Friday, August 26, 2005

Mexican Food

number fifty-three

One of the enjoyable aspects of any travel is the food, and México is especially attractive in this regard. Also it is just a tiny bit unexpected. 1,142 words.

[NL]—An interesting fact about México: it is very cosmopolitan about food. This is to be expected, sure, in a big city like Monterrey, but I have generally found it to be true in every place I have been. Costal towns sport dashing and exotic seafood cocktails cooked in citric acid at the table, markets griddle up cactus paddle tacos on steaming bar-side hotplates, and delicacies such as huitlacoche (corn smut), flor de calabaza (pumpkin flowers) and chapulines (crickets) permeate local menus from the most modest sidewalk food stalls to the finest dining rooms.

Meat, poultry, and fish can be ordered and prepared in an astounding variety of ways, many involving splitting the critter lengthwise and spitting it over glowing coals. To serve: carve off chunks until it has been whittled down to its revolving core. Apparently cabrito (young goat) and pollo (chicken) are the select objects of this gourmet attention. Beef and pork anatomy are cooked in many of the expected ways from tip to tip, including some traditional recipes for parts that the US diner is less likely to have experienced eating regularly: barbacoa (beef head and face), lengua (beef or pork tongue), and chicharron (boiled or roasted pork skin). What is left is dumped in many of the traditional Mexican soups: pozole, xóchitl, and tortilla. Fusion, sometimes accidentally achieved through the making of foreign foods with local products, also broadens the horizons of culinary possibility. Never more so than the naturalization of normal vegetarian fare through the application of healthy doses of local meat. Light pasta primavera leaden with regional bacon pretty much gives birth to a whole new dish. Same with cheese dip which happens to contain a sizable island of shredded, redly barbequed goat.

While there seems to be very little of the type of food cooked in United States Mexican restaurants, and sadly no Taco Bell among the usual list of successfully imported fast food brands, there is no lack of opportunities to eat ethnically diverse cuisine, including Korean, Thai, Chinese, Japanese, Spanish, German, Hawaiian, Irish, US American, French, Argentinean, Cuban, Arabian, Lebanese, Italian, and et cetera, including a whole host of different Mexican regional restaurants usually labeled with words like “traditional,” “typical,” or “twenty pesos for five.”

There are also myriad crêpe places dotting the landscape, the number of which it would be impossible to exaggerate. Not only are there whole crêpe restaurants, but it is possible to get crêpes at many restaurants dedicated to other kinds of food. Crêpes may be purchased at all coffee shops, for example, or in the movie theaters, or most other places in between. I have grown really fond of these fluffy little French griddlecake wraps, whether filled with veggies-n-cheeses for dinner or fruits-n-crèmes for dessert.* One of my favorites is the Italian cheese and mushroom crêpe. With the observed lack of the standard burrito-type fare, we have grown to think of the crêpe as “Mexican food,” and are growing more and more suspicious of the authenticity of those places at home which neglect to include this menu item.

Other food items available at the movie theater include beer, nachos, and sushi. As a matter of fact, there is no scarcity of sushi anywhere in the city, and I should probably attempt to think of this as “Mexican food” as well. The problem is specifically in my own prejudices. Crêpes tend to lend themselves to all sorts of dramatic cultural tampering, as do omelets and dumplings, because they are fairly defined by the ingredients of their filling. Not so much so with sushi, which can be rendered unrecognizable as a result of too much tampering with the theme. I am certainly aware that sushi is a popular fusion cuisine, the traditions of which are often fogged by local ingredients or innovative chefs. Fine. I am also totally sure that what I basically define as sushi is the product of an Americanization of the traditional Japanese stuff, and thereby just as totally false as any other variation. Also fine. I can’t help it, though: strange sushi dishes, finely prepared and gastronomically enjoyable as they may be, still boggle my mind when sat on the table before me.

