María Ítaka, our guide (foreground); and chef Adriana Luna (background).
María Ítaka, our guide (foreground); and chef Adriana Luna (background).

Mexico City’s Mercado de Coyoacán at pre-dawn is the calm before the storm. Chilly, mostly empty but for occasional workers pushing handcarts piled with boxes.

Unlike similar urban markets in the U.S., there is an energetic mix of eateries, bars, groceries, clothing, toys, plants, gifts, even small birds. Walking the narrow aisles is an art; you are likely to bump into brightly colored dried chilies, open-jawed skeletons, hanging plastic legs covered in bright hosiery, shelves of jewelry, or piles of mole powder and pastes. After threading the Coyoacán needle, I head to the back of the market, seeking out Adriana Luna at La Cocina de Mi Mamá to cook her version of fajitas, called puntas a la Veracruzana.

Markets in Mexico City are replete with small eateries. One grows to love these little establishments with banner-size menus offering tacos, tortas, huaraches, pozole and even “hot cakes.” The food is better than good and, if you manage to chat up one of the servers, you might get a story or two to go with your meal.

By contrast, La Cocina de Mi Mamá is relatively large, modern and attached to a well-stocked bar. Clearly, Luna is offering a higher-end culinary experience.

She explains to us that “puntas” means “tips,” referring to small pieces of meat—in her case, paper-thin slices of pork loin cooked on a griddle before they are added to the sauce. The term “a la Veracruzana” (meaning in the style of Veracruz) usually refers to fish prepared with tomato, garlic, olives and capers—a combination influenced by the Spanish, who arrived in 1519 in what is now the coastal state of Veracruz.

Luna starts by browning a massive amount of chopped garlic in oil, followed by onion, tomatoes, red (mature) jalapeños, parsley, olives and chili guero (a pale yellow chili similar in heat to jalapeños). To finish the puntas, Luna adds the pre-cooked pork loin to the sauce for a final 10 minutes of cooking, then serves them wrapped in tortillas.

We followed Luna’s recipe closely with the exception of the meat—our slices were a bit thicker (thinly sliced meat is a common ingredient in Mexican cooking but less available here). And since we had no griddle, we quickly sautéed them in the skillet used to make the sauce and then reserved them, adding them back later. We finished the dish with a cup of parsley and a couple tablespoons of capers. But all in all, we stayed true to the original. Pickled jalapeños are a nice addition on the side, especially if you are serving this dish on tortillas.