There’s a lot of things over the years that I’ve sworn off for my New Year’s resolution. I won’t get into the list, but most of my resolutions never worked anyway. Action wasn’t quite as strong as the intent.
But, one thing I have never tried to give up was eating good food. Even for Lent. Not candy. Not baloney sandwiches with crushed potato chips. Not black olives. Not mac ‘n’ cheese.
I’d give up watching Batman or reading my Mad Magazines before I’d give up Swanson TV-dinners (yes, even that yummy brown-gravy-Salisbury- steak with the crusty-dry brownie in it).
I’m a foodie. I like to eat. I’m also Asian. Food is part of our culture.
And I’m blessed enough to live smack in the middle of the kind of food I love best, Mexican food!
Given the choice between a hot dog or a microwave burrito with questionable ingredients, I’d probably take the burrito bomb. That’s how bad I am.
There’s a place up in the mountains between Cabo San Lucas and La Paz. It’s a hole-in-the-wall. Well, more like a hole-in-the-rocks. It’s run out of a modest little hillside-home tucked into big boulders and a stand of trees next off the gravel of the road.
Plastic chairs. Plastic table cloths over plastic tables. Real flatware, but it’s paper plates. You grab your own Coke or Sprite out’ve a refrigerator on the concrete patio. No beer.
Mama, her daughter and dad serve food out of an enlarged window that goes directly to their kitchen. And, it’s not unusual for about a dozen people standing outside that window. Tour buses and shuttle vans cram the driveway.
No wonder. From that kitchen mama and the family steam up the best tamales in the mountains. Homemade masa. Sweet roasted pork. Green olives and bits of California chilis and potatoes too.
From that kitchen come their famous empanadas. Pastry dough stuffed with beef and deep fried until hot golden and crispy. Served with chunks of fresh moist homemade mountain goat cheese and red salsa fresca.
They make 300 tamales a day and 200 empanadas. Once they sell out, they close the kitchen window. Sometimes that lasts until lunch time. Sometimes not.
But there’s no paper bill at the end. You tell them what you ate. They tell you how much it costs. They trust you.
I know another place. Again, run out of a home. You’d only know about it because a local had told you to walk around the back and into the patio. And a lot of folks know about it. You’ll find tables, chairs and the soccer game on the TV that never ends.
There’s no menu. Papa and mama walk out and tell you what they have in the kitchen. Or you can ask. If they have it or some variation of it, they’ll whip it up for you.
Papa says, there’s no camarones (shrimp) today, but the chickens out back laid lots of eggs and mama just made a big batch of salsa verde and salsa roja.
Just trust him.
Out comes a huge plate of “Huevos divorciados” (divorced eggs). One fresh fried egg gently laid on warmed red salsa and another fried egg laid on the warm green salsa.
The two eggs are divided by a fat strip of homemade refried beans chunky with bits of Mexican chorizo sausage that mama makes fresh and cooks over a big skillet on an open flame.
If you want “bistec” (beefsteak) healthy chunks of beef are also grilled, seasoned and served on the eggs with hot handmade flour tortillas. Coffee is served in chipped ceramic mugs. None of them match. Fifty pesos…about $3.50 for everything.
Take some to go. Papa shakes everyone’s hands and reminds you that Sunday, mama is making menudo and birria (goat soup) so come early before all the rancheros come in to nurse their Saturday hangovers. The spicy soup is guaranteed to force all poisons out’ve their pores!
Seemingly, along all Mexican roads, countless mom-and-pop food stands dot the highways. Some are little more than carts-on-wheels. Some are metal and wooden booths. Some are actual homes.
But, if you really really really want to get into local Mexican eating, outdoor food stands are mandatory. Beef tacos, seafood tacos, pork tacos (carnitas), roast chicken, pork sandwiches (tortas), shrimp cocktails, skewered shrimp, tamales, soups, clams and oysters, Mexican hot dogs…if you can eat it, someone is selling it and it’s all pretty darned tasty.
But, progress is on the way.
New roads. New highways. Traffic is being re-routed so folks, especially tourists can get from Point A-to-Point B faster.
There’s that famous quote about the journey being just as important as the destination.
The problem is that the super highways are blowing right past the old roads with the cracked pavement, the gravel and the little barrio neighborhoods. They’re bypassing all these family-owned little eateries.
If you really want to know a people and their culture, you won’t find it in a big faux steakhouse or white-table-clothed-venue. Eat where the locals eat.
I’m all for the new roads and highways. But, don’t forget the road-less-traveled. There’s some great culinary treasures waiting for you. Getting there should be part of the fun!