As the end of October nears, people around the world return to traditional ways of celebrating life, death, and the spaces in between. Halloween, traditionally called All-Hallow’s Eve or All Saints’ Day, has become a day for spooky fun, sugary treats, and exciting costumes. I grew up learning about Día de Los Muertos in Northern California, where we learned how to make pan de muerto, decorate calaveras, and create altars for the deceased. This year, however, we’re taking you south of the border, then south some more, then east a little bit to…..the Yucatán! We chatted with Karen Gonzalez and her partner Sergio Albornoz of the Cochinita food truck in San Francisco about their Yucatán-inspired recipes, as well as some of their end-of-October traditions.
Gonzalez and Albornoz opened Cochinita in 2017, after dreaming of opening a restaurant together for years. They took the money for their wedding and invested it into a food truck, which they turned into a huge San Francisco success (and also a work of art--their truck is stunningly beautiful). Gonzalez’ parents were from Sinaloa, and Albornoz was born and raised in Yucatán. With their combined love of food, they wanted to bring the flavors and feelings of Mexico, and specifically, the Yucatán Peninsula, to San Francisco.
Bringing these flavors and feelings means providing menu items that the average American has never tried, or possibly never heard of. While Cochinita has the staples like burritos, quesadillas, and tacos, they put a Yucatán spin on them by using certain meats, vegetables, and spices. Their most traditional dish is called, fittingly, El Tradicional. Gonzalez says “it contains one panucho--handmade fried tortilla stuffed with black beans and topped with Pollo Pibil--and one salbut--one fluffy fried handmade tortilla topped with Cochinita Pibil.” Umm, sign me up.
Cochinita Pibil, Pollo Pibil, and Poc Chuc are the traditional Yucatán meats that Cochinita bases their menu around. Cochinita Pibil, Cochinita’s namesake and most popular dish, is braised pork doused in “Achiote, naranja agria, spices, and topped with pickled onions.” Putting Cochinita Pibil in widely-recognized dishes like quesadillas or tacos allows Cochinita to appeal to a huge range of people, from those craving the tastes of the Yucatán to those who want to try something brand new!
As for wine pairings, well, we have a lot of good things to say. While Cochinita’s bright, intense Yucatán flavors may seem like they would overpower any wine, we indulged in some fantastic pairings between Cochinita’s delightful flavors and Just Enough Wines’ smooth, complex ones.
First course, try out a carne asada quesadilla with Just Enough Chardonnay. That creamy, melty oozy cheese will make your heart sing, and the Chardonnay will make it dance. Next, go for three vegetarian tacos and a can of Just Enough Rosé. The lighter, tangy flavors of the vegetables, combined with the bright and crisp notes of rosé will knock your calcetines off. I hope you’re still hungry because this next pairing is iconic. Order Cochinita’s signature dish, Cochinita Pibil, walk down to the beach and dig your toes in the sand, and then pop open Just Enough Pinot Noir. You’re welcome. You can also add a little heat to your Cochinita Pibil with Cochinita’s homemade Habanero Salsa, making the softer notes of the Pinot Noir stand out even more. Lastly, if you haven’t fallen over out of sheer mouthwatering joy yet, you can try two chicken salbutes with Just Enough Brut Bubbles. Fried foods and sparkling wine are a match made in food heaven, and these fluffy, fried tortillas with our Brut Bubbles will not disappoint.
Before we gorge ourselves on these amazing dishes, we want to take a moment to recognize the Yucatán’s traditional end-of-October holiday. Similar to Día de los Muertos, or the origins of Halloween, Hanal Pixan, meaning Food for the Souls, is a three-day period where Yucatecans celebrate their loved ones who are no longer on this earth. Through food, music, prayers, rituals, and the building of altars, the souls of the dead return to the earth for a few nights to travel the spiritual pathways towards the gods. A much-loved Hanal Pixan ritual that Gonzalez and Albornoz partake in with their loved ones is the cooking of a Pib, “a big, baked chicken tamal.”
Cochinita’s beautiful trucks, kind people, and Yucatán-inspired, unbelievably delicious meals have set them up for amazing success in San Francisco and beyond. You can find them in the Marina Tuesday-Sunday, and in Golden Gate Park Friday-Sunday. Give them a follow on social media, check out their website and locations, and go get yourself some Cochinita tacos!