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Sergio Garcia Manriquez: Food for the Soul

February 22, 2018

Photo courtesy of Sergio Garcia Manriquez

By Mario A. Cortez

Many people can trace their love of food to a time in their life when times were simpler and joyful, when eating lunch was more than just a half-hour break.

Sergio Garcia Manriquez, proprietor of pop-up taco concept Chicano Soul Food, can trace his love of good eating to childhood days in the countryside of Michoacan, Mexico.

“At night, when I was little, I couldn’t wait to wake up and chase the little ‘marranitos’ and milk the cows with my grandpa so we could have fresh cheese,” he shared. “My grandma would ask me to pick fresh guavas and she would make ice cream with them, or make desserts with peanuts or yams.”

Garcia Manriquez reflects that his grandma’s cooking and flavours were a blessing to him and that her “sazon,” or special touch, was truly unique.

During his formative years, Garcia Manriquez’s family moved throughout the agricultural central coast region of California, where he was exposed to the cuisine of Mexican states such as Veracruz, Oaxaca, and other unique places with distinctive ingredients and techniques.

“My family went from one town to another when we lived in the central coast, so I have always been around countryside Mexican cooking, the farmworker life, and around people from all over Mexico,” he said.

It is with these memories and experiences in mind that Chicano Soul Food looks to deliver tacos filled with homestyle, Mexican countryside dishes, taking a different approach from San Diego’s ubiquitous taco shop fare.

“Locally, the aspect of Mexican food that I grew up on was missing,” said Garcia Manriquez. “Like, we were missing stuff with nice, deep flavors like what a good mole and good pipian have. We were missing that ‘campesino’ kind of food that many people remember but can’t find.”

“I want to rekindle people’s memories of food from their childhood,” he added.

Chicano Soul Food delivers a rotating menu of guisados, or Mexican-style stews, through its two-cart operation. On any given night, the Chicano Soul Food crew serves up tacos stuffed with pork in chile verde, pipian, chorizo with potatoes, and charred chicken in chile rojo. Vegan options such as mushroom ranchero, braised cauliflower with chayote, and soyrizo lentils are also available and quite popular.

Garcia Manriquez has had this project in the works for about three years now. However, with the passing of his grandmother last year, he decided to turn up the heat on this concept.

“I had an epiphany when my ‘abuelita’ passed away,” he shared. “I had a lot of great memories of her and her recipes and it is really in the last six months that things began to click with what I wanted to do.”

An ambitious effort like this cannot be taken on by just one person, and Garcia Manriquez has a trusted team by his side.

“I started out doing this all on my own, which was a little difficult, but Joan and Rigo are key to running our pop ups,” Garcia Manriquez said.

Garcia Manriquez shared that he and Joan met while working at Del Sur Mexican Cantina in South Park and immediately clicked in their way of working, and that Rigo, a cook from Tijuana, was the perfect guy to make fresh tortillas.

As someone devoted to bringing the real flavours of home cooking, Garcia Manriquez chooses to cook only with fresh produce.

“I don’t cook with anything artificial, vegetables from cans have sweetner preservatives and other things that that aren’t good,” Garcia Manriquez stated. “So my ingredients are always fresh.”

Staying in line with this high standard of quality, Garcia Manriquez has chosen to use masa from Tortilleria Lily in City Heights for their corn tortillas, while the dough for his flour tortillas comes from Tortillas de Lola.

“I love the way Tortilleria Lily prepares their corn, you can smell it when you step in the shop, and I really like Lola’s tortillas, like, you have to try them,” he shared.

Garcia Manriquez’s project has been received very positively throughout San Diego, which brings him pride and joy.

“People’s response has been great and we have been busy lately,” he shared. “It feels good to be part of the community because, we care about our community. We don’t just want to sell our product, but to be welcomed by people too.”

“For me, this is a project that intersects with bringing happiness,” he closed.

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