I’ve never been a big fan of flan. For starters, the word “flan” seems to fuse together two words that don’t exactly whet the appetite: flacid and wan. And then there are memories of bad flan in Spanish class in high school. We all had to bring in a dish (Jessica Aronowitz and I made guacamole) and someone brought in flan, which I remember as a gelatinous blob that tasted like chemicals and milk. I think the person who brought it in made it from some kind of box the way you make Jell-O from a box. If I were the teacher, I’d have suspended him.
Luckily, my flan phobia has been remedied by the flan you see above. I joined food writer Dana Bowen at Chiles & Chocolate in Park Slope on Tuesday. The space is wonderfully eclectic and authentic, a paean to the Oaxacan culture that the restaurant pays tribute to. We were tended to by a jovial host/hostesss/waitress/coffee-maker who engaged us at every turn about the food we were eating. Dana (pronounced Dah-na, like banana) had been there once before and steered me through the menu. I thought she was steering like a crazy person when she suggested we share a corn fungus quesadilla. Or, more precisely, a “Huitlacoche” quesadilla.
“Corn fungus?” I protested. “Like…real fungus?”
“It’s really earthy and strange,” promised Dana. “You’ll love it.”
So here it is:
What looks like black beans on the inside is actually the Huitlacoche. Like Dana said, it has a muted, earthy flavor–subtle and strange and not like anything you’ve ever had.
“The French have truffles,” said our waitress. “And the Mexicans have huitalacoche.”
My chicken mole entree was a bit disappointing. Dana had the “mole negro” (which I ordered) a few nights earlier and she was convinced that the mole on my plate wasn’t the mole negro because it was so red. We asked the waitress and she said it was the mole negro so we ultimately believed her, though we both agreed the mole was a bit lackluster and had a bitter aftertaste. (Dana had tamales which she liked.)
The best part of the whole meal, though, was the flan you see at the top. It was fantastic: creamy, rich, sweet but not cloying. Enough to make a flan convert out of anyone, especially me.
“This is the best flan I’ve ever had,” I told Dana.
“Isn’t it great?”
A final bite remained on the plate and I offered it to Dana. She said “No thanks, it’s so rich” so I scarfed it down. And with that final bite I retired my Soul Man status and accepted my new role as Flan Man. I am a man who likes flan.