Wednesday, June 25, 2008

Jack's Photo Shoot

Jack got a hold of my camera and worked with his favorite subject - himself.

Tacos de la Vuelta

When people think of Mexican food the first thing they usually think of are tacos. Tacos in Guadalajara are different from those in the United States. They are made exclusively using corn tortillas. Usually the tacos have a double tortilla, a legacy of the poverty that exists in Mexico, it’s cheaper to fill up on tortillas than on fillings. For those on low carb diets, Mexico can be hazardous as tacos may be topped with diced potatoes. If you are looking to just eat the fillings without the tortilla, ask for a plato instead of an order of tacos.

This morning I had the opportunity to film the prep work for the tacos shown in the photos. This taco stand is just around the corner from Pepe's house and we try to eat there as regularly as possible. One of the reasons we really like to eat there is because it is close but it's also delicious and cheap - a helluva combination if you ask me. We get the tacos de barbacoa which is meat that has been slow cooked and then drenched in a tomato/mirasol chile sauce. The tortillas are dipped into sauce before they are cooked on a plancha, the flat griddle shown in the picture. That makes the tortilla nice and crispy and gives it a wonderful flavor. These are double tortilla tacos and she puts sauce on them after they are cooked and so the double tortilla prevents the taco from just falling apart in your hand.

Mago (the woman who runs the Taco stand - it's short for Margarita) lays out the limes, salsa, and chopped onions that are typical accompaniements to Taco heaven. However, she also makes a bowl of sliced onions, chopped habaneros, and lime juice. I can't eat very much of it, but just a little bit of it on a taco adds such a nice flavor. One time I did eat too much and thought I might actually die. Pepe still thinks I was being overly dramatic. If you ever do eat something that is too hot for you to handle, the best solution is to suck on a lime (another reason why they are ever present at the Mexican table, the other being that lime juice does a great job of killing any wee-beasties that might be living in your food). You can also consume a dairy product as a way to help ease the pain - don't drink water unless you simply have no other option because it just spreads the acid that causes the burning around in your mouth. However, if you have no other option, holding some cold water in your mouth for a bit and then spitting it out at least provides momentary relief. It always passes though and you learn one hell of a lesson about your tolerance.

A good thing to do before you eat anything that could potentially be spicy hot (picante) which is nearly everything you could consume in Mexico with the possible exception of Churros is to ask if it is hot. Just say "picante" so that your inflection rises at the end - maybe tilt your head endearingly to one side so they think you are cute and don't decide to say no just for laughs (which may not seem friendly but one of the best ways to know if you are liked is whether or not people play jokes on you - if they are always respectful and serious they probably hate you.) Unfortunately, for most Americans the definition of Picante is significantly different from that operating in Mexico. In that case, the best thing for you to do is to develop a frame of reference. Figure out how you feel about Jalapenos, Habaneros, and Lettuce (Lechuga). Then you ask if the particular food/salsa in question is hotter than Jalapenos/Habaneros/Lechuga and guage whether or not that means that you should avoid it.

When in doubt ask if you can have a taste. Most places will be more than happy to watch you taste a small portion of something. In Guadalajara, because there are not large amounts of tourists, especially in the parts I frequent, people are very devoted to making sure that I am taken care of and have the opportunity to try anything I am interested in. So far that's the way I've gotten out of eating entire orders of things that I would most likely find disgusting. If you are offered a taste of something you should generally accept. If you absolutely cannot bring yourself to try something try to invent an excuse of sufficient seriousness that you don't insult your host's/friend's/random person who wants you to try something's feelings like "I'm allergic, if I eat that my tongue will turn purple, and I will swell up and die" (loosely translated: si como esta cosa me lengua va ponerse morado y yo inchare y morire - you won't learn those kinds of helpful phrases anywhere else.)

At this taco stand around the corner, we eat 8 tacos, a large chocomil, freshly squeezed orange juice, and a coca-cola (the national beverage of choice - well, other than tequila) for 58 pesos, about $5.50. Can't beat that with a stick.

When I come home - I'll do the cooking.

Monday, June 23, 2008


Forget the flour tortillas and melted cheese, not that I dislike melted cheese. As a child one of my favorite things to eat, when I wasn't spooning strawberry jam directly into my mouth or taking surreptitious swigs from the Hershey's syrup bottle, was to put a slice (or 4) of cheese on a plate and microwave it. That's why I have a hard time buying the "obese people are just that way because they eat too much" argument. By all accounts then, I should weigh in at well over 600 pounds, rather than the diminutive weight of whatever the hell I am.

Enchiladas in Guadalajara are nothing like the ones that you can order in Mexican restaurants. Special enchilada tortillas that are thinner and somewhat smaller than others are used for this dish. This reminds me to tell you that tortillas actually have two distinct sides. There is an inside and an outside. If you tear a non-industrial tortilla in half lengthwise, you will see the two parts are only connected at the edges. The inside is the half that is much thinner. This thin part soaks up the juice and the thicker part keeps the tortilla from disintegrating in your hand. This happens because of the order in which the masa (dough) is laid out to cook.

I learned all of this because I live next to a tortilleria that smells absolutely heavenly although it emits a somewhat grating, high-pitched squeal as the tortillas come down the conveyor belt. It's approximately 70 pesos for a kilo of fresh, hot tortillas. I could live on them. Some of the taco stands I've been to actually make their own tortillas right there as your order. Those stands (fondas) usually have long lines too. Sometimes, there are old women walking around in a food market with baskets of hot tortillas that come in an amazing variety of diameters, colors, and thicknesses. Then, you just buy your filling by the kilo (or half kilo or whatever) and make your own tacos at the counter.

