Manzanillo Sun article

A Letter Home

2012 Kirby Vickery Living in Mexico September 2012

By Kirby Vickery from the September 2012 Edition

Dear Dan,

I hope that you enjoyed my first letter to you. I should have requested an acknowledgement but I realize that I hadn’t so I’ll not hold your responsible. From this one, however, I would like something from you to indicate you’ve read it.

A discussion about the food here is as you would imagine inevitable and I suppose I should get to it sooner than later with your love of hot sauce.

As I sit here writing this my host is preparing an American style breakfast although we’ve been up for hours and have already had a swim. Maybe the term ‘American’ shouldn’t be used here as most restaurants offer bacon and eggs and refried beans instead of hash browns as a standard menu item. The difference is all in the taste of things until or if you get into the use of salsas.

Meat is obtained in the same way it is on Whidbey with the addition of the use of a butcher if you don’t find what you’re looking for at the supermarket. Manzanillo holds five major supermarkets. So far I’ve been in two of them but I prefer to purchase all the fresh veggies and fruit from the open market in Santiago, just north of town, which is open at that location on Saturdays. It moves to different locations throughout the week. We also get eggs from there as we’ve had rather bad luck with our purchases of those little white orbs from the modern supermarkets. I have also found that the market prices are slightly less than what we find in the Air Conditioned, Parking-Lotted, Grocery-Carted, Attendant-bagged by the very elderly or school aged children who work for tips only. I have yet to experience a visit to a butcher but am rather looking forward to that as we purchased all of our meat from one while stationed in Athens, Greece.

They don’t sell russet potatoes here. That is with any type of freshness, quantity, or quality. I really think the locals view a russet potato as an exotic food and use it as something to try out on their neighbors, when they don’t expect it. The largest seller is a style of potato which reminds me of a new potato. Or those potatoes you see that are like russets only they have smooth, thin, skins. I just went to look them up and found out there is a mild toxin in all potatoes. I may never eat them again.

The eggs are about the same unless you get them from the cheap section in the supermarkets. We did that last week and actually got some rotten eggs. You see, here, they don’t refrigerate them. Nope, I’m sticking to market eggs from now on.

I don’t think you would like the bacon here. Oh you can get it sliced to any thickness you want and it runs the gamut from fully lean to actually no meat at all (similar to English, Yorkshire, bacon – you know – a slab of pure lard!). Where I find differences is in the taste. Either it isn’t cured or their curing process is a lot different. As a result, the taste in bacon is totally different. When I can talk my host into letting me do a breakfast, I intend to marinate some in a little Liquid Smoke which is available down here. I tried to make ranch beans the other day and wasn’t able to find any ham hocks, smoked or otherwise, with the skin on. So I ordered two joints and did the liquid smoke trick there too. All I can say was that we didn’t throw any away and one joint would have been plenty.

In their little ‘Kiosko’ (convenience store similar to 7-11) stores they sell packaged, white bread sandwiches which could sell in the U.S. just as easily as here.

Those little stores also have a bread locker and a pair of tongs to grab what you want but with more variety than 7-11 ever heard of. They also sell an overall variety of Mexican take out lunches which is not unlike what you’d find on any road in the U.S. or Canada.

I can break the restaurants down into groups with some of them transcending gastronomic style lines. For instance there are those that are patterned after what you can get in Canada and the States. One American down here runs a successful fried chicken place and it tastes like Pop-Eye’s. Another has a hamburger place which is anything but fast food. But, they’re good, don’t get me wrong. You like fish and chips? We got’em except they offer habanera sauce on the table in both green and red along with the Heinz ketchup. This being a sea coast town you can expect a healthy variety of seafood being available, and it is. There is Chinese, Italian, French, and probably Ghurkha (I’m not really looking. Okay?), as well as any Mexican dish imaginable. This place may not be very large but it is Mexico’s primary seaport to the Pacific and as such will cater to the occupants and sailors of the countries that ply their trade here. And, yes, Dan, there are the tourist boats too but my host knows me too well to let me loose near any of them.

Above are a few examples of the area’s budding and struggling middle class. I believe that it is a hard thing to grow in this climate. Above and below this clutter of newness in marketing are the old standbys. They are places to eat which cater to the forever well-being money set. Most of it is good food prepared by this chef or that and served by a familiar waiter whom meets you like a long lost brother. As well they might because during the course of the evening which comes complete with live entertainment, you will drop a healthy roll and crawl away sated with a desire to return and do it again.

As with most people I’ve met down here, I’m retired so my pockets only run so deep. This brings me to what I consider the best eating experience on the American Continents.

In Greece, I would go into the Plaka (the old center of Athens) where you could almost touch both walls along the road you were on. We would order two Giros and a Dutch or Greek beer for a buck and sit there on the sidewalk to swoon with the pleasure of the taste and texture of that simple classic meal. In Manzanillo, I have yet to find what I consider a good enchilada dinner. But, I think that might be a frontier food (to be enjoyed along the U.S. Mexican border). That being said, I have discovered what the vast number of people in town do eat and enjoy. I’ve also discovered why.

Not far from where we live there is a small park where a weary shopper can sit for a bit while waiting for a bus. In the middle of this park is an ice cream stand. In Tijuana it would sell different combinations of fruit bowls. As the sun gets ready to settle into the ocean, food carts appear along with grills and shallow deep fry pans. With them come tables and extra lights with chopped hot things some of which I can’t identify to be eaten with your meal. Also with them come the people who live nearby with their appetites, their wives, boyfriends, children, Tio’s, and Tia’s (aunts and uncles).

Someone had a radio turned up which was playing what I call ‘Mexican Country Western’ thick with a pleading voice and the sharp tang of extreme and very loud brass. I’m thinking that some ranch hand’s horse died but my Spanish isn’t that good yet. No, this is a family thing. These people all know each other and greet you with the same smile and sincerity they greet their own families. We went there the other night and I was a little embarrassed when a couple of young gentlemen got up to clear a table for us. And the food? It was small soft tacos with whatever you can find to put on them and not singe your eyebrows along with a handful of salad consisting mostly of cut up tomato and lettuce. I caught them looking. These people have a marvellous since of humor and the care to let you laugh first after you get your breath from your first bite.

The price is so right some friends of my host who live in that area rarely go to the Market. They just eat out most of the time.

I have to close for now Dan, but know that tonight while you’re probably enjoying your sit down dinner to meat loaf, corn, and mashed potatoes, I’m going to be in gourmet delight watching a whole bunch of people having a good time with life and me as I try not to react to whatever ground up stuff I added to my whatever-it-was food.


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