Masala y Maíz, Where Food Tells a Story

The chefs behind this restaurant create unique dishes combining ingredients from Mexico, India, and East Africa.

10 Jul 2019

This week National Geographic named Mexico City as the city to visit in 2019 for many reasons but most of all “to taste original flavors where corn is king.” A movement surrounding the revival of the use of indigenous strains of corn has swept the metropolis by storm and has been adopted by up-coming chefs as well as rock stars like Enrique Olvera. In the Nat Geo article, one of Travesías’s latest culinary favorites, Masala y Maíz, was mentioned, and we thought you should have a closer look.

The History

Where Café Zena used to be in the San Miguel Chapultepec neighborhood, today there is a yellow door that opens to a long communal table. The restaurant is Masala y Maíz — the new place to go that is cooking up a unique cuisine serving a mix of flavors from Mexico, India, and East Africa.

Masala y Maíz, Where Culture Collides

The establishment opened for the first time a little more than a year ago but shortly after has to interrupt their service. On the morning of April 10, 2018, Norma Listman and Saqib Kevalel, the chefs and owners, found their restaurant closed. The suspension – which was supposed to last 10 days – was nearly arbitrary; it was a minimal error in the paperwork. They made the necessary changes, but because they did not want to pay the corresponding bribes, the closing was extended.

During that time, they survived thanks to the generosity of several well-renowned chefs, who lent their restaurants for pop-ups: Loup Bar, Casa Virginia, Sartoria, Meroma, Sobremesa, Comedor, Buna, Lalo!, and Yolcan. After several months of “exile”, Masala y Maiz opened once again.

The Cuisine

The kitchen is headed by Norma and Saqib. Both are chefs interested in “culinary migrations” from different countries around the world. Their food is not merely defined by its flavors. It also ties into the world’s history and social movements, which is why they do not like to define themselves as a fusion but more as a “rebellious hybrid.”

Masala y Maíz, Where Cultures Collide

The weekly menu includes a starter, main course, and drink for $ 140 pesos. Also, you can order à la Carte, choosing from appetizers such as Makai Paka esquites topped with a stir-fry of ginger, garlic, fresh turmeric, masala, and lots of onions.

The food of Masala y Maíz is very personal and tells stories. Most of the dishes are family recipes with personal touches from both chefs. Everything is half him and half her. Maíz is the female entity, a Mexican who lived much of her life in Oakland, while Masala is the male entity, an American with family residing from both India and Africa.

Masala y Maíz, Where Cultures Collide

Saqib Keval & Norma Listman

Since their first time creating a menu together in 2016, Norma and Saqib have never separated. Fate brought them together when artists Carla Fernández and Pedro Reyes offered their house as an alternate venue after a cancelled event. Since then, this dynamic duo has taken charge of creating experimental dishes to understand and share the migration stories of each of their families and of Mexico City. This is how the foods of Masala y Maíz have become an essential part of understanding other places in the world.

Adapted and translated by Evan Upchurch; click here for the original article in Spanish.


Other articles that may interest you: 

Five Hotel Gastronomic Experiences We Love in Mexico
Seven Restaurants in Mexico City You Must Know in 2019
The Universe of Enrique Olvera