Today Focus Friday goes Mexican! Since starting their online shop three years ago, Lily Ramirez Foran and her partner Alan have become THE voices when it comes to Mexican food in Ireland. Earlier this year, they opened their store Picado Mexican Pantry. We caught up with Lily to find out how everything is going for them.
Hi Lily, can you tell us a little about your food heritage and where your interest in food began?
I started cooking seriously when I moved to Ireland 14 years ago. Mexican food is deep rooted in tradition; it is complex and rich and it varies greatly from region to region.
When I moved to Ireland, I found myself eager to share my Mexican heritage with my Irish family and in food I found the best vehicle to do it. I can talk about Mole or tortillas for ages and, while at it, touch aspects of political and social life in Mexico without deviating from the food topic!
How has your business evolved since it started?
When we open our online shop 3 years ago, we knew it was going to be hard work. We both have paying jobs and had fairly active social lives. I saw the shop as a very selfish opportunity to procure ingredients for my cooking and for those who wanted to have a go at it with me through the blog. I started buying what I wanted to cook, so ingredients such as Masa-harina, tomatillos, chipotles and dried guajillo crept into the shop’s catalogue really quick! After about a year, I started looking outside my own taste and started sourcing more hard core ingredients, like huitlacoche (corn truffles) and nopalitos (edible cactus leaves).
This summer we took the plunge and decided to gave the online shop a brick and mortar home and Picado Mexican Pantry was born! It’s been a great adventure and a huge learning curve, but we have enjoyed every step of the journey.
What is your most popular product and who are your customers?
Our best sellers are our corn tortillas. They are the corner stone of Mexican food, they’re gluten free, delicious and very versatile, but it was a struggle at the beginning when we were introducing them to the market and people did not know what they were or how to use them.
When we started, we knew that the Mexican community in Ireland was not big enough to support a business like ours, so we knew we had to do something to attract Irish customers. It was all about education of the Irish palate to the delights of Mexican food. It’s been 5 years of blogging and 3 years of demonstrations and classes, but we are finally seeing Irish people regularly through our doors, which is extremely exciting. We also have a lot of American customers who live in Ireland and know the real thing.
This has been an exciting few months for you with the opening of Picado; can you tell us what it has been like during the first few months?
It’s been crazy. Alan, my partner, and I often say it’s like having a baby: we’re constantly tired and on the go, we’re broke, sleep deprived, but very, very happy. We did most of the work ourselves and we were incredibly fortunate to have designer Alex Carberry on our side to help us put our vision into the retail space. 3 months on, we couldn’t be happier with the response we have received.
Was it always a part of your plan to host classes in the shop or is this something that has evolved? What is your most popular class to date?
I always knew that the key to attract Irish customers was education. I started giving demos and classes 3 years ago and I absolutely adore doing it. It’s my favourite part of the business, so when it came to give the shop a home, I knew I needed a demo kitchen in it, so yes, the plan was there from the beginning. We started the demos the week after we opened and we have been booked out nearly every week since! It’s a great feeling to be able to show what real, authentic Mexican food is all about in my own little space.
The most popular class is the tamales class. Great fun and very rewarding.
For a Mexican novice, what are the three ingredients that will introduce a cook to the Mexican palate?
Corn tortillas, proper black beans and a selection of Mexican dried chilies like guajillo, cascabel and ancho. With these humble ingredients, you can add at least 10 different Mexican dinners to your repertoire.
What five ingredients would you never be without?
Masa-harina, corn tortillas, black beans, chipotles in adobo sauce and dried guajillo peppers.
What’s in your fridge right now?
Old Farm pork and their pork lard (amazing Irish producer of free range, GMO free pork in Co. Tippeary), Irish vine tomatoes, fresh serrano chilies from a chilli farm in Co. Tipperary, eggs, luchito paste, Irish feta cheese, St. Tola Cheese (from Co. Clare), Gubbeen chorizo, Mossfield organic mature cheddar cheese and their delicious milk, Glennilen butter, pickled serrano peppers, fresh avocados and various fruits and vegetables.
What recipe have you taken from your mother and will pass down yourself?
My mother’s pickled potatoes are legendary in Mexico, so while she was visiting her last month, we made them together and shared them in the blog!
If you had only one recipe to share with the world to make them love Mexican food, what would it be, and why?
Definitely my ‘tacos al pastor’recipe. It is without a doubt, one of the tastiest taco recipes EVER. The marinating sauce is both beautiful and complex in flavour and easy enough to make. When done right, those tacos are a Mexican party in your mouth. If you are to try one recipe from my blog, please make it this one (you can use fish if you’re not into pork), you won’t regret it.
Picado Mexican Pantry, 44A South Richmond Street, Portobello, Dublin 2.