Jonathan Roldan – BAJA BEAT

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Thursday, October 27, 2011
A bit of history and Mexican spirits
Thursday, December 15, 2011
Stay home no more!

Salsa de pavo?
I've spent almost two decades now here in Baja and it's interesting watching certain things evolve. Thanksgiving...an inherently American holiday...is one of them. 


Years ago, it seemed that I had to explain the holiday to locals, but when you mention a "Day of Thanks" (Dia de Gracias), all would nod with an understanding  smile. An oft-heard phrase to punctuate a sentence  in normal conversation is "Gracias a Dios."  (Thank the Lord).  It's not made to underscore a feeling of exasperation as in English where you might hear," Thank God, I didn't forget to turn off the stove!" 


Instead, in Spanish, it's a sincere form of gratitude even if not necessarily religious.  Like folks automatically saying "bless you" after someone sneezes.  In Mexico, "gracias a Dios" is said with a smile, with no frustrated rolling -of -the -eyes towards the heavens.


For example...


"How are you?"


"I am fine, thank the Lord."


How's work going?


"Great. Everything is super. Thank God."


But, I would get quizzical looks when trying to explain the American version of Thanksgiving. Crazy gringos. Watch football all day. Eat turkey and gravy. Take a long nap. Watch more football. Eat more turkey. Take another nap!


However, as the years have gone by, the "holiday" of "Gracias a Dios" has permeated Mexican life, at least here in La Paz.  It's gotten a foothold. 


Perhaps it's because so many tourists from the U.S. show up and seem to be looking for "holiday turkey meals." So, more tourist restaurants cater to it.  You will find places actually offering "American Turkey Dinner." (Frankly if I'm  a tourist visiting in Mexico, that LAST thing I want is turkey! Show ME the tacos and enchiladas!)



These days, I do find more locals not only acknowledging Thanksgiving, but also celebrating it on their own way. While there is no "official" day of Thanksgiving in Mexico, a day of giving thanks and having the family together is wonderful growing concept.


I see more whole turkeys popping up in the frozen food section of the markets.  I actually found canned cranberry sauce and I see now that they sell stuffing mix! 


I hear families tell me of getting together for dinner during the holidays and looking forward to "Pavo estilo Norteamericano." (polite way to say "gringo turkey") It's almost the new rage. It's not grilled. It's not barbecued. It's roasted in an oven. It's served with bread, not tortillas. Mashed potatoes and sweet potatoes not Spanish rice!


I still have trouble explaining "gravy." I have to call it "salsa de pavo" (turkey sauce), but I' m sure  it loses something in translation! 


"Salsa" in Mexico simpsly means "sauce."


A strange brown sauce that you scoop over potatoes and yams draws looks of confusion from  my Mexican amigos. "Que  haces?" (You do WHAT to your turkey?)


Still, old traditions still happily linger. Like so many Mexican holidays, I hear about families still lining up at the dinner table for tamales along with their turkey. Thankfully, it's a tradition that is difficult to change. 


Moms, aunties and grandmas still gather for all-night tamale-making parties to make the flavorful stuffed dinner treats using old family recipes. It's quite an undertaking.


However, with families so busy, it's more convenient to order and buy them. This time of year, tamale vendors pop up on street corners with vats of the steaming delicacy wrapped in traditional corn husk. 


That incredible savory fragrance of  pork, chicken, beef or chili with cheese (rajas con queso) tamales seems to permeate the air this time of year and door-to-door tamale vendors walk the streets either selling directly or taking orders for the holidays.  


"Si, amigo! Claro que si. Servicio a su domicilio!" (Yes, my friend. You bet we have home delivery!)


Either way, some things are universal no matter how you celebrate. After the big feed, you still want to take the long siesta!  Whether you lie on the couch in front of the TV...sprawl on the carpet by the fireplace...or snooze in a hammock under a Baja palm tree... some things don't change! Gracias a Dios!


Hope you and yours have a safe and happy holiday season!

Reader Comments
Your commentary reminded me of one of the most rewarding things that happened to me this summer. I was sitting in the bar at Jardines Restaurant in Bahia San Quintin drinking beer and discussing means to end global warming with some local gringoes and the owner Guillermo (Bill, sometimes). Suddenly, Guillermo jumped up, ran outside and accosted a young Indian woman pushing a wheelbarrow. It seemed exciting so I followed to discover the cause of so much rushing about. Guillermo bought tamales from her. It was clear to me that if the man who operated the best restaurant between Ensenada and Mama Espinosa's was buying tamales from this woman, I should too. Biggest mistake of the summer was that I only bought one dozen. Anybody who would eat dried out New England turkey instead of a good tamal needs to spend more time in Baja.
Rick Ward
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