweet rolls) abound in Tucson, Sonoran sweets are harder to find. But I was determined to hunt down these coyotas. They’re a staple in the town of Hermosillo, three hours south of the border, but elusive in Tucson. According to Maribel, “They’re still a cottage industry in Sonora—and if you live in Tucson, you’re probably talking about someone bringing them to you from Hermosillo.”
However, I found a local seller: Dolce Pastello. When I passed by yesterday, the owner Aide Almazan told me that she had two kinds in stock: pineapple and pumpkin. For the record, I’m grateful for all the coyotas, and the pineapple in particular was transcendent. Still, I had been disappointed not to find the traditional variety filled with cane sugar – and when Aide said she would try to get some for me, my hunt began.
Finally, as I wait, I see his phone light up with what must be the long-awaited call: the man I need is outside, so I jump off my bar stool and accompany Help to at the parking. The man, who happens to be Aide’s father-in-law, doesn’t know what hit him as I take custody of the basket his wife, baker Maria Ofilia Almazan Serecer, sent him here.
Apologizing for my behavior, I bring my loot to a counter, where I rummage through it like a jackal. Caramel? Awesome! Strawberry? Why not? More pineapple? I take them. But cane sugar is nowhere to be found. Then I look at the counter and see that Aide has put some aside for me. Without wasting time, I remove the protective plastic. Right after the rich, flaky surface, my teeth sink into all the candy cane filling. I’ve seen the ingredient – which looks a bit like a solid piece of crystallized honey – in Mexican stores, but never imagined how soft it could be, or how ethereal it could taste. . If I had known, I might never have left Tucson in the first place.