Birote bread: the unique taste of Jalisco
Together with the Mexican Institute of Industrial Property (IMPI), birote manufacturers are to file a Denomination of Origin claim to protect the savory bread. Should they win the classification, the name birote could only be used for bread produced in Jalisco, just as only agave-based drinks made in this or certain other states can be legally called tequila.
Birote is produced almost exclusively in Guadalajara because the city’s climate and altitude give the bread a unique taste and texture that cannot be equalled in other parts of Mexico.
It is thought that birote’s origins date back to 1864, when a Belgian named Camille Pirrotte arrived in Guadalajara as a sergeant in the French army. Sent by Napoleon, the French briefly occupied parts of Mexico at this time.
In a bid to win over the hearts and minds of the Mexican people, the occupying troops were ordered to teach them French culture and customs. Pirrote was charged with teaching the locals to make French bread, but he soon realized that he could not find yeast anywhere in the city.
Pirrote improvised and left the dough out to ferment for a few days, which turned out to be a fine substitute. He began to give away day-old pieces of baked bread to the growing legions of poor in the city and the crusty slightly sour-tasting bread took the city by storm.
The French were ousted in 1867, but Pirotte ended up staying in Guadalajara and opening his own bread shop. According to research by Belgian expat Nestor Pirot, this is how birote was born, with the name coming from Pirotte.
Today birote is a staple of the Tapatio diet and an essential component of local speciality the “torta ahogada.” A renowned hangover cure, the torta ahogada consists of a birote stuffed with chunks of shredded pork and raw onion, all drowned in spicy salsa. The birote plays a crucial role, maintaining its consistency even when doused in sauce.
Birote is also used in “lonches,” hot sandwiches sold across Guadalajara with fillings such as pierna (shredded pork leg), milanesa (breaded meat), bistek (fried beef steak), chorizo or panela cheese. Similar sandwiches are found across Mexico, but these are known as regular “tortas,” rather than lonches, as a different bread is used.
Another common use for birote is in “molletes,” a popular breakfast snack. In molletes, the birote is sliced longways, garnished with a certain topping and grilled in the oven. Molletes can either be savory with any combination of refried beans, cheese, onion, tomato, avocado and salsa, or sweet with butter and sugar or jelly.
How to make a torta ahogada
Slice open a birote and fill with carnitas (roast shredded pork) and raw onion. Douse the sandwich with salsa made from tomatoes, salt and chile de arbol. Add lime juice to taste.