Serving up a Delicacy with British Origins in Pachuca
Juan Antonio Cabrera Lopez
A quick survey of the Mexican state of Hidalgo shows a heavy historical presence by the British in the mid-to-late 1800’s. From the early Cornish arrivals working the mines in places like Real del Monte to Pachuca’s Methodist church, the British imprint is evident in many places. Mexico even got its start with the ever-popular national sport of soccer as a result of it being a British import. But, aside from all these connections to the great European country, the state of Hidalgo and the city of Pachuca have a much more connected and long-standing British tradition that, some say, is down-right mouthwatering and speaks to the culinary history of the place.
In Pachuca, Juan Cabrera Lopez has been serving up part of this historical tie for years now. He is the owner and operator of ‘Pastes El Billar’, a restaurant group that primarily focuses on the Cornish import of the pasty, a baked turnover filled with a variety of fillings. With locations in Pachuca and Real del Monte, Mr. Lopez maintains this British tradition, albeit with a Mexican flavor to the delight of many Hidalguenes and visitors alike. Mexico Unmasked caught up with Mr. Lopez a while back to talk about his successful operation and the importance of ‘pastes’ (pronounced: ‘pah-stehs’) in the state of Hidalgo.
Can you tell us how long you’ve been doing this and what were you doing before?
Sure! I’ve been in this business for over twenty years now and prior to this I was working in some government offices.
Can you be more specific and let us know how you came into ‘Pastes El Billar’ and how long the business has been around?
Well, it turns out that I’m related to the original owners of ‘Pastes El Billar’. I am one of their nephews and several years ago I had this great opportunity to manage a place and really have never looked back. Though, I’ve been running this operation for 20 years now, the establishment has been operating since 1940. Quite a while now, as you can see.
So, is this the original location, the one here in Pachuca?
No, the original place is just north of us, in Real del Monte. That’s our first location and practically the first restaurant anywhere to start selling pastes. We basically introduced pastes to the state of Hidalgo and, for all intents and purposes, to all of Mexico, because it was here in Hidalgo where the Cornish community introduced them to us.
You’re saying that ‘Pastes El Billar’ was the first business to actually start selling pastes in Mexico?
Yes, yes, absolutely! Prior to us, occasionally there would be some ladies preparing them and selling them out of baskets. We are the ones who, I guess you could say, brought them to the masses and began as an established “business”.
How many and what kinds of pastes do you make on a daily basis here in the Pachuca location?
Oh gosh, here, on a typical, just normal day, we might sell anywhere from 300 to 500 pastes, easily. On a much busier day, probably upwards of 1000! We have several fillings and obviously we’ve given them a true Mexican flavor with all the different types we offer. We sell “papa con carne” (potatoes & ground beef), which is probably our most popular one. Aside from this, we have ones with different rellenos (fillings) like mole rojo, mole verde, frijol, salchicha and we even sell some with sweet fillings like manzana canela (cinnamon apple) and piña.
Walking around Pachuca one tends to notice that there are several other establishments selling pastes. What sets you guys apart from those others?
Well, for one, we have been making our product using the original and well-guarded family recipe ever since we’ve been around. And secondly, and probably more importantly, our dough results in a very different texture from the others. The other places use a dough that turns out ‘ojaldrada’ or flaky. They also call it ‘mil ojas’, meaning a thousand pages or leaves. On the other hand, ours is a much denser and harder crust which compares to a cracker or pizza crust in consistency.
Our method is more consistent with the Cornish origins of this delicacy. There’s actually some British folklore that was once shared with me about the reason for the harder crust. Legend has it, apparently, that in the English county of Cornwall, where the paste originates, there was this one person who was very mean-spirited and hated by everyone that he was killed and placed inside the hard walls of a paste to prevent his escape. So, there you have it, the paste was made with a dense, hard exterior to prevent this outcast from ever escaping…haha. At least, that’s the way it was told to me, more or less!
That’s a great story, thank you for sharing! Aside from pastes, do you have other things on the menu?
Oh yes! We also serve items like consome, carne asada, tacos dorados, mole rojo and a few other things. It’s not just pastes!
Thanks Mr. Lopez for taking the time out to talk about your business and for sharing with us a bit about the history of pastes in Hidalgo. Now, one last question we ask people who’ve been interviewed for ‘MOSAIC’ before. Is there some place in Mexico you have not been to but would like to someday? Where is it and why?
The state of Chiapas is one that definitely draws my attention a lot. It’s a place I’ve never been to but have seen numerous times in magazines and on TV. Its natural beauty is what does it for me. I hope to take my family there someday!
Mexicounmasked.com would like to thank Mr. Lopez and his head chef Cipriano Calderon for being so generous with their time during our visit.
**Please note that this interview was conducted in Spanish and later translated into English. Attempts were made to achieve accuracy in all content.
Ocampo #100 Colonia Centro
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