Every young stagiaire who’s so much as peeled a potato under the watch of René Redzepi lists a stint at Noma—his influential restaurant in Copenhagen—on his or her résumé. But Rosio Sanchez isn’t fudging the details. The chef spent three years on the line as pastry chef at Noma, and two more in Redzepi’s test kitchen, before leaving to pursue a more personal project. The Chicago-raised daughter of Mexican immigrants planted a flag for her ancestral cuisine when she opened Hija de Sanchez, a seasonal nine-foot taco stand outside Copenhagen’s Torvehallerne Market, last June. In so doing, Sanchez effectively introduced Denmark to Mexican food, bringing fresh masa tortillas, slow-cooked carnitas and even huevos rancheros to a culture that had previously enjoyed very little exposure to these flavors. Here, Sanchez talks about the rewards of bringing a foreign cuisine to Scandinavia and the ongoing challenge of sourcing the ingredients that make it possible.
Mexican food is relatively new to Copenhagen. Has there been a learning curve for your clientele? Have you had to adapt what you want to do to get people comfortable with this cuisine?
In the beginning, people didn’t know what a tortilla was. They’d ask us, "what kind of pancake is that?" or "what is it made out of?" We find ourselves explaining our food less and less frequently now, or maybe people are just reluctant to ask. But we haven't really adjusted anything. If there is an extra-spicy salsa we will put it on the side [to allow people to control the amount of heat], but everything we have on the menu is served just as I would eat it. The fillings are quite simple—we have [a roster of] 12 tacos total and we serve three types per day. It’s all the stuff I grew up eating—tongue tacos, carnitas, fresh cheese and avocado. A few of our tacos aren’t classics, but they feel Mexican to me. We also do a fjord shrimp taco—tiny shrimp that are normally peeled, but we fry them whole and baste them with árbol chile oil. So they’re Mexican, but also so Scandinavian.
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Let’s talk about the challenge of sourcing Mexican ingredients in Denmark. How did you figure out where to get corn for your tortillas?
I first started searching for good corn and testing it while I was still at Noma. René was super cool about it; every now and then I would make masa in the test kitchen using different [samples] I’d get in from the States, from Germany, from Holland. Eventually I got an email from Itanoní Antojeria y Tortillería in Oaxaca, one of my favorite places, and my jaw dropped. The owner reached out to me because he heard I was going to open a taquería. He sent us a ton of corn to begin with, and it really was the best. Most recently he sent us a shipment of five tons. [Even though we’ve found a reliable vendor], it’s always so nerve-wracking until the shipments arrive. You just wonder, is it going to get here? What [would happen to our business if] it gets stopped in customs and returned?