Monotony of Mexican meals

THERE ARE LOTS of positive aspects to Mexican life. Food ain’t one of them.

Basically, here’s what we eat. Rice, chilies, cheese, beans and stuff made from corn. Pork chops are like old, thin, shoe soles. Beef is gristly. We do fairly well with chicken, especially roasted chicken.

We cannot make a decent salad, and when we make one we offer no dressing. We’re expected to squeeze lime juice on top, period. The Mexican table, at home or in restaurants, will have salt. It will not have pepper.

Here’s a partial list of what I miss from above the Rio Bravo:

  1. Grits. A great way to start any day is a mound of grits next to runny eggs, white-bread toast, butter and jelly. You’d think that, due to Mexico’s love of corn, we’d have grits, but we have nary a grit.
  2. Muffuletta sandwich. This is primarily a New Orleans thing. A good muffuletta is a religious experience. There is an Italian whiff about it. Get it to go, and walk down Decatur Street to Jackson Square. Sit on a bench.
  3. Sausage like andouille, Italian and, especially, boudin. I do love boudin. Andouille and boudin are Cajun items. I lived in Louisiana for 18 years. Sausage in Mexico is usually greasy chorizo. It can be tasty. It can also spawn a heart attack.
  4. Boiled crawfish. What I would not pay for a plate of spicy boiled crawfish and a couple of cold Dixie beers. If you say crayfish, please step away.
  5. Po-boys. Best ordered in New Orleans. My favorite is Italian sausage, but since there is no Italian sausage here … I also used to eat fried-potato po-boys. Greasy French fries inside sliced French bread. Carb attack! But tasty!*
  6. Boiled peanuts. Leaving Louisiana now and moving east. It’s a seasonal thing you’ll find in Georgia. Probably Alabama and Mississippi too. I could eat these things till I’m sick to my stomach.
  7. Raw oysters. You can find raw oysters here sometimes, but not the big, plump ones. I wouldn’t eat them anyway. Not now, not anywhere. I don’t want to commit suicide. I ate my first raw oyster one afternoon in the bar of Schwegmann’s supermarket on Airline Highway in Metairie, Louisiana. I had quite a few beers in me or I wouldn’t have braved it.
  8. Vietnamese pho. When the war ended, lots of refugees settled on the Texas Gulf coast. Houston is full of funky Vietnamese restaurants, and I used to eat in one almost daily. My favorite dish is something called pho. You’ll find no pho anywhere near me now, sadly.
  9. Paella. This is a Spanish dish, not Mexican. Finding paella in Mexico is not difficult. Finding good paella is almost impossible. The only passable paella I’ve encountered was here in Ajijic. I used to frequent a wonderful Spanish eatery in Houston that served a killer paella. You had to phone in advance.
  10. Fried catfish. Another Southern specialty you won’t find south of the Rio Bravo. I do so miss it. My child bride loves fried catfish after that evening we ate in a restaurant near the Howard Johnson’s motel on an interstate in central Alabama about 12 years back.

Alas, I am condemned to live out my life with tacos, tortillas, skinny beef and pork, rice, beans (never beans & rice like you get in New Orleans), and stuff swimming in melted, white cheese.

* * *  *

* I weighed 50 pounds more when I lived in New Orleans.

36 thoughts on “Monotony of Mexican meals

  1. You can source all of the ingredients, except maybe for the crawfish, right here in Morelia. Between Costco, Panoli, and Superama, there’s no Italian sausage? Make your own. No prepared grits? Make your own by going to http://ansonmills.com/recipes/618 and following the instructions. Where’s your sense of pioneer spirit? Boudin and andouille weren’t growing on trees when the first settlers came to those Louisiana shores. The makings of pho, save for the beef, are all available at Toyo Foods.

    One time, I was out of bulgur, and there was none to be had at the time at Panoli, so I researched how to make it from the wheat that was available for 4 p/kilo, and I made my own. It wasn’t that hard, the process gave me greater insight and respect for bulgur-producers, and it conferred upon me those bragging rights that I’m sharing right now with you.

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    1. Ms. Shoes: Oh, I knew someone would say I could make much of it myself, but I do not wish to do so. I want to be served.

      I’ve never encountered real Italian sausage here except for a short-lived French restaurant near where I previously resided here in town that made perfect Italian sausage. But it closed and moved, I think, to Querétaro years ago. As for making pho, you have to have a real Vietnamese to do it right. Don Cuevas, shortly after moving here, came to our house and made pho. It was pretty tasty, but it was nothing like the Viet Cong would serve.

      Nice that you make different stuff at home, but it’s not my lifestyle. I’m no foodie and neither is my child bride. I sure ain’t gonna try and make grits from scratch.

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    1. Creigh: Culinarily (sp?) speaking, you could make a case for that. New Orleans is famed for food. But you know what? Houston is better. There are far more fantastic options in Houston than you’ll ever find in New Orleans. What New Orleans has is that you can walk into most any restaurant or anyone’s home and get a fantastic meal. But it’s all New Orleans cuisine with scant exceptions. Houston, on the other hand, is far more varied. You cannot walk into any restaurant in Houston and be guaranteed a great meal, but if you know your way around, it’s a far superior food landscape. There is grub from all over the world. Not so in New Orleans. This was something I was surprised to learn when I moved from New Orleans to Houston decades back.

