“Clonmel is not known for its large Latino population. But I think we are producing in Clonmel, probably one of the best tortilla chips there is on the planet. And I know that’s a very bold statement. But we like to say traditionally Mexican, unexpectedly Irish, which probably sums up quite a lot about us”.
The Travel Tales with Fergal Podcast guest this week is Phil Martin, CEO of Tipperary tortilla maker Blanco Nino. Phil shares tales of his travels all over Mexico and his love for Mexican food. This is a fascinating and insightful episode for all lovers of Mexican street food.
Tipperary is justifiably renowned worldwide for its food producers. Phil tells why he chose Clonmel as the location for Ireland’s only authentic Mexican tortilleria using source ingredients from heritage producers in Mexico. Blanco Nino which has just launched a range of gourmet tortilla chip flavours to supermarkets and shops.
Speaking on the podcast Phil said “In terms of just even the ingredients we’re using, and the lengths we’ve gone to get them. It always baffles me having met so many people who make tortilla chips in the US and how little they actually know about the tortilla chips. Even the ingredients and the different impacts of using different types of corn”.
Before opening Blanco Nino, Phil travelled throughout Mexico to learn the art of making authentic corn tortillas. He visited the milpas, molinos and tortillerias to learn their secrets for producing food on a standard found on every street corner in Mexico. Along the way Phil was nicknamed Blanco Niño and learned the ancient Aztec process of nixtamalisation, which helps to give authentic tortillas their unique flavour.
“We’ve gone to the ends of the world in terms of getting the right type of corn and salt, every little detail. We’ve been working on for a long time on this product for the last five years”.
“It’s probably borderline obsession, to be honest now. And we probably could have done it in a much easier, faster and cheaper way. And it’s probably down to my slightly obsessive nature of sorts”.
Speaking on the podcast about the company name, Phil said “the company’s name is Blanco and Nino, which means “white boy”. We didn’t want to pretend to be a second generation Mexican family living in Clonmel. I wanted to highlight the fact we don’t want to pretend we’re not. We just happened to be obsessed with Mexican food, culture and history. And we’re going to go the end of the world to do to do it justice”.
Phil has a love for Mexico and its unique food and has travelled all over the country. “There is a bit of an image of Mexican food being cheap, substandard and kind of very fast. It can be fast but it is incredibly good. And it really is. It’s very hard to compare it to other cuisines because of how nuanced it is and how much diversity there is as well”.
“It’s often called slow fast food, which is obviously an oxymoron. But there’s a lot of slow cooking involved. And a lot of preparation in advance, but it can be served at immediately. You’ll have stuff that’s made for days in advance”.
“Mexico food is also incredibly diverse. And you see that when you go to Mexican City. There’s a lot of regional speciality restaurants. And even when I was in the Yucatan last year, I was brought to a Yucatecan restaurant and I was just blown away by just how different so much of the ingredients were like, even the avocados were closer to mangoes in texture. They have an incredible amount of just limes of different size and colourings”.
“Mexico for good reason is very special. There’s just something in the air. Even going to a food market is just phenomenal. They have a big fire pit of sorts, and you go around, and you pick out your food from all the different vendors and they go and they cook it and then they bring down your tortillas. And it’s just absolutely incredible. It’s very atmospheric, but I’m sure it would probably fail any health and safety test in Europe. There’s just a smoke everywhere”.
“If you’re there in the afternoon and the sun has gone doing. Just sit back and go this is just incredible. You’ve got guys playing music and everyone’s kind of screaming at each other and having a great time. It’s a really special place and you find that all over Mexico as well. They are really unique it’s and they’re not you tourist traps. It’s definitely somewhere to go”.
Fergal O’Keeffe is the host of Ireland’s No.1 Travel Podcast Travel Tales with Fergal, which is a weekly interview series listened to in over 70 countries. The podcast aims to share soul-lifting travel memoirs about day-dream worthy destinations. The website is www.traveltaleswithfergal.ie
There are already over 30 episodes available on all podcasting platforms where guests talk about travel, culture, food, politics, history, the tourism industry and expat life. Guests have included Keith Wood, Anthony Daly, Pol O’Conghaile, Mark O’Halloran, Jerry Fish, Manchan Magan, David McWilliams, Paul Wallace, Louise Nealon and Panti Bliss.