Ahora es cuando, chile verde, le has de dar sabor al caldo
Time has come, green chili, to give your flavor to the broth
(The moment has come to pull yourself together, act with resolution and show who you are and what you can.)
Since moving to México in November, I have discovered an array of dishes and beverages to please or sadden the palate of nearly any eater. I am intrigued by “street food” and will try just about anything provided it didn’t have a mom (yes, I’m still vegetarian). Elote – roasted corn on a stick with mayonesa or crema, cheese and chile, is a definite favorite. Tejuino – corn mashed into a syrup and served over shaved ice with salt – is like nectar to me. I like my cacahuates with límon y sal and I love runny red salsa on my potato chips.
Food relative to specific areas is special to me: from delicious “drowned sandwiches” Tortas Ahogada in Guadalajara to savory pocket-like tortillas Gorditas in Zacatecas. My first Torta Ahogada was devoured in Tlaquepaque with my friend Vladimir, at a small place near the Parian: grilled shrimp in a rich red sauce with avocado, stuffed into crusty French-style bread and soaked with a tomato-cream sauce. I couldn’t stop myself from eating the whole thing. Fanatastic. I recently repeated this Ahogada-inhaling at El Barracuda here in Puerto Vallarta and it was equally delicious.
When I visited Zacatecas in December, the Hotel Posada Tolosa recommended Gorditas Doña Julia. The place is small but the taste is huge. I reviewed my dining experience (with dozens of other restaurants) as a Senior Contributor with Trip Advisor and gave everything at Doña Julia 5 stars. Whomever thought to make a corn tortilla thick enough to slice open pita-style and stuff with nopales deserves a culinary award… or a big Gordita kiss on the lips!
Even though I am vegetarian, I have a weakness for good ceviche and especially love how it is served, either on a crispy tostada or as a cocktel in a large glass with crackers and chips. Add some fresh avocado, tomato salsa and lime-cooked fish, shrimp or pulpo and feel it all melt in your mouth. Good ceviche is best served cold with a few icy cervezas or, like they offer at Mariscos Towi in Tlaquepaque, límon agua fresca with chia seeds. Amazing.
Recently I was invited to a Baptismo/Cumpleaño for a friend’s adorable baby boy. If you have never been to a Méxican party in someone’s back yard, you are missing out. From the big folding tables and plastic Corona-printed chairs to the Banda music blasting and coolers of Cervezas, people do it right here. My biggest fascination (besides Banda karaoke) is the food. Usually in one area will be gigantic pots brimming with nopales, a fresh tortilla maker with several women taking turns cranking them out, platters of meat, huge bowls of refritos, paper plates and serviettes and several salsas, ranging from green “mmm tasty” to dark red “my mouth is on fire!”
Because I avoid meat, I usually end up with refritos and tortillas as my party staple. At home I like to cook simple dishes – quesadillas, molletes (french bread with refritos and queso), jicama and pepinos with Tajin, the occasional coconut milk smoothie. When my sudden bout with food poisoning came on, I was shocked – not only from the excruciating pain in my stomach – but because I thought it was normally started by food served in a restaurant. I’d eaten at home for the past 3 days.
Trying to recall what I ate was no easy task. Was it the onion? Onions are known to be difficult to keep fresh. Was it the shrimp? I had it cleaned well and enjoyed it 2 days before and felt fine. Whatever it was took me down within hours and required a trip to the hospital to see a very nice doctor, who happened to be an alumni of the school where I currently teach. After $900 pesos worth of medication and 4600 ml of Electrolit, I felt like a normal person again (however I am still afraid to eat and have little appetite).
Gradually I hope to again start savoring the flavors of the country I love. I am lucky to live where corn is a staple and people still believe in cooking with fresh ingredients, but from now on I will probably be more aware of how I feel when eating. Was that my stomach rumbling like an earthquake or just some moderate digestion? Now that I’ve had intoxicación alimentaria I hope I know the difference and can spare myself the agony of repeat.
[Writer’s note] I don’t believe in coincidences, but rather that things happen for a reason and everything is connected – from what we see and do to whom we meet and how we find what we are looking for (or needing) in life. When I started to write my blog piece about the food so far in México, I became deathly ill with food poisoning the day before the first draft. A sure sign I still had a bit more to learn.