Think of the ultimate must-have in a Mexican fridge and you will always find pickled peppers. They are available in cans at any grocery store, but many restaurants create their own home-made ‘Chiles en vinagre’ as appetizers. If you are not a spicy daredevil, you can eat the pickled carrots which are a real treat. Did you know that it’s super easy to make your own Mexican pickled peppers? Time to give it a try!
Walking into the unassuming white-tiled shop, it does not immediately reveal what the specialty is. Maybe the earless pig perched on top of the glass counter gives a clue: everything on the menu (the tortas, the tostadas and the tacos) has pork. The owner Ernesto greets his customers with a wide smile, “Hola Buenos dias…. Que gusto verlos… bienvenidos!! (Hi good morning, it’s wonderful to see you, welcome!)
The history of Mazatlan’s oldest sandwich shop goes back to the early 1940’s when Mazatlan had only had 40.000 inhabitants. The Zambrano brothers, Jose Luis and Jose Guadalupe, arrived from Guadalajara with a novel idea to sell ‘Tortas Ahogadas’. This Guadalajara delicacy consists of a pork sandwich which is soaked in a spicy tomato sauce. Their original shop was called ‘Tortería Jalisco´, referring to their home state. It was located in front of the Pino Suarez market where nowadays you can find the Parisina fabric store. The pork sandwiches were a huge success, but the Zambrano brothers had to make slight adjustment to the original recipe; instead of soaking the sandwiches, locals preferred the tomato sauce on the side. Quarrels between the brothers ruined the original shop and they decided to each open their own business. In 1966 Jose Guadalupe opened his shop on 21-de-Marzo Street and named it ‘Loncheria Zambrano’, a Spanish version on the English word ‘lunch’. After 50 years they moved around the corner to the current location on Aquiles Serdan street in 2016. The owner and son-in-law of Jose Guadalupe, Ernesto was worried that they would lose customers, but it was quite the contrary. The proximity to the Pino Suarez market and new air-conditioned lunch room have made it the preferred spot for workers to chill and refuel.
So what makes Zambrano’s sandwiches so special? Why are they loved by generation after generation? It all starts with the bread. In Jalisco ‘Tortas Ahogadas’ are made with birote, a crunchy baguette-style bun. The Zambrano brothers quickly realized that Mazatlan’s humid climate did not favor baking this type of bread. However they take pride in having the largest ‘teleras’, flat oval-shaped buns, which are custom-made at a local bakery. The sliced pork filling is made with piglet and makes a succulent combination together with the cream and melted cheese. Topped off with shredded cabbage, onion and tomato, it’s placed on the hot griddle making it crunchy on the outside and juicy on the inside. If you like it hot, you can add the spicy tomato sauce or pickled chili.
Hungry locals come to satisfy their appetite for breakfast, lunch or dinner. Loncheria Zambrano is open all day from 8.30 a.m. – 9.30 p.m., but their busiest hours are between 1 – 4 p.m. Normally two thirds of their customers eat at the lunch room and the rest ask for it to-go. But the last few weeks this has inversed and the majority ask for takeaway.
How has Loncheria Zambrano been coping with the Coronavirus restrictions? Owner Ernesto puts it frankly, “We have been working with face masks and plastic gloves, maintaining the social distancing restrictions. We haven’t considered closing. What would I do if I stay at home? We may have less customers, but at least enough to pay the staff. The majority of my employees are single moms and primary wage earners. If I close the shop, they won’t have money to feed their families. Here at Loncheria Zambrano we are one big family and it’s my duty to take care of them. We have weathered other storms, like hurricane Olivia in 1974 and the financial crash in 2008 , and I’m confident we will make it through now."
Maaike Hoekstra has lived in Mexico for over 15 years. She is passionate about Mexican culture and food. Here are the stories and recipes she finds along the way.