Thus, I am loathe to even refer to the crab-stuffed tempura fried poblano chilis I enjoyed on my first Monterrey outing under the heading of sushi, even though that was what the restaurant billed itself as. Same with the wonderful fried crabmeat blocks, called sushi cubes, that are available on a menu in central San Pedro. These are served as a pile of five large blocks with a side of tangy katsu sauce and a squirt of iridescent blue wasabi gel on the side of the plate. My fantasy is to get three or four orders one day and build a little house with them, seeing as how they are the Legos of the sort-of sushi world. Working down the list, the most traditional place we have eaten, a place that even served hot sake and lemon-fresh finger towels, included a soy sauce marinated jalapeño condiment on our table.

But my fragile, apparently very insular, world of sushi seems to have met its Mexican match today as we tried out a little place in a San Pedro strip mall. Here is where the destruction of my culinary assumptions and the helpful addition of Mexican livestock have come together to leave an indelible impression on my checklist of flamboyantly off-cultural cuisine. Ordering an otherwise pretty standard roll, I missed the three letter word in the menu that indicated it would be prepared with tender roasted sirloin. There was no danger of my accidentally eating this, however, as what was delivered to our table was, indeed, a roll of roast beef wrapped in rice and seaweed with a little poke of cucumber in the middle. This is such a little thing to fly off the handle about. Certainly there is nothing un-Japanese about thinly-sliced marinated beef. And yet this Arby’s roll, this meaty curl of east-meets-southwest, obviously achieved something wholly new, possibly unholy; and, frankly, I found it jarring. Sushi-n-Roast. All I could really do was stare at it and wonder what strange new escalation was to befall me the next time I ordered ostensible sushi at the next place down the list. Or if it was possible, that the lowest scientific point of troubling ersatz world cuisine had been observed, and it was all uphill from here.

Here is an excellent directory of the Monterrey metropolitan restaurant world. Includes San Pedro, referred to here as “Valle” (the Valley).

*Not all crêpe places cute-up their menus to the extent that I have satirized them here. Still, since the items appear in Spanish as “verduras y quesos” and “frutas y crema” it is easy to substitute that happy-go-lucky ampersand stand-in, the n, when ordering or translating.

Quiet Reading Room

This is a quiet reading room. Often, I find it is uncomfortable to digest long tubes of columned text directly off a computer screen. This journal is dedicated to the collection, percolation, and ultimate integration of my personal experiences. Subjects that I want to examine and then talk about--sometimes talk a lot about--€”are presented here. This central content can tend to thousands of words, maybe millions. I was afraid that readers were leaving the presentation boggled, spinning, googly-eyed. Or perhaps when confronted with twenty-four inches, or yards, of monitor sprawl they were just giving up. I am not even certain that I have necessarily solved this inevitable content problem of modern information enjoyment, but here is what I have done.

After long and highly scientific routines manipulating double-blind control- and test-subjects, peer reviewed journal publications, and hours and hours of hands-on experimentation, I have crafted this quiet reading room. There is no scientific way to control the length of the articles I write, but careful handling can somewhat soothe the contextual presentation. In other words: I have dropped the traditional speculation about lexicon, and attacked the question of the matrix itself instead. Brilliant. After years of diligence what I eventually crafted is this reading room.

The walls are contoured to relax instead of constrain; the paper is made to soften instead of reflect. The light is dimmed--just so--€”to prevent strain, angled to prevent umbra, and color-coded to soften harsh red lights and deepen wimpy light reds. There is nothing I can do to control aural environment, but my recommendation is that it should be kept quiet. About ambient sound: these entries are probably best read as far as possible from emergency vehicles, preferably from beneath the muffler of a vintage fire fighter pilot's scarf, puffy old duvet, or snow that is still falling.

My theory is that the wide web world is filled with potent and material opportunities that are just too difficult to digest for many people to take part. Enjoyment of this stuff is regulated to the routines of crawlers and robots at the peril of humankind's peaceful future survival. In an attempt to delay this likely outcome: welcome to this quiet reading room. It is for people like you to relax, kick back, and hate my content for better reasons than the dizzying vertiginous specter of its lousy dpi presentation.

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