South Philly Barbacoa, run by an Undocumented Mexican Chef, One of the U.S. Best New Restaurants
The tiny restaurant South Philly Barbacoa, run by an undocumented immigrant from Mexico, has become one of the new best restaurants in 2016 in the United States.
According to the gastronomic magazine "Bon Appétit", the barbecue, the tacos and the consommé served by Cristina Martínez in her restaurant are one of the ten most delicious meals one can find in America this last year.
The recognition, which puts South Philly Barbecue on the sixth position on the Hot 10 list of America's best new restaurants, consolidates her culinary dream after years marked by sacrifices due to its undocumented status.
Cristina first came to Philadelphia (PA) in 2006 to work for a year and financially support her family in Mexico, although she was forced to return in 2009.
The Mexican chef explains in an interview with Efe that she had to cross the desert, drink dirty water, sleep in the cold and walk in the rain, "risking my life at every moment", to return to the city she had discovered years ago and where she dreamed of serving her barbecue.
With 27 years of experience in barbecue cooking, which she learned from his parents, Martinez identified the need to provide food and coffee to workers leaving their homes at four in the morning and had to wait until late morning to find an open restaurant in the Mexican suburb of South Philadelphia.
One man alone can't break the lives of so many people.We are not afraid of being deported.
The cook says that barbecue represents her community and her hometown, Capula (state of Mexico).
"It is a blessing for me and my people that our food has reached all the world and that now serves to tell stories of migrants like me," says the Mexican entrepeneur.
At a time when President-elect Donald Trump has promised to deport millions of undocumented, the chef is betting on tables where people from all five continents can eat together.
"One man alone," she says, "can not break the lives of so many people.We are not afraid of being deported.We are concerned about breaking the feelings of those children who now ask their parents if they have the necessary papers to stay in the country where they were born. "
Small but very cozy, the restaurant is decorated with colorful mosaics and native Mexican art, as if it was taqueria in the deepest part of Mexico.
The establishment only operates on weekends, when families traditionally eat the local star dish, the barbecue.
We do not need documents to live in peace and happiness
This "delicacy", as Cristina calls it, requires a long preparation process in which the lamb is harvested for five to eight hours and then cooked in a pot for four or five hours more, to make the meat tender, the key to a good barbecue.
In addition, the meat is served alongside lamb belly and intestines, red jalapeños, onion and garlic, as well as a well-cooked consomé made from the juice of the meat, in addition to rice and chickpeas.
When she arrived in Philadelphia, the owner of South Philly Barbacoa started to work in an Italian restaurant, and despite the language barrier, managed to become a pastry maker.
However, her undocumented status made her lose her job. So she started to cook barbecue on her own, at the same time she was working in other part-time jobs during the first few months.
Her restaurant opened just a year and a half ago thanks to the generosity of a client and friend who lent her the local, but the adventure of South Philly Barbacoa began in her small flat, continued for a year and a half more in a food cart through the streets of Philadelphia until she managed to have its own space.
Despite her undocumented status, Cristina hopes to continue serving barbecue every weekend to the residents of South Philadelphia with the same passion and dedication.
Her case has a difficult solution because she entered the United States irregularly and, although she is married to an American, the only way to obtain her residence permit would be to leave her beloved restaurant and her life in Philadelphia to return to Mexico and start all the process again.
"We do not need documents to live in peace and happiness, although before the eyes of the world, we do," says Cristina optimistically.
"Life is freedom," he concludes, "and I do not need those papers to be happy. I feel free because I am part of society and I comply with it by providing work and food."