The subject matter of this post is near and dear to my heart: it is all about eating. And cooking too, but I love cooking mostly because it involves eating.
The topic came to me while I was chowing down on some tlacoyos ahogados in the market. Each bite actually made me stop and think: wow, this is seriously good!
Who could find fault in hand-made, envelope shaped corn tortillas stuffed with beans or cheese, then cooked over a hot metal surface, served drowning in a soupy salsa and topped with a healthy portion of fresh lettuce and cilantro, green onions, crumbles of cheese, sour cream, sliced hardboiled egg, and thin strips of chicken? Especially when it’s washed down with a coffee that was brewed with a fresh cinnamon stick and topped off with a drop of fresh milk. I ignored the two skinned sheep carcasses hanging above a pile of pig feet in the next stall over. This meal was totally worth the, ahem, ambiance. It certainly warmed my hands and my heart on that chilly January afternoon and got me thinking about how to share my eating-experiences with you.
Some meals in Mexico are simply incredible, and cheap! My whole lunch cost less than three dollars. But, not all meals are worth writing home about. Or maybe they’re so…what is that euphemism that I am searching for…uh, memorable that they are worth writing home about. One thing is certain: Peace Corps volunteers are famous for eating just about anything presented to us without complaints. There is a good reason for this:
We live our lives integrated into communities. Our job is to spend time with, learn from, collaborate, and yes, share meals with locals. What always amazes me is how excited people are to share what little they have with me, insisting that I eat more than they can probably afford to provide. It is touching, and I love it even though there is never a choice in what is served. I have more than once happily told my tongue and/or stomach to ignore the fact that I was eating chicken colons stuffed into a quesadilla, all because I was having such a great conversation with my work partners.
It is a good thing that, before I moved to Mexico I was very open-minded when it came to food. I would eat anything. Well, almost anything; as long as it came from non-processed, locally sourced, vegetarian ingredients. In other words, I was actually a picky, health-conscious foodie who made just about all of my meals from scratch, including stock for soup, bread, jams, and some cheeses. I was even into canning and pickling things from my garden and from farm shares. And I was a vegetarian for almost 20 years. *Note the use of “was.”
And now? What do I typically eat, other than incredible tlacoyos, jello, loads of tortillas, and chicken colons? Well, I have my own kitchen, so I have been able to recreate some of my prior food-life: I have made avocado soup, spaghetti sauce, lentil and veggie soup, quail egg omelettes with poblano peppers, oatmeal, rice pudding…so tasty. My home prepared meals are almost always served with fresh avocados on tostadas too. Yum. It is not hard to find fresh, cheap produce at the markets either. I once bought 6 bananas, 6 oranges, 4 guavas, and an avocado for less than two dollars.
Other times though, I am stuck with no choice; I eat whatever my compañeros are serving. Sometimes that is a ceviche of cow spinal cord or chorizo tacos. I am surprisingly OK with all of this. The times that test my tolerance are when coca-cola is served alongside twinkie-like things. Shudder. I still eat it though, because I am a Peace Corps volunteer, and this seems to embody the job and the lifestyle: be open mind, flexible, and enthusiastic to try anything at least once.
Beyond being remarkably open-minded with our eating options, us volunteers are also know for splurging in excess on occasional meals when we take breaks from our homes and meet up in bigger cities. Last weekend was my first chance at this tradition! On Friday I told my mom that I was headed for Mexico City with a goal in mind: making it through a whole weekend without eating Mexican food. As it turns out, this did not happen, but I got pretty close. Along with my friends Chelsea and Neal, we filled our dinner tables with copious bowls of Korean delicacies, and later with fresh Lebanese treats. In two meals, I spent more than the equivalent of a week’s worth of groceries. It was worth it! Even though the bill came with a guilty feeling of knowing that no one in my neighborhood could ever afford such a treat. But I also know that they would be unlikely to enjoy it. They would have likely asked me: but where are all of the chilies and tortillas?
A tribute to the common toppings for Mexico’s most famous dish- the taco:
- Chopped onion and cilantro
- Pickled carrots and jalapeños
- Avocado and green tomato salsa
- Pickled chipotle chilies
- Roasted poblano pepper strips
- Lime juice, straight up
- Roasted chili salsa with xoconostle
- Crema – kind of like a tangier sour cream
- Guacamole or slices of plain avocado
- Pico de gallo
- Lime-pickled onions
- Grilled green onions with a sprinkle of salt
- Grilled strips of cactus paddle
Looking into my food future
Famous delicacies from my region in Mexico:
- Ant larvae
- Barbequed mixed meats cooked underground with cactus paddles and covered in fermented cactus syrup
- Worms that live inside a cactus
- Salamander tamales
- Skunk meat
Things that some of my friends have eaten:
- Cow eyeball
- Sheep heart soup
- Brains in quesadillas
- Goat tongue
Some Mexican food-remedies:
- Common cold: chicken feet
- Hangover: Spicy cow stomach washed down with a beer
Told you; Peace Corps volunteers will eat just about anything!
Making me smile:
- When trying to bargain down a hammock salesman, I spent 30 to 45 minutes at his shop laughing until everyone in the vicinity was crying and clutching at their stomachs. It all started when four men acted as “trees” so that I could try it out. Somehow I even ended up “married” to a man named Arturo. We danced together in the aisle with a rolled up, colorful hammock in between us. I finally succeeding in the 100 peso discount because it was a “wedding present” to me. They even joked that they would throw in a bottle of tequila for the after-party. Mexico turns into a different place when you can finally communicate and joke around
- I have a shiny new mandolin in hand with plenty of teach-yourself guides
- I don’t live in Mexico City. That place is fun, but it is a lot to take in for more than a couple of days
- I made it into a 2013 calendar to promote National Parks in my state. It comes out later this week, so I am not sure which month I got, but it’s a sweet photo!
- My aunt tried to talk me into getting a donkey
- I signed up for a 10-K trail run with a course that passes through Aztec ruins. In training for the race, I am learning some new and very beautiful trails in the National Park