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      1. That’s how I felt about Italy. Italian specialties, excellent. But you could get far more variety in any moderate sized American town. And in small towns in the Midwest, Mexican is usually your best bet.

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  2. I’m going to second Ms Shoes’ comment. You can easily enough make your own, especially there retired and all. Time wouldn’t seem to be a constraint. And hints throughout your blogging career suggest you’re probably a pretty good cook too.

    While living in CDMX, I made tons of food that wasn’t much available in Mexico like quiche, ratatouille, tuna casserole, red beans and rice, capellini with clam sauce, and on and on and on. You can do it too.

    Saludos,

    Kim G
    Redding, CA
    Where we make plenty of food not often consumed by locals.

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    1. Kim: Yes, I can make stuff, but I don’t wanna, and most of the stuff on my list I cannot make here. Pho? Fried catfish, Southern style w/hush puppies? Boiled crawfish? Boudin? I used to cook more down here years ago, but I’ve mostly grown tired of it. We eat lunch — the Mexican’s main meal — in restaurants at least four times a week, sometimes more. This post, however, is not addressing what one can cook at home, but what is generally available out in my Mexican world. I weep at that.

      I made some jambalaya just recently. It was damn tasty.

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      1. Funny that, I made some damn tasty jambalaya on Friday morning to bring to a friend’s cabin on Lake Almanor. It was a hit.

        As for things available in restaurants, moving to the sticks in Mexico doesn’t exactly help your cause either. But lots of your list probably isn’t available in CDMX either. It took me a LONG time to find a halfway decent and authentic (not MexiChino nor GringoChino) Chinese restaurant. And when we got there, we could barely communicate in Spanish. But it was worth all the hassle.

        Maybe you need a vacation in NOLA to satisfy some of your cravings.

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        1. Kim: While Vietnamese restaurants are almost nonexistent, Thai places are not too hard to find, and Chinese restaurants are fairly common. Often, when you see “Vietnamese,” it’s part of a general “Asian cuisine” place, usually high-end, “fusion” and questionably Vietnamese, I would bet. There are at least two pho places in Guadalajara. We were going to visit there later this month till my wife’s broken arm canceled the trip. One day.

          A New Orleans vacation would be great, but since I’m not going to the United States anymore, that’s not gonna happen. Of course, one could make an excellent argument that New Orleans is not really in the United States.

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          1. One could also make an excellent argument that since you are the one who decided that you’re never going to the USA again, that you would be just as free to change your mind if the pull of po’ boys, muffalettas, and other such fare became overwhelming.

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  3. You have aguacates, tomates and cebollas. I could eat guacamole and tortilla chips every day. But I’ve never tried that.

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  4. Felipe: There is a butcher shop in Patzcuaro that sells good sausage, regular and green. Like others have said, ingredients are available, but lots of people prefer to buy the products whole.

    The only thing I find disturbing is grits. I have tried them, once made by Sr. Don Cuevas, which were declared excellent by a number of folks, and I put them on the same gastronomic level as poi, the Hawaiian staple.

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    1. Kris: What you consider good sausage and what I consider good sausage, I imagine, are significantly different. You are Canadian, after all. And what I’ve seen in butcher shops here are invariably variations of chorizo, some less greasy, some more greasy.

      I think grits are something you have to have been raised with. I don’t know what sort of grits Cuevas made, but one must remember that he was born in New York!

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  5. I can’t believe what I just read! There isn’t a carnicería in Patzcuaro? Even my little Cedros has two, and I can get pork chops cut any size I want, beef ribs, roasts, anything I basically want. No catfish, no crawfish but plenty of fresh fish in the early morning market of Chapala. Don’t know what to say my friend.

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    1. Peggy: Sure, we have butcher shops. There’s one in the next block. And yes, one can get chops cut any which way you wish. I was referring to what’s customarily served in restaurants and even in Mexican homes where I have eaten. I have never had a chop in a restaurant or a home that was not pathetic, shoe-sole thin and dry. Not once. In a home either.

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      1. Oh … I had to reread to understand the restaurant part. Thought you were referring to home. Agree, those skinny chops should be flipped once and served with eggs! You had me concerned there for a moment as I do cook. Making red chili (Arizona style) tomorrow. Yummmm!

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        1. Peggy: What you’re doing is making Gringo-style meals at home. Not really what I was writing about. Sure, one can get butchers to cut chops thicker than one centimeter. They’ll do whatever you ask. Bet they never, or almost never, have their Mexican customers request thick chops. I doubt it would even occur to most of them.

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        2. Peggy: Just occurred to me that you took the “we” in the second and third paragraphs to mean me and my wife. No, I was referring to Mexicans. Not us personally.Quite the contrary.

