El Columpio, which translates from Spanish to mean “the swing”, sits somewhere between a taqueria and a cenaduría (the Mexican word for a neighbourhood restaurant). It embodies Ricardo Garcia Flores’s nine-year dream of introducing what he considers to be “true Mexican food” to Melbourne. “To be honest, there is no authentic Mexican food in Melbourne, and that’s really sad for the Mexican [community],” Flores tells Broadsheet.

“We are not adapting to the Australians, we are inviting the Australian people to adapt to Mexico,” he adds.

Flores started his Melbourne hospitality career as a dishwasher and kitchenhand at Movida’s Paco’s Tacos, moving to a role as a kitchenhand at Movida Aqui, where he prepared tapas.

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His venue is stripped back and casual, with Latin music playing over the speakers. Flores’s cooking is staunchly traditional; he doesn’t do adaptations or substitutions and isn’t interested in the “evolution” of Mexican cuisine, as he puts it. It isn’t out of dogmatism, but a desire to honour the history behind all the recipes he uses.

El Columpio’s signature dish is pozole, a hearty hominy-based Mexican soup that Flores reckons he’s never seen on a menu in Melbourne before.

“If we have pho, if we have ramen, if we have laksa, why not? Pozole can be the superstar in Melbourne,” he says. At Columpio, he makes it the way his mother does (who made it the way her mother did, after being gifted the recipe by a restaurateur friend in Mexico City in 1984). “I’m the voice of my grandma, the voice of my mother, the voice of my family.”

Flores uses 20 different chillies in his cooking at El Columpio, and sources Maseca-brand corn tortillas and white corn flour from Mexico (he says this is non-negotiable – along with squeezing a whole wedge of lime juice over each taco). His tacos see the tortillas generously filled with slow-cooked suadero beef or pork mixiote (where the meat is marinated and cooked in parchment). Both fillings are made using recipes from a friend who runs taquerias in Mexico City. “He gave me that recipe as a present,” Flores explains. “He told me, ‘Okay, you are in Australia, you are not here in Mexico – you are not my competition.”

Representing unabashed pride in tradition and heritage, El Columpio is a strong reminder that food is more than just food. “My restaurant is a protest with the system,” Flores says. “As a Mexican, it’s a little bit sad when the people use your culture to make a fake concept of Mexican food. El Columpio is a piece of Mexico.

“This is a present for Melbourne, because Melbourne has given me and my family so much.”

El Columpio
Level 1/52 Johnston Street, Fitzroy

Hours:
Tue to Thur 5pm–9pm
Fri 12pm–9pm
Sat 10am–9pm
Sun 10am–8pm

@elcolumpiomelbourne