Ana Collins wants to prove there is more to Mexican food than tacos. The indigenous food of Oaxaca — the region in southwest Mexico famous for its corn-based cuisine and known as the land of seven moles—is the inspiration for her new shop in residential Vanier.
She chose to call it Mitla, the name of an archeological and UNESCO World Heritage site in the Oaxaca Valley, because it’s easier to spell and pronounce than Oaxaca. But it’s the densely nutritious, fresh, and vibrant food — as well as the warmth of the culture — that she experienced while living and studying in Mexico that she is aiming to bring to her Ottawa neighbourhood.
Collins, who grew up in Ottawa and has family in Mexico, returned to the capital in 2008 and worked at the Wild Oat and the now-defunct Delish Catering. She gained a deep appreciation for the importance of corn to Oaxacan culture while working at a restaurant and tortilleria there called Itanoni that is dedicated to preserving organic heirloom corn varieties.
The idea of serving anything less than good fresh corn tortillas at her shop was out of the question. “I am really trying for authenticity as much as possible,” she says.
With the help of friends, family and neighbours, Collins has transformed a former corner store — vacant for the last 10 years — into a colourful, cozy space that she hopes will become a community hang-out, a place to stop in for morning coffee (she brews the locally roasted Happy Goat beans) and pan de yema (egg-bread) for breakfast. Hungry locals will be tempted by quesadillas, memelas (like little corn tortilla pizzas or open-faced quesadillas), soups, salads, and daily specials — all featuring her own freshly-made, organic, GMO- and preservative-free whole-grain white corn tortillas.
“We will be selling our tortillas by the kilo, just like the tortillerias in Mexico,” says Collins, “These tortillas are not available anywhere else in the city. They are simply the best you can get.” She says her packaged tortillas are like ACE Bakery baguettes that you buy in the supermarket; they are slightly under-cooked so when you heat them up they are moist and not dry.
While Collins will open up the doors to the public this Saturday, she is planning a proper Grand Opening in the New Year. For now, she is taking orders for weekly specials via her facebook page to try and help her gauge the demand. She is also offering holiday catering, including traditional Mexican cookies by the dozen.
MITLA, 62 Barrette St., 613-842-9058, facebook.com/mitlaottawa
Open weekdays 7 a.m. – 6 p.m.; Saturdays 9 a.m. – 5 p.m. Closed on Sundays.