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  6. Looks like you’ve made up some pretty good reasons to get back up here for a visit, even if it’s just for the all these food items you miss.
    Come on up, you don’t have to stay.

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    1. Ricardo: Were it up solely to my wife, we’d be up there on a regular basis. However, I have veto power. You people just gonna have to get along without me from here on out. Actually, from 2009 on out.

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  7. Felipe, thanks for brightening my day. I was really laughing reading this post! I went through the same thing when I was living there. I ended up cooking more and more meals just to get some variety and taste when I lived in Mexico. Luckily, I had the touristy areas to go to for American ingredients and spices. (There is a VERY PRICEY Gringo grocery store in Nuevo Vallarta.) I had much of my wife’s family coming over to our house and even asking me to cook special meals for them. (Lasagna, etc.) Now I cook about 50% of the time and NO, I am no mandalin! LOL!

    Have a great afternoon, Felipe!

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    1. Michael: Glad to have provided you some entertainment. Interesting, but not surprising, that much of your wife’s family was eager to come to your house and get something new and tasty. Back when I used to cook more, I also was rather famous among my Mexican kin for serving stuff other than gristly beef, shoe-leather chops, rice, beans, all covered with melted cheese. Saludos to the family.

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  8. Hmmm? Lots of folks recommend to “make yer own,” or to make a viable substitute of one type or another. No one mentioned, I’m heading S.O.B. shortly, and can I bring you some? I’ll make the offer, for some NC grits, but you’ll have to visit Disneylandia del sur to pick them up! Interested? Cheers!

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    1. Dan: Mighty generous offer, and I really appreciate it. I’m assuming that Disneylandia del sur is San Miguel de Allende. Had I not made a blood oath to myself that I would never set foot there again, I would take you up on your offer. I’ll have to pass.

      But the aim of the post is that the things I list are not available here on a regular basis. I wish they were, but then it would not be Mexico. It would be somewhere else, maybe North Carolina.

      Were you to bring a muffuletta sandwich from New Orleans, I likely would cancel my blood oath to never visit SMA again, but that would require you to pass through New Orleans, plus I don’t think the sandwich would travel well.

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  9. I fully concur with your opinion of the monotony of Mexican cuisine. When I moved down, I loved the stuff. After all, Tapatio food is the foundation of most Mexican restaurants in The States. But I soon tired of it. I have not had a tortilla in my mouth for years.

    My solution is the same as several of your commenters. I cook international food at the house based on the ingredients I can find — including those indictable tomatoes. To my great surprise, my son, who is 100% Mexican, prefers my cooking over the local Mexican fare. Greek olives and fruit in cooked foods are the only things he won’t eat. He told me he likes the variety of food I cook. He was amazed there were other tastes that are enticing — as long as they include lots of chiles, a passion we share. If it is not wrapped in a tortilla, his friend Lupe will not even taste what is in the refrigerator.

    As for paella, the short-lived Spanish restaurant in Patzcuaro served a passably good version. Of course, the place was not even given the dignity of a lingering death. One day it was just gone. I was not surprised. Each night I was there, I was the sole customer.

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    1. Señor Cotton: I just wrote a lengthy response, and it was sent solely to Al Gore. Seems he is going to keep it.

      Here’s a shorter version: I have found that Mexicans generally are very pleasantly surprised when faced with Gringo grub. Problem is they rarely are. I bet even the illegals above the border keep eating their own stuff, and they then return to Mexico no more the wiser.

      We had paella years ago at the restaurant here that you mention, and I was very underwhelmed. Maybe it was a bad day. As noted, the place did not last long. Our mountaintop people usually shun new food. They want what they want, and are not detoured easily. If there is no rice, no tortillas and no beans, forget about it.

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  10. Boy! I was in Morelia area couple months ago and the food was delicious, and I’m not talking tacos or rice and beans. I’m still working off the extra weight I gained. But, once again as Ms. Shoes, suggested … get thee in to the kitchen. Even if you like to be served. (Aren’t you glad I’m back?)

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    1. Angeline: Of course, I’m glad you’re back. As for that business of fixing what I want at home, yes, I could do that, but it is really not connected to what I was writing about: the monotony of Mexican meals. By that I mean in restaurants and in Mexican homes. By Mexican homes, I am referring mostly to my relatives. I think they are fairly typical.

      I don’t doubt you had some enjoyable meals (You were in Morelia?!). I imagine you frequented some high-end places, and Morelia has a number of them, but they are not typical. And/or you were in regular joints, which would have been different from your fare in California. Move here for a decade-plus, and see how things look. Less stellar, I would bet.

      But as for my getting busy in the kitchen, nah. I’m too lazy.

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  11. Felipe,

    One of the benefits of living in Gringolandia is the plethora of restaurants that cater to the Gringo tastebuds. Lots of NOB food choices here.

    Regards,
    Troy

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    1. Troy: Of course, that is so. Same goes for San Miguel de Allende. But where you are and SMA are not really Mexico, but some weirdo place in between worlds. The advantage of that is the variety of restaurants and some other stuff too. No matter. I prefer where I am. Different strokes, etc.

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