Mexican food (or should I say “Ameri-Mexi” food? Or maybe just “Tex Mex”) is not something I am particularly familiar with. And that’s putting it mildly. Asked to give a one-line description, I would say something like “tasty American comfort food”. Tasty because of the excellent balance of spiciness (chilli, pepper) and freshness (lime, coriander), comforting because of the abundance of cheese and starch (rice and tortillas, or rice in tortilla – inspired!), and American because I’m quite sure that the Mexican food one eats outside of Mexico is little more than an American bastardisation of the real deal. Especially if you buy it from a global franchise like Baja Fresh. Which, incidentally, is headquartered in Irvine, California. Which, I hear, is in the U.S. of A.
Surprisingly, Mexican grub can also be rather vege-friendly. Vegephilic, even. (I say “surprisingly” because, in my view, Central and Latin America is sort of cordoned off with red tape bearing the words “Carnivore Countries”… Silly, I know). What’s more, the Baja Fresh at Rendezvous Hotel – an establishment that I seem to walk past pretty much every day but hardly ever visit – has a vegetarian option for everything on the menu, which is rather nice and accommodating. It’s a shame that the same can’t be said for its slightly more marginalising neighbour, Bao Today. Oh well.
It was a miserable, drizzly evening when I walked in, not with the intention of eating there, but of buying takeaway to scoff at home. It’s been years since I have done such a thing (thanks in large part to the Michelin-starred chef with whom I cohabit), and doing so after such a long hiatus was strangely exciting. Weird, I know. For the record, I opened the door to dizzying wafts of savoury spiciness, so delicious were they that I had to wipe my chin (twice) before ordering, and remind myself (constantly) that there was another hungry mouth to be fed at home. Otherwise I would have camped out there all night. Or at least until I turned into a burrito myself. Enough waffling, onto the food.
The chips and guacamole (SGD 9.40) was hideously expensive, and I still don’t really understand why. An insanely big portion of chips (pictured is half the quantity provided), coupled with an insanely small portion of guac. The guac itself was deliciously fresh and punchy, with the smoothness of the avocado being nicely cut by piquant chunks of raw onion. Shame it was finished after about five dunks. Probably works better if you eat this “in”, as at least then you can take advantage of the free salsas on offer. The takeaway option really doesn’t make much financial sense, especially as you’re paying nearly ten big ones for it.
The ultimo burrito with veggies (SGD 12.95) was a long roll of sumptuously-stuffed tortilla, so expertly (read: tightly) wrapped that even me hacking at it with a knife could not disrupt its inner-origami. The filling was neatly layered, bursting with flavours and textures. From the cumin-infused rice to the fresh and crunchy lettuce and peppers, the savoury satisfaction of refried beans to the silky smoothness of the sour cream and cheddar – every bite felt like a meal in itself. Still rather expensive, but somehow worth it.
The crispy taco with veggies (SGD 5.95 + SGD 0.75 for a “crispy taco”?!) was small, very small. Pathetically small, in fact. The filling burst with freshness and flavour, but was over far too soon. The lime juice, lightly fried onion, coriander, and refried beans all blended together beautifully into one of the most energetic taste sensations I have experienced in a long time. Shame the fun was over before it really started.
Baja Fresh certainly lives up to its promise of “Live fresh” – I have never tasted such fresh ingredients coming from (what is ostensibly) a fast food restaurant. The food is tasty and vibrant and rather expensive, but worth it for a once-in-a-while flavour-fest. Even better if you go on a rainy day, when Mexican food has a warming, stomach-swelling sort of appeal. Just make sure you eat-in. Or, in other words, to eat your money’s worth of salsa to compensate for the bashing your wallet will invariably take.