Report from Mexico
is it bang for your buck you're seeking? Oh, you say it
is, but how far will you really go to stuff yourself silly for
Vietnamese place in the Sunset? Don't make me laugh. Think out of
the box, think over the border, think centavos, not cents. For
food value, nothing -- but nothing -- beats México.
can feast on the cheap simply by wandering the streets here. It's a
cavalcade of sabores (flavors). Men in the park offer mysterious
fruit drinks from big gourds. A truck full of coconuts backs up to the
sidewalk and the husks fly. Stout women in doorways fry tasty tidbits
in cauldrons of oil, then position them temptingly on carefully propped
up plates. They might be filled with requeson (a cheese mixture),
beans, some sort of meat -- who cares? They're good, and there is an
infinite variety, some which sound familiar (quesadillas), and
some which don't (sincronizadas). Oh, the exquisite pleasure
of learning their names!
you are quailing in fear at the thought of fried food, perhaps you should
skip México. You don't have to eat fried food here, but,
well, you ought to! 'Cause it's good! You can always clear your palette
with a bag of fresh jicama or cucumber or papaya doused with lime and
dusted with chili powder.
the market, get avocados. Some for today, and some for tomorrow, too,
because after you have them once, you gotta have them every single day.
They are perfect, pure and simple. Cut them open and behold the most
flawless and creamy avocado-y goodness you've ever seen, a color that
ranges from buttery yellow to a green that seems lit from within, and
bears no similarity whatsoever to a generation's worth of refrigerators
and dishwashers erroneously labeled "avocado." It's possible to pass
several days eating little else -- believe me.
Asado, al Carbon. That's chicken grilled over charcoal. Oh, sounds kinda
boring, does it? I pity you, fool. You haven't had the pollo asado that
I've had, from the shack by the Bahia de Santiago traffic light.
You tell the guy, "un pollo, para llevar" (one chicken to go), and then
you wait and dodge the shifting smoke while he sizes you up and selects
the proper bird. The chickens are flattened out and grilled all in one
piece -- butterflied and skewered, I suppose you BBQ experts would say.
He flips them and prods judiciously. Juices drip and sizzle on the hot
coals. All this takes a few minutes, but he is an artist -- be patient
and let him work. The whole operation is positioned several feet above
the sidewalk, on a concrete landing, so the chickens are cooking at
eye level and your man looms several feet above them, appearing somewhat
godlike through the smoke. He slaps your chicken down on a big butcher
block and chops it into pieces. He notices your mouth watering and you
say, smells good! He nods, unimpressed by this mundane observation --
of course it smells good! But the next thing you know he's shoving a
sizable prueba (sample) your way, since you do seem to appreciate
good cooking. He packs the chicken in a bag along with -- get this --
about 2 dozen tortillas, rice, tasty looking hot sauce in a plastic
bag, and a handful of limes. You pay the man: 40 pesos.
eat the sample on the way back to the hotel and begin to walk faster,
despite the hot sun and the hefty chicken.
the food out all nice, preferably on a balcony overlooking the beach
and facing westward so you can appreciate how gorgeous that chicken
looks bathed in the pink light of sunset. Some parts crispy from the
rigorous grilling, other pieces juicy and succulent, all of it looking
and smelling muy riquisimo (exceptionally tasty).
it is, oh it is. It has been basted with something subtle yet essential,
something salty and faintly spicy, something that elevates this bird
to such heavenly heights that it seems incredible it's called simply,
"grilled chicken." The rice ain't bad, and the tortillas are fine, but
it's that chicken you just can't stop eating. If you can slow down for
a second, wrap some de-boned pieces up in a tortilla with a glob of
guacamole (whipped up from the avos and the limes) and a spoonful of
that hot sauce, and savor your little piece of heaven. Total cost for
the meal, including rum drinks: $US 12.11. And if you are splitting
it at least two ways (you better, you little piglet), you're talking
about 6 bucks. I rest my case.
based on current exchange rate of 9.55 pesos per U.S. dollar.