Writing in class today, so no photo. Sorry folks.
Let’s talk about Mexican food. I love Mexican food. Who doesn’t. In the US we’ve got more Tex Mex than pure Mex, but that’s at least a good starting point. Tacos, tortillas, tamales, we’ve got here. Burritos, we don’t. Our salsas are spicier, in general everything’s simpler (though that’s because Queretaro’s at the northern edge of the Mesoamerican zone. Further south gets more complicated, further north more American), and all the growing things are different. Maiz is the rule, and wheat flour, in tortillas or otherwise, is comparatively rare. Fruit holds a central role that you’ll never see north of the border, and the vegetables are all cactus bits and squash and flowers. It’s all a helluvalot healthier than the cheese-heavy stuff slung back home (though I’d be the last to cast aspersions on the American take).
Tequila and Corona we’ve got, but by and large the fluid situation’s got nothing to do with Mountain Dew Baja Fresh. I’ve been sucking down hot chocolate made from corn on the daily, local coffee to no end, water from those big blue bottles, and any number of ‘aguas frescas,’ which they squeeze out of every fruit and melon and vegetable that you can think of.
There is, of course, a dark side, and you’d be surprised to know that they say ‘Venganza de Moctezuma’ down here too. For me, it started with the mole.
Mole (mole-ayy) is an incredibly complicated little sauce you make by dicing and frying up peanuts and garlic and onions and three to four dozen other strong, spicy, chemically potent ingredients and then pureeing them all together for a couple hours. Afterwards, you submerge something like chicken in it, cook it a little more, and pour the meat and a gallon or so of the mole onto a plate. Let me be clear, mole is good. My mom’s mole is real good. And while there’s a certain nonchalance with which street venders treat concepts like cooking thoroughly, storing safely, and not transferring guttersludge directly from hand to taco, Natalia’s living at worst in the cleaner half of the last century, and I’ve got zero worries on that front. Like I said, it only started with the mole.
Natalia, mixed-message-sending sweetheart that she is, told me how good this mole was and how hard she worked on it right before she advised me that mole is ‘real heavy’ and ‘not good before bed.’ I gave her an “está bien” and an ‘I’m easy’ face, and she plunked down the fateful chicken breast and attendant deluge. There’s some artful foreshadowing.
The situation was clear by morning. I woke up nine and a half months pregnant with the feeling that the newborn’d be coming that day, but not before a good long labor. My dad took ill with kidney stones on a slow hospital night once, and while he was doped up and moaning, every doctor in the place stopped by to tell me he was as close to childbearing as a man could get. They might have been right painwise, but I’m sure his stones weren’t shadowboxing and crawling around the place. I’ll spare you the entire aftermath, but my similarly afflicted buddy B. invented the term lluvia negra, and it’s become common parlance in our little corner of the Corps.
My first bout with the Aztec emperor left me a week later and five pounds lighter but no less eager to be out and eating. When Natalia bought the first round of extra paper, she cut me off from anything that might ‘trouble the stomach,’ but I got back on the spice train as soon as I could. If we want to dig the street food, we’ve got to go a few rounds with the old king. Until then, we’ll be waltzing in the black rain.