La Chingada, 12 Rotherhithe New Rd, London SE16 2AA
La Chingada: It's all in the name
Having been to Mexico twice, I’d like to think I’ve at least some elementary grasp of authenticity. The only caveat, however, is that both times were to Tijuana- purpose-built for tourists and so I suspect the idea that I’ve experienced the ‘real’ Mexico is sort of half-arsed.
But it’s definitely where I’ve had some firsts. From bullfights through the balmy hours of 11am to 3pm seated on haemorrhoid-grade concrete to a strip club where I had my fifteen-year-old ahuacatl's crushed by the day shift performer as I clung to my $2 Dos Equis, it was a test of thresholds. On our way across the street, a man yelling ‘hey, gringo!’ points at me with a machete held aloft, inscribed with 'O.J. SPECIAL’ for a mere $80. Flattery on many levels.
Perhaps the memory most vivid besides almost falling out of a two-storey window because I kept forgetting there were no windows, was the smell and taste of corn tortillas. Coarse and gnarled with char, the deeply familiar bottom-of-the-bag popcorn flavour embedded itself into my brain, laying dormant until recently.
La Chingada, meaning ‘the fuck/she fucks/potentially female sex worker’ in Spanish, it’s more or less spot-on is pre-empting what you might mutter to yourself as you shovel in most of the menu. Located in the still criminally under-frequented haven of Deptford, it's a tiny place that pulls in droves of homesick Mexicans.
Having just opened up after the Christmas break and changing their menu in a month, they’ve had to carefully supply themselves with just enough stock. Whilst a completely commendable business manoeuvre, it also means that all their pork has sold out by the time we arrive.
Tortilla chips fresh from the fryer absolutely hum with that ambrosial scent of corn being carried on the shoulders of fat. Piled with pickled jalapeños, sparkling pico de gallo with a fat dollop of guacamole that sings with lime and garlic harbour a hearty sludge of refried beans beneath. All of this welded together with a oozing lace of cheese.
The molettes are toasted bread smeared with refried beans, blanketed in melted cheese and dressed with more pico de gallo. Not a major departure from the previous dish but who doesn’t love a great riff on cheese on toast?
The tacos, whilst limited on choice, are all pocket rockets. 'Alambre'- a carnivorous three-way of beef, bacon and pastor chorizo, is cooked with green peppers, onion and topped with a soothing queso fresco. The ‘chorizo’ tacos are even simpler with only coriander and onion, but arguably hit the hardest. I find myself ordering another lot before I’ve even finished.
Confit beef cooked for three hours and adorned with onion, coriander and radish is the ‘suadero’. As tender as my bald head in the Tijuana sun, the meat is a walkover, slicked in its own fatty essence. The only real disappointment is the burrito; the first bite, which by all accounts is the sweetest, wrests that moment from me entirely by revealing a woefully underfunded beef department. A coil of tortilla runs through the centre creating a partition between the beans and rice whilst the lettuce just absorbs the ambient warmth. Trace amounts of cheese seems to appear for a laugh. Dousing this sucker with both jalapeño and chilli crema goes some way to getting this thing down, but only just.
Now we’re limber, it’s time for the beef quesadilla. Bulging with melted cheese that barely keeps a grip on the chunks of confidently seasoned steak and onions, we order two lots initially then a third for the road.
But going out on a high- the absolute sort I am for a spicy margarita, La Chingada delivers. With a thorough caking of the blessed Tajin around the rim, it’s that addictive blend of bright lime and the twang of tequila all barbed with jalapeño.
La Chingada is pared back; there are no gimmicks and nigh-on frill-less because it’s all in the food, burrito notwithstanding. It’s a dinky little place alive with the bustle of a busy open kitchen, the white noise of plunging deep-fryers, all imbued with the soundbites of people hopped-up on serotonin and Jarritos sugar. La Chingada achieves what any ethnic restaurant strives to do: to bring a little slice of home into its bricks-and-mortar and does so in a way that isn't overwrought or overly contrived. A bit rich coming from me, I know. Anyway, be swift and book- this place absolutely packs itself to the gills past 8pm. You're welcome, dear reader.