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Wednesday, March 11, 2009

Baja Blunders cuisine

BAJA BLUNDERS
By Katrina Tinco

Part of the adventure when visiting a foreign country is to taste the local cuisine. When I first came to the USA, I had never ever seen a McDonald's (although I now realize that this has nothing to do with either local nor cuisine) and I was so impressed with the wonders of this establishment that, upon returning to England, I bored the hell out of all my friends with my enthusiastic accounts of milkshakes that were made with ice cream; hamburgers that were served with such delicacies as cheese, bacon and salad; the employees' uniforms; and the size of everything . . . huge! I had never tasted a nectarine, never heard of rocky road, mud pie or strawberry shortcake—I was in junk food heaven, and the size of everything . . . huge!

I could not believe that you paid for one cup of coffee and could drink as many refills so as to make you pee and shake for the rest of the day, or of all the choices that came with breakfast—whole wheat, rye, sunny side up, over easy, round plate, square plate, etc.—and the size of everything . . . huge.

No wonder my dream was to live in California some day, which I achieved some 22 years ago. Problem was I floated a little too far south and ended up with a completely different food dilemma—tortillas and chilies—something that I had never seen in my local fish and chip joint back home. Now as to ordering from the menu here—yes, it's all in Spanish. Okay . . . quesadillas . . . not a clue . . . mole . . . Well, I have seen the movie Caddy Shack and I am not about to eat furry little gopher things. Tripas . . . sounds like intestines or some kind of guts which I do not have enough of to try them. Aaahhh, hamburgesa sounds familiar . . . and the size . . . not so big.

Therefore, the logical solution to my dilemma was a simple one; marry a man who owns a restaurant. (I know you are all kicking yourselves saying, "Why didn't I think of that?") One would think problem solved; well, one would be dead wrong! Along come the in-laws, who, from the goodness of their hearts, wanted to help me learn Mexican culture and customs (one of which, so they told me, was to cook for your in-laws on a regular basis).

They began by trying to teach me how to prepare some good "home-style" national dishes and promptly introduced me to "nopales in mole." What, what??!! It's that darned mole thing again. Do we have to run around chasing down little squirrel-like critters at the local golf course? My mum-in-law explained that mole is pronounced "mole-ay" like olé in Spain and has nothing to do with the local wildlife, it is a sauce. Wow, imagine my relief until she told me it was made from chocolate, chilies, peanuts and all kinds of stuff that did not sound so palatable especially as it is going to be poured over nopales, otherwise known as bits of cactus, bringing me to the conclusion that these people really don't like me and are out to poison me so their son can marry a nice Mexican girl who knows how to cook. So, the nopales are on the stove and the water is bubbling over in a gluey mess—reminding me of something out of a Stephen King novel. Oh yes, and for good measure, why don't we just bite into a raw chile? Wow! Now I know where the Mexican folkloric dances come from—bite into a habanero . . . aaah, mouth on fire . . . stamp your feet like crazy, and run around in circles in search of a cold beer!

So after 22 years, I still have the same in-laws, husband and own a restaurant, but am forever wary of some of the local cuisine. Tripas are intestines; Menudo is not a boy band, it is a tripe stew (supposedly good for hangovers, although I will opt for Tylenol). Lengua . . . tongue . . . Cuitlocochtle, black fungus that grows on corn and very difficult to pronounce, and Higado . . . liver—not to be confused with the hero of the Mexican independence whose name was Hidalgo (don't want to order a plate of him with onions!).

I must admit that I am now a huge lover of chicken mole, nopal salads and I load salsa and chile onto everything I can. So, I suppose you can teach an old dog to make tacos. Mexican fare is ranked as one of the world's most diverse and top-rated international cuisines, so maybe it is worth the pain and suffering to try as much of it as possible. And McDonalds? . . . Not so great!

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