It feels like Richmond Street is where the road that was George’s Street and Aungiers Street eventually gets to breathe. The pace slows, the paths widen and the vista of the canal gives the short stretch of road a warmness. Picado Mexican is a splash of colour on the street, a small pocket of Mexico selling the foods of the country as well as running cooking classes. Inside the small shop the interior is bulging with vibrant packaging that is both fun and charismatic. Sitting behind the counter is the welcoming presence of Lily Ramirez-Foran from Mexico that has called Ireland home for the past 18.5 years.
We have a lot to thank Lily Ramirez-Foran’s Dublin husband for. They met each other whilst they were studying in Japan, she was a linguistic student with a major in Japanese and a minor in english. That meeting led Lily to start a life with him in Dublin. “The first six months in Dublin were brilliant, everything was new. After six months I started to get really homesick for Mexico. I found myself in a really odd place, I was missing home a lot. It took me that length of time to realise that I was missing the food from home. We are so connected to who we are through food, I find food keeps me grounded and connected home.”
Trying to find Mexican food in Ireland
It’s hard to imagine the cultural shock that met Lily but she recollects the absurdity with an infectious sense of humour. “Almost twenty years ago the Celtic Tiger was only starting to show it’s claws and there was absolutely nothing in terms of Mexican food. I remember going through the aisles of Superquinn and wondering why are there no raw beans! Why are all the beans sweet? What’s wrong with people?!” To compound that Lily comes from the city of Monterrey which has average temperature of 45º Celsius. It’s hard to think of a time when an avocado, chilli and mango was seen as exotic in Ireland. “After living in Ireland a year I noticed that Superquinn had a Colombian buyer. I never met the man but I spoke to him on the phone and the reason that came about was one day there was a Mexican brand in the supermarket! I rang the head office and said I want everything that you have! We had a shed in the garden that was supposed to be for tools but I had it jam packed with out of date Mexican food! I didn’t care, I was so desperate. The first hot chilli I bought, I did a happy dance at the supermarket! It cost four Irish punts at the time and I didn’t even blink, I said give me two!”
It took that scarcity of home to entice Lily into the kitchen more. Little by little she realised this was where she wanted to be and what made her feel connected to home. “I was never a huge lover of the kitchen but I suddenly found a place in it that made me feel homely, comfortable and not alone.” She started writing about Mexican food, spurred on by food that was being passed off as Mexican but it wasn’t. In time that led people to ask her where she was sourcing the food for her recipes which gave her the idea to set up Picado Mexican.
Setting the record straight about what Mexican food is
Her mission for it is to set the record straight about what Mexican food is, “I’ve become a purist not because I really was but because I had to. It’s down to people like me and other long term Mexican residents to show Irish people what real Mexican food looks like and tastes like. For example there is a lot of Irish influence in it due in part to the Saint Patrick’s battalion.” This is when Lily showcases her historical intellect and how it’s woven into food. “There were Irish soldiers in the US army that thought what they were doing to Mexico was wrong so they deserted them and went to the Mexican side and they helped the Mexicans fight against the invasion. As a result there is a strong Irish connection in Monterrey, there is an Irish college and there are a lot of O’Reillys. I always think the only difference between Irish people and Mexican people is the sun!”
The history and regional significance of the dishes
Picado Mexican showcases food from all the regions of Mexico. “It’s a challenge for me but I like to think Picado as a door to all the things you can do with Mexican food. With our classes we talk about the history of the dish, we place it in a moment of time at a region in time.” This approach to cooking has resonated with people, “we have long waiting lists. When people come to us they learn that it’s not about cooking a particular recipe, it’s about placing it in a particular time in history. Food is politics, food is history, food is heritage… this is the commentary behind the dishes and that is why these classes are so popular.”
Sometimes you can’t escape who you are and learning to embrace your real you leads to wonderful things as Lily has learned. “I come from a family of tortilla bakers, we go back four generations. I grew up in that business and as soon as I could I ran away as far as I could!” Yet here she is making a living with food. “Whilst I have had loads of different jobs and careers, I have found my calling. I love teaching. I go to bed with a massive book on food history, I don’t read novels anymore! This to me is what I love to do, I see myself doing this for the rest of my life.”