Masala y Maiz: Colonized Tastebuds Not Welcome

The Mexico City restaurant doesn’t just serve a mix of flavors from South Asia and Mexico — it’s also unapologetically political.

Taz Ahmed

March 26, 2020

Masala y Maiz: Colonized Tastebuds Not Welcome
Tacos (Masala y Maiz)

It was the evening before Christmas Eve 2019. My friend and I were sitting in a trendy dive bar in Mexico City when activist, restaurateur, and dear friend Saqib Keval walked in. For as long as I’ve known Keval, he’s always had a big smile, perfectly coiffed hair, and contagious enthusiasm. I hadn’t seen him in years but was thrilled to reconnect with Keval, who had moved down from California in 2017 to co-found a restaurant. 

“You’ll never believe the customer I had today,” Keval exclaimed with exhaustion as he joined our table. But he said it with a smile. “Bartender, get me a drink.”

Keval and his wife Norma Listman are the owners of one of Time’s Greatest Places of 2019, Masala y Maiz, located in the Roma neighborhood of Mexico City. Not quite Indian or Mexican and definitely not fusion, the menu is more of a mix of flavors from South Asia, East Africa, and Mexico based on the family recipes of both founders. Listman, a Mexico native, had spent years working at some of the top Bay Area restaurants. Keval’s family is from India and Kenya; he had been running the People’s Kitchen Collective, a food, art, and activism project that he had started in Oakland.