San Martin Caballero
Sunday, January 11, 2009
So you're turning sixty. Do you choose snowy, elegant Quebec City with hot toddies in front of the fire at the Chateau Frontenac, a dinner of rognons de veau au Porto, and Edith Piaff for a sound track? Or, do you opt for Celaya in central Mexico, face down drunk in a bar that turns out to be a hangout for transvestite prostitutes who wear Spandex tube tops that are too small? Three guesses. How do you find such a place, you might ask. Simple. Just wander around really drunk in a really, really bad neighborhood. I didn't puke and I didn't get robbed, I wasn't even the worst one off. Alls well that ends well, I guess. Happily no food was involved in this escapade, so I'll move on. I only mention it at all because people always ask.
Except for one expedition, when we took some of the kids to a sort of supperclub surrounded a giant playground, I've done most of my eating either on the streets, in the markets or in homes. I quiz the cooks, usually, to see what I can learn. For instance, I've never understood how the chicharrones
or pork rinds here turn out like they do. I've always seen great pots of them simmering, but they always seem too crowed to crisp up. My friend Pancho now works in a chicharroneria,
if there is such word. It turns out that after the first two hours or so of cooking they are allowed to drain dry and to cool for a while before being given a second short frying. This explains how they become so toasty, yet fluffy. Luis' mother, Conchita, cooked me a surprise birthday dinner last night. She made pork milanesas
, an elaborate salad of mostly cold poached vegetables and a wonderful dish of macoroni that was dressed with a sauce of fresh poblano peppers, pureed and simmered in heavy cream. Mysteriously, everyone called this sopa,
As I prepare to return home, I reflect on my weekend. I fit in awfully well here and I feel very lucky to have made all these friends. The economy is not as bad as I was expecting and people who have to do without anyway have better skills for hard times. The predicted crush of returnees from the United States has not materialized as of yet. This is partially due to the savage drug wars that now plague Mexico. People are uneasy about their safety, because there is a lot of "collateral damage". People in this neighborhood, called Delicias, were startled by a gun battle that errupted in their streets the day before I arrived between the police and a band of "narcos" Three people were killed. But I'd like to close this Mexican post on a happier note. Here is a picture of Elena at her gordita press. She made my lunch yesterday on the street in Delicias.
I almost forgot. San Martin Caballero is how St. Martin of Tours is known in Mexico. His image is everywhere. An extremely popular saint among pilgrims in the Middle Ages, he was a soldier, known among other things for his generosity to the poor. He was also the patron saint of drunks.
posted by Bill Smith at 11:02 AM