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By: Carlos Dragonné @carlosdragonne
Recently, we received a clear message in our effort to promote and procure traditional Mexican cuisine. Even with a developed understanding of our national gastronomy, we have encountered few occasions on our path that were as clear as the night when we listened to those who could recite the national gastronomic history with such precision. Although the families and cities that we were raised in can often seem so different, the flavors, aromas, and rituals of the kitchen unite us to such an extent that we can lose ourselves in the similarities.
With that we can summarize our night at Los Mirasoles (“The Sunflowers”), a restaurant that belongs to the Figueroa family. It is an emblem in Morelia that, between the dishes, conversations, and architecture, is recognized by the INAH as part of the Historic Center, and was named as part of the Cultural Heritage of Humanity. As we sat there, we inhaled the sensation of being part of history and legacy.
It was not our first visit to Morelia– on this occasion, we were ready to rediscover places that we had already gotten to know without losing our critical eye and high expectation to find what to include in our program. In this vein of thought, The Sunflowers restaurant is clearly a space in which traditions and memories are represented in such a delicate way that is rarely found when looking for an intimate contact with the past.
The restaurant was initiated by a family from Cuitzeo, a town of endless flavors, colors, and sensations created by generations of women who all cooked together. And of course, the grandfather who was described as the institution of the family. Eventually, they transmitted their family heritage to Dr. Genovevo Figueroa and his wife. Today, their two sons are head of The Sunflowers restaurant.
Constructed at the end of the 16th Century the restaurant was originally the home of the family that founded it. Genovevo Figueroa Jr. and Fernando Figueroa were raised in this home, learning how to walk and eventually run through the hallways that are now filled with tables and chairs. The idea of the restaurant came from Genovevo and his eagerness to eat homemade food after years of travel and eating out. After traveling through Mexico, he returned to a house full of memories. With the help of an architect and his father’s guidance, he decided to open a restaurant to share the flavors and dishes he remembered eating in this house as a child. It is not surprising to find that Genovevo’s mother and grandmothers and are the inspiration of the dishes of The Sunflowers Restaurant. Today, these recipes are fused with inspiration of other women, full of their own anecdotes and stories. Nonetheless, the kitchen remains under the watch of Mrs. Figueroa who not only cooks in the kitchen, but implements the recipes that she discovered in her travels through Purépecha communities, and learned from the elder women who cooked these dishes for hundreds of years.
Even the most critical expert would enjoy this dining experience, where a maximum of twenty guests at a time receive spectacular attention. We are directed to the Main Hall, which is embellished with the reproduction of one of the most important murals in the city. The mural depicts the history of Morelia and remains today in all its splendor. It is also a tribute to Dr. Genovevo Figueroa, the father of this family. In one part of the mural you can see a sunset falling over Cuitzeo, where Dr. Genovevo Figueroa was born. This detail could seem insignificant, but we learn to appreciate it when we hear that, due to its geographical location, a beautiful sunset cannot be seen in Cuitzeo. Fernando and Genovevo point out a house in the mural that represents the house that their father move into in Morelia, after he left Cuitzeo.
La charanda, a traditional Michoacan drink is brought to the table. It is a kind of sweet brandy that doesn’t have the typical sharpness of alcohol. We love it so much that we add a couple of bottles to our shopping list to bring a taste of Michoacan back with us to Mexico City.
As an appetizer, we receive Fried Cottage Cheese with Purple Onion and Chile, accompanied by fried tortilla chips. Then came the Seared Tuna Toast with Sliced Leeks. Next, the star dish awaited us: Michoacan Style Tacos de Chamorro (Pork Leg Tacos)– so tempting that Fernando Figueroa himself had to finish enjoying them before he continued his talk about the first days of the restaurant.
Next we ate Capon Chilies Stuffed with Cottage Cheese and bathed with a Cilantro Sauce– a dish that, in addition to being very tasty, is also nutritious. One of the most important things about pre-hispanic food that has survived the test of time, is and it is one of the healthiest, most nutritious cuisines that exist.
The Trout Tacos followed, and despite looking like quesadillas, Fernando explained to us that the shape of the tortilla is not what determines whether or not something is a taco. Already having tasted a party of flavors, the tacos surprised us in an outburst of intense and well balanced flavors. The best flavor of all was the trout cooked perfectly so that it melted gently our mouths.
Although one might assume that the dishes ended here, the food kept coming from the spectacular kitchen that was once a large living room. It was time to try the Morisquera, a true classic of Michoacan with Cotija cheese– one of the only three Mexican cheeses created in Michoacán– accompanied with red chili sauce and a rice without salt, to bring out the combination of flavors.
Next we tried the Guajillo Chili Adobo Enchiladas, Stuffed with Onion and Cotija Cheese; Pork Leg with Pulque, Pasilla Chili, Adobo Sauce. You’d think that the sauce might remind us of the typical drunk sauce used for barbecues. However, this sauce was soft, sweet and went perfectly with the texture of the pork leg– a perfectly presented viceregal recipe.
The Filet Doña Mari was undoubtedly the star recipe. It consisted of a fillet steeped with walnut, avocado leaf, olives, almonds and pasilla chili, taking us back once again to the era of Viceroyalty Mexico when it was prepared for guests of nobility.
Between bites, we were offered Mezcal from Michoacan. It allowed us to have good digestion, despite the parade of dishes that we had eaten. In each region where Mezcal is made, we always find totally different flavors due to the water that it is prepared with. The water is also known to change the flavor of the Maguey plants grown in Michoacan.
We finished the meal with Banana Fritters with Piloncillo Syrup and Whipped Cream. They transported me to the past when my grandmother used to make them. I remembered enjoying them every winter. In addition to the tastes and smells, my memories brought a smile to my face as I reflected on the happiness that emanated from that time.
Sourdough Chicken Broth, Centennial Consome and even the simple Chicken Milanesa can also be found on the menu. In the words of its founders, those aromas transport them to their childhood, as they ran through the house to and from all of the stories they created as children.
A trip through the intimate stories of a happy family guided us in the enjoyment of the dishes. We learned about the moments that turned them into the people they are today. Among these old quarry walls, they share a trip to the past with us and all those who cross through the doors of The Sunflowers. The visitors are led by the hands of proud hosts. We returned to our hotel not only satisfied in body, but filled in spirit.
To be continue Morelia, the morelian night is calling me