One or two things might happen after your visit to one of the pioneer Mexican restaurant in Melbourne - Los Amates. If you've haven't been to Mexico before, it'll whet your appetite and curiosity and before you know it, you're heading to Mexico for your next holiday ( please don't send me your flight expense). If you've been to Mexico before, you'll be rejoiced to relive the fond memories of Mexico cuisine and culture right here in Melbourne. Opened in 2003 by the passionate Mexican, Arturo Morales, Los Amates has become a popular landmark in Fitzroy.
I've been in Melbourne for the last eleven years and is amazed by the progression of Mexican food. It wasn't until few years back that Mexican food has reached the mainstream dining scene in Melbourne. It was a totally different story back when Arturo started Los Amates. Back then, Mexican food here is more a representation of Ted-Mex ( if you're an information junkie like me, check out the whole story in wikipedia). Disappointed of how Mexican food is represented in Australia, Arturo took matter in his hand and opened his authentic Mexican restaurant and we have much to thank him for.
Arturo is such a passionate and great story-teller that his description of Mexico food and culture came alive as he speaks. Before we get into the food and the restaurant ( I know you can't wait..), I would like to share the story of how Arturo started Los Amates. You'll be amazed how much a restaurant or business is a representation of the creator himself. Passionate, driven and giving, that's how I will describe Arturo and you can see how that translates to the restaurant itself. The story of how Arturo started Los Amates looks like it has been taken out of a classic Hollywood movie. He fell in love with a visiting Australian while in Mexico. They had a great relationship but it was cut short as she needs to head back to Australia. Madly in love and looking for a change in life, Arturo packed his bag and came all across the world to be with his love. They soon got married and started a family. After twenty years of marriage, they parted ways. He always wanted to open a Mexican restaurant but they had different vision in life.
The closest I've ever got to Mexico was when I was in LA. Watching the movie Frida played by Salma Hayek, it gives me a glimpse of what Mexico is all about. Once you step into Los Amates, you'll be transported to Mexico with its bright coloured wall of yellow and orange, rows of tequila on the bar, poster of Frida on the wall, huge painting on the wall with shape of Mexico depicting different regions, ancient Aztecs crafts and cute little sombrero hats. As you enter to another room, you'll be amazed with the bright mural depicting Mexican culture drawn by a dear friend of Arturo which span across two walls. What captured me was the quote on the wall which said "Dedicated to every person who is fighting to become better.." That really captures the essence of the Mexican culture and Arturo understands his mission really well. He doesn't only want to serve authentic food but also be a representation of Mexican culture as he knows it.
Los Amates is the first restaurant to introduce The Dead Day festival celebration in Australia.When people think of The Dead Day festival, the image of painted skull faces come to mind. The significance of the culture goes beyond that (it is fun for sure). It is a festival where it brings people together and food plays a major part of the culture. The restaurant creates a different menu (yes, the food part is coming up) for this festival such as tamale (which I was fortunate to try) which are really time-consuming (take up to five days to complete) and complex. Arturo was explaining to me the process of how to make tamale with vivid descriptions that I almost felt I was right there in the kitchen with his grandmother (his grandmother is his greatest influence growing up and her photo is the restaurant). This is leading up to what you're waiting for.. the authentic Mexican food (no hard tacos on the menu please).
Whenever I try a new cuisine or culture, I always want to sample something that's found right on the dinner table in a home. I wasn't disappointed with the plate of food right in front of me. It is not the narrow view of Mexican food that I know of. In front of me is a selection of what Mexican food in its different complexity and regions from sope, tamale, taquitos dorados and quesadilla fritas. I know what you're thinking, I have no idea what she's referring to ( I've told you that this is not the normal menu you'll get in a Taco Bill) ! Don't worry, I'll explain each dishes..
Sope is a street food called antojitos (literally "little cravings") and I could perfectly see why it's called that! The small parcel made from ground maize is packed with flavour with fried black bean, crunchy lettuce and the sprinkle of crumbled cheese.
After hearing about tamale, I can't wait to sample this special dish that's usually prepared for special festival such as The Dead Day. The preparation of tamale takes time and processes. It is typically made from masa mix and put into a corn husk and filled with meat or sweet before steaming it in small batches. Arturo ceremoniously opened the wrapped corn husk and cut through the tamale and whiff of something delicious fill the air. The chicken filling was tender and flavoursome as you add the red mole. I couldn't quite get to taste each components of the mole sauce as it is a mixture of such diverse ingredients from nuts, seeds (such as sesame seeds, pumpkin seeds, or squash seeds), cilantro, garlic, onions, cinnamon, and surprisingly chocolate.The making of mole sauce sounds more complex than my day job ( yes, I dispense 'legal drugs' for a living) of making the most difficult extemporaneous cream( I'm sure the Mexican chefs will excel in chemistry!).
Now I'm eyeing my next dish of taquitos dorados which is covered with lettuce and generous helping of cheese and sour cream. I could hardly see the deep-fried taquitos underneath. I love deep-fried dishes and this dish satisfying with crunchy shell and fresh creamy topping. I was getting full by the third dish and I soldiered on with the last dish of a more familiar quesadilla fritas. It is made from blue corn ( do you know that there are sixteen types of corn available in Mexico?!) as you can tell from the colour of the dish. The filling was moist with vegetables and I ate all the fillings. This platter has truly captured the essence of the journey through Mexico.
Los Amates has been in the neighbourhood for the last thirteen years and has been known for its authentic Mexican food. Arturo spoke with great joy of how he seen the progression of some of his customers from their first dates, to marriage and honeymoon to Mexico. He takes great pride that he has shared a piece of his homeland with us here. When I asked Arturo earlier, can you describe Mexican cuisine in three words, he thrown his hand up in exasperation. Now I could understand and appreciate the complexity of the Mexican food after tasting the diversity of food. It is not a surprise that Mexican food is named under UNESCO. To me, Arturo is not just a the owner of Los Amates, but an ambassador of Mexico. Los Amates definitely encompasses everything Mexico from its authentic cuisine, friendly staffs, vibrant ambience filled with arts and the generosity of spirit. It is a little Mexico out of Mexico so to speak. It is an eye opener what Mexico is all about. Now, if you'll excuse me, I need to do some research of my next holiday..
SAT 24TH NOV 2016
Join us for a journey through Mexico with a three course banquet, a cooking demonstration by owner chef Arturo Morales in a social dining experience.
By PhehSze (PS) Teh
Pheh Sze or more commonly known as PS, is the founder of FoodSocial. She's a part-time 'legal drug-dealer' (aka a pharmacist) but a full-time food lover entrepreneur and a philosopher at heart. When she's not in her white jacket or planning her next culinary journey, she loves to ponder about the meaning of life.