However, these aren't the enchilada tortillas, and that's where I think I was going when I started all of this although now I’m so hungry it’s hard to recollect.

They are soaked in a tomato salsa, made with garlic and oregano, and then the tortillas are deep fried. The filling is queso fresco (fresh cheese) mixed with dried oregano and chopped onions. They can either be rolled up or served flat, usually that depends on how crispy they are. To my mind, the crispier the better, the edges get nice and browned too. They are then topped with shredded lettuce, a couple of spoonfuls of a mild, thin tomato sauce, and then sprinkled with a thicker chili based hot sauce.

Living to Eat Another Day

I've begun work on my book about Tapatio food culture. There's so much to say and so many things to taste that I hardly know where to begin. The question I get asked most often about my travels in Mexico is: How many times did you get sick? The answer to that question is: once. and it wasn’t unwashed lettuce, poorly preserved meat, or ice cubes made from tainted water. No, it was something much more powerful than all of those things combined - my three year old son. He gets diseases that make your average CNN in Africa Special Edition: Looking at Sick People, segment of the nightly news seem tame by comparison. I am a highly adventurous eater and have consumed food from a wide variety of sources and so many of them are wonderful - don’t let yourself be scared out of eating in Mexico.


You should take some reasonable precautions, but these are the same precautions that Mexicans living in Mexico take - in other words, use your head. The people who live in Mexico do not drink water from the tap if they can help it. If you’re at all nervous, don’t even use it to brush your teeth. In Mexican homes, 5 liter bottles of water are delivered via local truck services and set into wire contraptions that allow for easy pouring. A 5 liter bottle of water costs around 11 pesos, approximately the equivalent of one US dollar.

I use tap water for washing dishes, even for washing out baby bottles, taking showers and any other non-drinking activities. I have brushed my teeth with local water but feel more comfortable using purified water. My husband brushes his teeth with water from the sink and he has never gotten sick. And although he is from Mexico, it has been ten years since he has lived here and so any advantage his body might have had from being accustomed to local bacteria is long gone. My now four year old son is nearly suicidal in his desire to drink water from sources I wouldn’t use to wash my cats paws in and he too has never gotten the famed Montezuma’s revenge. I think, maybe, Montezuma is finally at peace.

Sunday, June 22, 2008

3 Day Luggage

My luggage finally arrived last night at 10:30 after I had given up all hope of ever wearing anything different again. So, now that I've taken a shower and put some new clothes on, I feel like a new person. Yesterday, before my luggage had arrived, I contacted Delta and explained to them that I had been waiting for my luggage for three days. They told me there was just nothing they could do for me - not even a lousy coupon for Burger King or anything. I'm beginning to get this really weird sensation that the customer isn't always right...hmmmmmmm....Anyway, the guy on the phone kept telling me that he understood my anger and my feelings. I would tell him that I really wanted to wear different clothing and be able to venture out of the house and he would say "I understand, ma'am". Finally, I had to ask/yell(?) "Have you been wearing the same underwear for three days? If not, I don't want to hear that you understand!" I felt a little better after that.

To console myself, Pepe brought home some of the most wonderful tacos from this place called El Brodis. They were Birria tacos. Birria is a Tapatio (the word for things from Guadalajara) specialty. Goat in kind of a spicy tomato sauce. Yummy! The tacos were just the right amount of crunchy and so yummy. This morning, they were making Churros in front of the church, which they do every Sunday. They squeeze them out of this thing that looks like a giant caulking gun, into a very large bowl of hot oil. When they are fried up, they dredge them in cinnamon sugar and you eat them hot and fresh holding them in between pieces of wax paper. When you are done, you throw the wax paper away without looking at it, because if you did, you would realize that it is stained with grease to the point where you can almost see right through it.

Last night, we bought tamales from the guy across the street who makes them on Saturday and Sunday nights. One kind had chicken in a red sauce that was a bit spicy and the other was made with chicken and a green sauce that was really mild and rich. Jack ate a little bit of tamale (called them 'malees) but it was a little too spicy for him. El Guero (the son of Vero and Jos) came back with a bowl of french fries and this creation called a salchipulpo. A salchipulpo is when you cut a hot dog in half and then cut legnthwise almost into quarters, leaving it intact just at the end. Then, because god knows there isn't enough fat in a hot dog, you deep fry it and the little ends spread out and curl up a bit and it looks a little bit like an octopus which is what pulpo means. So, it's a sausage octopus. Jack seemed to like that a lot.

Jack is having a great time playing with his cousins and aunts and uncles. He's been getting to drink Mexican chocolate milk, called chocomil which he just adores. I usually order orange juice when we go out because they squeeze it right there when you ask for it and it is so sweet and wonderful. I took some video today of Pepe's mom and sister making enchiladas and then I ate a bunch of them and I think I may never eat again I'm so full.

The weather here is wonderful. It gets hot in the afternoon, but not unbearably so and then in rains and hails! at night and cools everything down. We spend most of the time sitting out in the front patio where the breeze comes through and it's just heavenly. I think I could live here. Two big problems with Guadalajara: graffiti and trash. If something could be done about either one of them, the quality of the city would be greatly improved.

I have got to get some work done, so I'll sign off for now, but there's more food and wonderful things to see. I'll upload pictures a couple at a time and give more mouthwatering descriptions as I experience things. Wherever you are, enjoy!

About Me

My photo
I have a fabulous husband, Pepe, who is from Guadalajara, Mexico. We spend a couple months each year in Mexico together. I also have two fabulous children, a son named Jack who was born in 2004, and a daughter named Violet, who was born in 2007 and whom we call Viva.