When Adelaide local Reuben Williamson moved to Mexico in 2018, he temporarily gave up his vegan lifestyle. “I lived on an island toward Cancun, and produce was limited up there,” he says about his time on Isla Holbox, a car-free island just off the northern tip of the Yucatán peninsula. “I was like, ‘Well, I’m living here for a while,’ so I just ate meat … I ate street food everywhere, and it was always meat.”
If it was difficult being vegan in Mexico itself, it’s hardly a surprise that vegan Mexican food isn’t readily available in Australia, either. After returning to Adelaide (following a stint in San Cristóbal de las Casas, then Guatemala, and finally the Whitsundays), Williamson decided he would create a dedicated vegan Mexican place himself – and so Cocina Comida was born.
The small but lively eatery opened earlier this month on Pirie Street. Food is served in bright-red baskets lined with paper; cushions line the wooden seats; and a felt letter board is covered in quotes such as todos los dias es una fiesta (every day is a party).
The menu contains a handful of classic Mexican and Tex-Mex dishes, reimagined for a vegan palate. There are the crowd-pleasers – tacos, burritos and nachos – as well as options such as “guacalucy” and tortillas, which is a spicy guacamole topped with jalapenos and pico de gallo (a fresh tomato, coriander and onion salsa).
Esquites, or Mexican street corn, is a highlight. “There’s a bunch of different spices I put in there. Limes, some Tajín (a chilli seasoning) which I import from Mexico … with the charred flavour of the corn ... it’s almost burnt-smoky – with nice lime to balance it out.”
Knowing exactly what ingredients he’s serving is important to Williamson – and the reason he’s not sourcing any plant-based meats from a supplier. “I make all the ‘meats’ myself,” he says. “I make the ‘beef’ with textured vegetable protein; the ‘chicken’ and the ‘chorizo’ I make with gluten – vital wheat gluten, to make seitan; and the al pastor ‘pork’ is jackfruit.”
He says it’s easier to answer questions this way, too. “I know there’s no additives in [my food], and if anyone has any allergies, it’s easy for me to answer, ‘cause I’ve made it all myself.”
A liquor licence is pending approval, but should be ready next month. A drinks list is already on display behind the counter, featuring a range of Mexican beers and cocktails.