While shopping for dried chilies down on East 149th, where Mott Haven becomes Melrose and Hispanic restaurants dominate every block, I found myself facing the blistering heat with a growling stomach. Finding light enough fare, however, wasn't just a matter of stepping into any old restaurant: on days like these, too much lechon and chiccarron can weigh you down like a concrete coffin.
Seeking shelter from the sun, I slipped into Seis Vecinos, a relatively new "Cocina Centroamericana y Mexicana," drawn in by a chalkboard-advertisement for baleadas y pupusas. Settling into my seat, I eyed the juicers and, promptly getting right to business, asked the waitress what varieties they carried. Rattling off some more standard issue options ("lemonade, passion fruit, ... do you know horchata?"), she slipped out a certain Amazonian nut—something entirely unexpected.
"Cashew?" I repeated. Sensing my ignorance, my face clearly colored by surprise, she explained that the juice is made from "the [pseudo-]fruit, not the nut" and then promptly offered a sample. She brought some passion fruit to boot, perhaps fearing I'd be turned off by the flavor, but at first sip I knew I was hooked: inadvertently stumbling upon everything I needed to be at peace with the heat.
Most commonly known by its Spanish name marañón or, in Brazil, suco de caju, the juice is made from the pulp of the cashew apple, the fruit that grows around the nut. When raw, the apples are said to have a vivid flavor punctuated by a high concentration of tannins. Asked whether they make their juice fresh, she confirmed, "yes, we make it from the fruit," which they tell me they import frozen. The clean, dynamic flavor and smooth texture of this drink points to natural origins. (There was no presence of that exaggerated, shallow sweetness that often plagues more artificial juices, for example.)
So, what does it taste like? At first you're greeted by a nuttiness that is ever so slightly musky, à la mango, and flavors not unlike the cashew itself. The sweetness, which has been compared to that of a grapfefruit's, is more subdued, but pronounced on the finish. In simpler terms, it was downright awesome, refreshing, and unlike any other drink I'd ever had. We're always searching for new flavors, but its not always the case that these finds prove so tasty.
The balaeadas, too, are well worth your money. Made fresh to order, these wheat tortillas are thick and bubbly, with playful chewyness that tugs back at every bite. They're a stark contrast to the flavorless and paper-thin Mission brand discs ubiquitous in American supermarkets. Go for the regular ($2.75), filled with ample but not overwhelming servings of puréed beans, plenty of sour cream, and shredded queso duro. Often likened to parmesan, but softer and whiter, the queso duro adds a salty punch that amps up an otherwise pedestrian (but well executed) filling. Curdito (offered simply as "jalapeno") adds a vinegary punch.
An easy lunch of some balaeadas and a couple glass of marañón is a great way to start to day, and it's going to be a struggle to not stop by Seis Vecinos whenever I'm around the neighborhood. There's reason to hope, too, that they have other rarities that are particularly difficult to find in the North East. Speaking of which, does anybody else know if there's a restaurant in New York City that serves marañón?
812 East 149th St, The Bronx, NY 10454 (map)
About the author: Chris Crowley is a former Serious Eats intern and the author of the Bronx Eats column. You can follow him on twitter here, or pay a visit to his new food blog, Sound Bites, over on Wordpress.