How immigrants are redefining 'American' in Southern California

Ethnic food tastes worth acquiring: Tejuino

Photo by mswine/Flickr (Creative Commons)

Can fermented masa taste good? Yes. A cup of tejuino, August 2008

We're on day three of a week of posts involving those delicacies from Southern California's smorgasbord of ethnic cuisines that may not sound, look, smell, or even necessarily taste like delicacies on the first try, but are tastes worth acquiring because they're pretty darn good.

Readers have been sending in suggestions, so look for a list at the end of the week. In the meantime, today's delicacy is tejuino, the Mexican fermented corn drink made with piloncillo, the unrefined brown sugar used in Mexico, and that tastes far better than it sounds. Really.

The suggestion comes from Gustavo Arellano of the OC Weekly, he of ¡Ask A Mexican! fame and the author of a forthcoming book on the history of Mexican food in the U.S. Here's what he wrote in an e-mail about tejuino, which is beloved by tapatíos, the nickname for Guadalajarans:

Only the tapatios truly love it...but at its best, that fermented masa gets cut by piloncillo and ice cream.

When I expressed doubts after having run across a not-so-great batch some years ago, he reminded of me of what I already knew, which is that "anything involving piloncillo is, ultimately, delicious."

And so it is. The trick to good tejuino, which is served cold, is lots of piloncillo, along with a hefty pinch of salt and generous squeeze of lime juice. It's traditionally served with a scoop of lemon or lime shaved ice or sherbet, which adds to its sweet tanginess.

To remind myself of the taste, I bought a big cup of it today at Tejuino Los Reyes, a Lincoln Heights juice bar. It came topped with a bright green scoop of lime sherbet and was ridiculously sweet and tangy, almost like agua de tamarindo but thicker. It was hard to put down.

Yesterday's post featured durian, the foul-smelling, good-tasting fruit that is immensely popular in Southeast Asia and is found in Asian grocery stores here. Monday I started things off with an ugly-but-good dish from my upbringing, arroz con calamares en su tinta, or rice with squid in its own ink.

Have a suggestion for a similar acquired taste? Feel free to post it below. Photos are welcome.

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