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Sabina Bandera: Mexico's Street Food Queen

La Guerrerense street food cart, has been located in Ensenada, Baja California, Mexico for the past fifty years. In most recent years, the Doña Sabina Bandera and La Guerrerense have been in the spotlight for her incredibly fresh ceviche, and array of colorful salsas. She has had visits from celebrities, internationally known chefs, as well as locals, and tourists alike. Doña Sabina Bandera grew up in Guerrero, Mexico, surrounded by pozole and meats galore. She had never been around the fruits of the sea until she came to Ensenada, where she learned all about the preparation of ceviche, and started creating a line of salsas made from produce that grew in her garden.

If she looks familiar, it's because you may have seen her on Anthony Bourdain’s No Reservations, in the many publications that have chronicled her beloved cart, or perhaps you have even visited her and her mouthwatering creations in person. Recently, Bandera was chosen to represent Mexico at the World Street Food Congress in Singapore, which begins today and runs through June 9. TLK caught up with Bandera, to talk about her overall reaction to this news, and what keeps her passionate about Ensenada's street food scene.

TLK: Mexico is the only Latin American country among 10 nations invited to the World Street Food Congress. What was your reaction when you first heard that La Guerrerense would be representing Mexico?

SB: At the beginning, we could not believe it. We did not have a way to prove it. It wasn't until I had my tickets in hand that I was very happy and moved. It is a privilege and a blessing to represent México in Singapore; we have to work even harder.


TLK: What dish(es) are you planning on making at the World Street Food Congress to showcase Mexico and Baja California?

SB: Well, I'm taking my own salsas, and I have been told that I will be provided with tuna, octopus, langoustine, sea snail, clams, crab, and a chile pepper called "bird’s eye." I will have to get creative once I see the product myself.


TLK: How do you feel about seeing Anthony Bourdain at the event, especially after he spoke so highly of La Guerrerense?

SB: I am very thankful for him, and that he spoke highly of La Guerrerense in the international media. There have been personalities from all over the word that have been here, and there is nothing else better than thanking them.


TLK: What kinds of ingredients are you most looking forward to trying in Singapore? Be it local Asian foods, or from the other participants there.

SB: The deal is to try out the different foods that are there.


TLK: You are known internationally as a street food icon. What keeps you grounded?

SB: I truly enjoy talking with people and being around them. I am very happy when people visit me from all over the world and try my seafood and listen to what they have to say. I try to be here as much as possible. f I have an event in the evening, I'm here in the mornings. My customers motivate me each day to be here with them.


TLK: Where does your passion for food come from?

SB: I knew nothing about seafood. In my homeland of Guerrero, it’s mostly livestock and agriculture and foods like pozole and cochinita pibil. I used to work the field and made requesón and crema, but no seafood. It wasn't until I was in Ensenada that I learned about seafood with my in laws, who founded La Guerrerense in 1960.


TLK: How did you come up with the ideas for your salsa line? Will we ever see it sold in mass production, or just here at the La Guerrerense cart?

SB: The recipes and ideas are all mine, and are developed as we go. I experiment and taste them along the way. For now you can only find them at my cart, maybe in the future they will be in more locations.


TLK: What is your most popular item at La Guerrerense?

SB: The most popular is my sea urchin and Pismo clam tostada, which claimed “The Showmanship Prize” in 2011 at the LA Street Food Fest. The sea snail with sea snail slices tostada won “Best in Show” the following year.


TLK: The gastronomic scene here in Baja California has recently been exposed to the world. What do you have to say to those that have yet to discover all that Baja California has to offer?

SB: Come visit us in Ensenada! The Valle de Guadalupe vineyards and the new wine museum are so close. Come and try the seafood, pay a visit to La Bufadora, there is so much to do! The Bajacalifornianos will greet you with open arms.

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