Mexico City Bites: Churreria El Moro
Churros and chocolate deserve more publicity. They don’t necessarily compliment each other, like say peanut butter and chocolate or red wine and chocolate, because you are combining sugar with more sugar when the churro is dunked into the hot chocolate cup. That’s why in Spain the churro comes usually without sugar. Mexico seems divided between to sugar or not to sugar.
But then in Spain, those churros are dull crullers on their own. At the same time, the meager hot chocolate is dull on its own. The cafés there need to takes lessons from Angelina in Paris or a number of cafés in Mexico City that know the best sipping chocolate and dunking hot chocolate must almost be as thick as a chocolate mousse. There is no such thing as excess when it comes to churros and chocolate. Don’t get me started on the watery hot chocolate at the revered San Gines in Madrid. Even at 3 am, it’s unacceptable hot chocolate for churro dunking or sipping.
A few cities in the U.S. now are fortunate enough to have cafés specializing in this dynamic duo (Xoco in Chicago, Churros Calientes in Los Angeles to name a few). Often, you’ll find pastry chef versions of churros, filled with dulce de leche or crème anglaise, or perhaps with Grand Marnier spiking the chocolate sauce for an extra level of sophistication.
In the U.S., at least as I grew up, churros were always thought of as “Mexican doughnuts” that you eat at baseball games. They were long sticks of crisp fried dough filled with a very thin soft, uncooked dough.
Yes, churros are fried dough (butter, flour, eggs, sometimes vanilla for health benefits), but they are nothing like the doughnuts you’ll find Homer Simpson eating or being served at the local coffeeshop. Churros really are more like pastries. Hence, they should be treated as such, like is done in Spain and Mexico. Churros are served with your hot chocolate or coffee as part of a mid-morning or mid-afternoon snack, or an early siesta inducing breakfast.
There is no officially correct method for eating a churro or a specific time mandated by food law to eat a churro. There are only recommended guidelines.
Which brings us to Churreria El Moro, the legendary churros and chocolate cafe in chaotic heart of Mexico City’s Centro Historico, a congested area that makes Midtown Manhattan seem as tranquil as Tahiti. El Moro has been frying the grooved cylinders of dough for 24 hours a day since 1935. Name the time and churros are ready to be fried and cut for you here.The kitchen is pretty basic. There is a gigantic fryer for the dough. There is an assembly area for the dough to be rolled and after frying, to be rolled in cinnamon and sugar if desired by the diner. Then there is a final prep area for cutting the churros.
El Moro’s dough interestingly is made with olive oil instead of butter or lard, so consider these nutritious churros. The churros are fried initially in wide spherical tubes, like coiled snakes sleeping, on a platter the size of a car tire. The churros get snipped before plating. If you imagine churros as the long ropes at baseball games and carnival, then a real churro as shown at this café is cut into halves or even quarters. One serving of churros at El Moro brings “four” churros, easily enough for two.
Don’t waste too much time with the menu at El Moro. There is a churro pizza I will alert you to at the bottom of the menu.
The hot chocolate comes with the churros, unless you prefer café con leche. It’s spectacular chocolate, with a very vague cinnamon note. This is no Mocha with Hershey’s syrup. The chocolate is a deep, dark style, hinting of some wild berries initially. The thick but drinkable consistency is spot on for sipping. It is perhaps a touch too thin for covering a churro. That’s only a minor issue brought up when the entire churro plate and every cup of chocolate vanished in a few sugar filled moments.
The beautiful tile work, t.v. tuned to yet another Mexican soap opera, old school cafeteria dressed waitresses, and un-costumed Mariachi players lend “atmosphere” to the café. Nobody will fool El Moro for an elegant Les Deux Magots, but those Parisian cafés don’t have churros (or chocolate, I know this firsthand) like El Moro.
Churros deserve more attention and hot chocolate deserves to be as promising as some versions prove it can be. Together, what a beautiful couple. Dunk. Sip. Have them on their own. Together. Then separate. Whatever you choose, churros together in harmony with hot chocolate are masterpieces unchanged with time at this venerable café.