AURORA | After she loads the fluffy dough with meat, potato and spices, Celina Reyes folds them over and gently crimps the pastes closed.
That crimp is the heart of the authentic Mexican-style pastes at Reyes’ Aurora restaurant, Los Pastes.
And it’s arguably why the empanada-like pastries have proven so popular, first among miners in Cornwall, England, and then among miners in Reyes’ home state of Hidalgo, Mexico.
Once they’ve been baked, that crimp forms a crust that was ideal for a miner with dirty, dust-covered hands. Reyes said they could carry the paste into the mine with them, eat their lunch by holding the crust, and toss that dirty piece in the trash.
In a restaurant scene dominated by Mexican restaurants slinging delicious but typical fare such as burritos, tacos, tamales and enchiladas, Reyes’ three-year-old restaurant at Parker Road and South Peoria Street offers a change of pace.
“It’s a little different,” she said with laugh.
On the wall of her restaurant, Reyes has a chalkboard telling the story of how miners from England brought the dish to Mexico, where the locals added a diverse, and spicy, mix of ingredients to the traditional pastry.
Los Pastes offers the “Minera” version, which is packed with potatoes, onions and beef. That one most closely resembles the first pastes made in Hidalgo, she said.
They also offer some with more typical Mexican fare, such as mole and jalapeños.
Reyes said that back in her home town of Tulacingo, Hidalgo, the pastes tend to be much spicier than the ones she serves, which aren’t quite as spicy because she wants them to appeal to a broader audience.
But, Reyes said, she offers plenty of spicy, homemade salsas to make up for it.
While empanadas are popular throughout Mexico and much of Latin America, Reyes said the Hidalgo-style paste is a little different.
For one, it’s not fried — it’s baked. And the dough is a little breadier than what you typically find in Mexico, she said.
“It’s healthy, it’s home made,” she said. “For me that’s good.”
Stephen Lay of the Cornwall, England-based Cornish Mexico Cultural Society said Cornish miners brought the food with them all over the world when they started emigrating in the 19th century.
Called a “pasty” in England, Lay said he has come across the dish in the United States, Australia, South Africa and Georgia.
But the connection between the Cornish community in England and the mining towns of Hidalgo, Mexico, have been especially strong, he said.
“The links between the communities in Cornwall and ‘Mexico’s Little Cornwall’ (Pachuca and Real del Monte) are strengthening all the time and are widely recognized at high diplomatic levels,” he said in an email this week.
Prince Charles visited the towns a few years ago, he said.
At Los Pastes, Reyes said she can usually tell if a customer comes from Hidalgo based on how they order. If they say they’d like an empanada, she knows they probably don’t come from there. But if they say they would like an order of pastes?
“I know that he is from Hidalgo, because it’s only that place that calls it ‘los pastes,’” she said.