Carnitas in Depth

Saturday, January 10, 2009

The weather in Guanajuato is glorious this week. It always feels like a perfect day at the beach. As foretold, I have returned to the city of Celaya to celebrate my birthday with guys who used to work for me in Chapel Hill. We always have a good time here and besides I didn't want to find myself the object of an overly dramatic birthday party at home. I'll do that when I'm eighty. True to form, Luis y co. have been more than perfect hosts. I admit that I am easy to please. All I really want to do anyway is sit in his carneceria and talk with the clientel as I sip beer all afternoon. Occasionally, I'll pick through the carnita pot for chunks of kidney to snack on.

I got a more complete view of the carnita process this visit. All I had seen last time was a petroleum-like oil that everything is boiled in. This time I was present for the whole recipe. Luis does indeed start off with a caldron of black oil. But then as it begins to boil, in goes a whole bottle of Coca Cola, a quart of beer, a quart of milk, instant coffee crystals, cinnamon bark, a quartered orange and several chunked up onions. Oh, and about a quart of hot salt water. It is truely a mystery that something so nasty looking can be so dedlicious. It also turns out that pork rinds can be cooked along side the carnitas in the same pot although they, it turns out, get a second cooking after they are drained and cooled once.

Yesterday afternoon, I went with Luis to a huge wholesale food market on the west side of the city. I hadn't known that this neighborhood existed. I had only been to the traditional general market downtown, which has acres of food stalls itself. He shopped for ingredients for salsas while I explored. This market has livestock as well as produce, and storesful of spices, mysterious seasonings, adobos and flavorings. I saw for the first time bundles of peppergrass for sale. We used to pick this when I was little, to chew on and Mrs. Chase puts it in her gumbo z'herbe at Dooky Chase. I've never seen it anywhere except along the railroad tracks.

As in Japan in November, I've been going as often as not to lots of ordinary eateries. This has become my preference if I have a choice. The little restaurant in my hotel is a case in point. This hotel is a great find- I'll talk about it in particular another time, but it never has a lot of guests. It isn't fancy enough for the very wealthy, and the upper middle class, for whom it is perfect, is a very thin band in Mexico's economic graph. Its restaurant puts out a buffet for breakfast every morning. The offerings vary a little from day to day and you can get a few things cooked to order. As is common in Mexico, there is always a platter of perfectly peeled and sliced fresh fruit. I've had tripe one morning, mole another and an absolutely huge platter of fried beef liver on another. There is always a legion of condiments. The room is pretty and uses lots of traditional decorative arts. It seems way overstaffed. It's not showy, but always good.

posted by Bill Smith at 1:35 PM


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