A Mexican Chef’s Journey to Russia
Here in Russia, it’s incredibly difficult to find traditional Mexican food. You can find a few places here and there, but most of them lack that authentic Mexican taste. Taqueria Don Garcia, a Mexican food stand, serves the most unbelievably delicious tacos I have ever tried in Russia. It’s owned and founded by Gerardo García, born and raised in Mexico, who immigrated to Russia 5 years ago.
I only found García’s place after chatting with the cook at a different taco stand (which has since closed) who, when we discussed how hard it is to find authentic Mexican food in Russia, recommended I visit Don Garcia. Since the first time I visited the food stand, Don Garcia has changed locations twice. It’s currently located in a mall on the outskirts of St. Petersburg.
Before, Don Garcia was a sit-down place, offering several more options on the menu. Now, it’s similar to a fast food chain, quickly making and delivering your food, but with fewer dishes. Currently, it serves dishes such as tacos, burritos, quesadillas, as well as traditional Mexican drinks such as horchata (a drink made from rice). You can also order the famous Mexican dessert churro (a type of fried dough) and appetizers such as guacamole (an avocado-based dip) and nachos. All of their dishes are absolutely amazing.
Don Garcia also organizes special events for people to enjoy. For example, recently, on April 10, the restaurant held a day to celebrate the culture of Nicaragua, where the head chef Gerardo García prepared traditional Nicaraguan foods such as tostones (twice-fried plantains) and queso frito (a fried cheese dish), as well as organized fun activities for all ages to celebrate.
I was fortunate enough to be able to conduct a quick interview with chef Gerardo himself and ask him some questions about his journey and life in St. Petersburg. García told me he’s lived in Russia for five years so far. His first year in St. Petersburg, he opened the first place (also called Don Garcia), which he had to close and later reopened in a different place twice. He told me he wanted to open a fast food place, something more like street food from Mexico. After the third attempt, Gerardo decided to move to LeoMall, where he’s currently aiming to open a chain of fast food Mexican restaurants.
I wondered why he moved to Russia in particular. He said that he thought it was destiny that he was here. There was no special reason to decide to come to Russia:
"Running a business is quite an experience and I'm thankful to everyone who participated in this project. It wasn't hard to open a business, but to keep it running demanded a lot of effort from everyone involved. This current one took 6 months to make it work. My current place was difficult, as I opened it by myself and it was a challenge to run a fast food place on my own. At the moment it's going well. Business is flowing and that is the most important thing."
I asked the chef about any cultural differences he noticed:
"In general, Russian people share the same values as Latin Americans. Family values are quite similar. Of course, I was born in a small town in Mexico, but I lived in many different cities. To move to a big city was a major change but I already got used to it and I'm happy now, I know how to deal with things in a big city."
García wanted to keep his personal goals private:
"I believe it's better to never reveal your future. I'm going with the flow at the moment. It's good for me at this moment to continue working and that's it."
I asked him if he knew about other Mexican restaurants in the city. Here’s what he told me:
"I have no time to check out other Mexican food, because running your own cafe leaves no time for anything. Everyone who has their own place and who puts their soul into their dishes is sure to be good. The other ones I've been to have also been good: the service, the food, the ambience."
"Of course, I share my culture through food. When you share the food, you share the culture. We make our own tortillas, unlike many other restaurants (García told me he brought a machine from Mexico that makes corn flour from corn). We also have authentic tacos, unlike other cafes," explained García.
"Right now in this place it’s like going with the flow. We live here and it's good here. People here are nice and kind. I’m happy with my decision to move to Russia. I make it work. Everything is really good. It was a good opportunity for me to start my own fast food place. Here, I’m next to places like KFC and Teremok. And I want to provide a similar service (fast food)," Gerardo told me.
Chef García ended our conversation with some great advice:
"If you have a goal, you have to go for it. Everything will get better along the way. You have to start; you need to have a goal. I had mine and I turned it into reality. The first thing is to not give up, to trust the process. For me, dreams are more unreal, while goals are everything that can be materialized."
More information about Don Garcia can be found here.