Epigemenio Guzman is eager to dispel the notion that Mexican food is unhealthy.
As the owner of Tu Y Yo Mexican Cuisine in Sommerville and Needham, Guzman and head chef Adolfo Aluardo are cooking up seasonal dishes with natural ingredients that can cure hunger pains and possibly other ailments as well.
Guzman explains a few of the curative abilities of just one of their menu items, the fibrous cactus.
"If you have diabetes, cholesterol, if you have a problem with digestion," Guzman said, "cactus is very, very good and natural and healthy."
Guzman, who grew up in Mexico City and came to the United States 35 years ago, builds a menu from a deep pool of recipes that date back some 700 years to the Aztec people of his homeland.
"We have a very rich culture in Mexico," Guzman said. "We are have the third biggest gastronomy in the world. We have more than 3,000 dishes. For Mexicans, it's very simple to cook everyday, different and healthy food."
It also helps that he grew up watching the women in his family cook four to five hours a day.
"I was always in the kitchen with my mother cooking," he said. "I use my mother's recipes and my grandmother's. We read all the recipes of our family and bring them together."
It is this kind of home cooking that has garnered Tu Y Yo praise as authentic Mexican cuisine by the Boston Globe and the Improper Bostonian.
"We are unique," Guzman said. "We use Mexican ingredients. We cook the way we cook in Mexico. We show the customer a lot of items they don't have here."
Every week the restaurant receives a shipment of Mexican ingredients like chayote (a vegetable that looks like a granny smith apple) and flor de carbaza (the flower of the pumpkin plant) and stirs up dishes that can be both familiar and thrilling.
Take the first appetizer on the menu, for example: tacos de chapulines. Guzman described the mini tacos with grasshoppers as a specialty that doesn't always conform to an American understanding of Mexican that is fast and fattening.
"We are the only restaurant with the grasshoppers in all of New England," he said. "Here people are afraid, but they take time. Everything is in the head."
With regular trips back to Mexico, an encyclopedia-like knowledge of historical dishes and a thirst for seasonal fare, Guzman and Chef Aluardo are constantly changing the menu, trying to build a loyal fan base for the almost one-year-old establishment.
"A lot of people they don't know us," Guzman said of the Needham location. "People are starting to come more often. The people who come and eat, they like our food."
Some of the authentic dishes being offered this summer season include:
Tacos de Chapulines
- The dried grasshoppers, which are sent from Mexico, are mixed with sautéed onions, tomatoes and chili ancho, wrapped in tortillas and quick-fried.
Chile Rellenos in Norgada
- A pablano pepper is stuffed with browned beef and a veritable fruit salad of apple, pear, peach, pineapple, walnuts and raisins and covered in a white walnut and cheese sauce topped with pomegranate seeds and parsley.
- This seasonal dish dates back to the early 17th century and takes on the colors of the Mexican flag: red, white and green.
Chile Relleno de Camaron
- Poblano pepper stuffed with shrimp and goat cheese and black olives; drizzled in a red bell pepper sauce.
- "The flavor (of the poblano pepper) can change when you cook," Guzman said. "It's part of the art."
Tu Y Yo Mexican Cuisine is located at 66 Chestnut Street. You can also visit their website for more information.