(Pre-written while in Mexico; posted safely from the US.)
I have a bizarre concept of a vacation in Mexico (at least I think it’s bizarre). I don’t visit here to see the sights; in truth I rarely make it out of my little town in northern Nuevo Leon. I don’t visit here for the shopping; shopping has never appealed to me, even while in the US. I barely visit for the socializing; I don’t actually visit relatives and old friends, don’t look up acquaintances and go to new places to meet new people. The trip to Mexico is a necessity, I drive my mother to visit my Grandmother, and then I play chauffeur to all the errands that need to be made while I’m here.
I do, however, visit here for the food. Or maybe I should say that the food is an added allure.
I live in Houston, which is a city where you can get almost any kind of food you’ll ever want. And finding good Mexican food is not a problem, even authentic Mexican food is abundant in that city. Tell me what kind you want and I can probably find a restaurant that makes a really good version of it. But no matter how good the food is in Houston, it’s always better in Mexico.
Milanesa, shrimp cocktail, hamburguesa especial, nopalitos, barbacoa, chicharrones, comida corrida, tortillas from the tortilleria, carne asada, capirotada, carne seca, dulce de frijol, dulce de leche, and so on, and so on, and so on… To me, a trip to Mexico is a trip that revolves around food.
I have my favorite places, from the Mom and Pop restaurants in town that are open whenever the owners feel like opening to the more business-like and bigger restaurants in larger neighboring towns where the bill tells you how much you own in Pesos and in Dollars (based on how much the dollar is that week).
Then there’s the carnicerias (butcher shops) where you can pick up cooked meats including barbacoa and chicharrones. I’ve found barbacoa in Houston, but haven’t been able to find a place that makes this kind of chicharron. And there’s no tortilla that tastes as good as the ones that have just been picked up from the tortilleria (hot off the tortilla press, as it were).
My mother smiles indulgently as an order a hamburger here — made with fried ham, white queso fresco, avocado, and bacon as well as diced lettuce, a grilled ground beef patty, and a toasted bun. I’ve found only one place in Houston that has something close to that sandwich, and it’s still not the same. Milanesa here has that crispy yet tender flavor that makes me crave it and ensures that it’s one of the first things I indulge in when we arrive. In fact, I order some from a local restaurant on my first day here. The raspa place in front of the plaza makes the best corn in a cup — fried corn on the cob, they cut off the kernels and put them in a cup, add mayo, lemon juice, cream, and picante sauce, then stir. Trust me; it’s much yummier than it sounds. Breakfast has been chorizo con huevo (Mexican sausage with eggs) or machacado or huevos con salsa, always with homemade flour tortillas.
My grandmother made us tamales, and cooked me a dish made with nopales for dinner one night. We’ve had simple lunches that have been no more than flour tortillas and sliced avocados, and elaborate dinners that included homemade refried beans and roasted chicken and steak and other things. And that’s just the stuff I remember.
The funny thing is that I don’t actually gain weight while I’m here. The truth is that, while I do indulge in favorite foods and treats, I don’t eat as much or as often as I do when I’m in Houston. So it evens out.
Still, I do look forward to the food every visit. And I don’t think that’s going to change any time soon.
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