Tuesday, June 30, 2009

Doña Maria's Gorditas

Editor's note: The following is a post from Chris - yes, Chris! Enjoy. :)

Put them in the column of things I will miss about Mexico, along with balloon sellers in public squares and sprawling tianguis selling everything from herbs and fish to Hollister tees and American Eagle polo shirts. Doña María and three of her daughters and daughters-in-law (cuñadas in Spanish, for once shorter than the English expression) sell gorditas outside her house five days a week. Gorditas are kin to tacos, thick baked corn patties sliced open and filled with stewed guisados of beans, potatoes, pork rind, or sliced chiles or nopales (cactus) prepared ahead of time and scooped into the steaming hot corn pocket. Doña María’s gorditas are extra special because she places her griddle, or comal, over a wood fire, and after the gorditas are cooked on the griddle, they get a few seconds rest in the coals and pick up a smoky flavor. Generally consumed with a cold bottle of coke purchased from the neighbor next door, these are a heavenly meal and make up what Mexicans call almuerzo, a late breakfast, sometimes a second breakfast, eaten around 11 or 12 to stave off hunger until it’s time for the main meal of the day at 3 pm.

I met Doña María one of the first days I was in San Juan. The priest who agreed to show me around town and introduce me to people had thought of her as someone who would have memories of religious practices in the 1940s. She looks like the stereotype of a Mexican grandmother while she works, an ironed checked apron over an equally spotless flowered dress, and a black rebozo, or shawl, over her hair. I went today to say goodbye to her, an awkward proposition because we don’t have much to chat about. Our lives are so completely different that neither of us quite knows what to ask the other, and she is not an overly talkative woman. But when I saw her, she jumped out of her seat and offered me something to eat. I protested, but took her chair upon her insistence. We exchanged pleasantries and then she bustled away.

With no one else to talk to, I eavesdropped on the conversation of the people sitting next to me. Doña María’s gordita establishment consists of a table with the guisados, the wood-fired comal, and ten or so plastic chairs standing against the wall of her house. The little patio is roofed with corrugated metal and shaded with an additional yard of brown cloth stretched out toward the street. The chairs are always full with people from the neighborhood, sitting and chatting while they eat. This means that even a stranger can get in on the conversation, and often the cooks join in as well – no one has their back turned to the other. So I timidly listened in as one lady described to another how she hasn’t been to visit her son in college yet in the next town over because she’s not exactly sure where it is and she doesn’t drive. And by the end of the half hour, I was laughing out loud to her story about her daughter’s response to the swine flu: “I told her don’t be kissing your boyfriend right now you don’t want to be catching anything.” “And she said, ‘I’m gonna kiss him anyway, and if one of us dies then we both will.’” When they took off, they bid me adios along with saying their farewells to their friends and neighbors. And I found that without really asking Doña María any questions beyond “how have you been” I had learned about old pets that she had had as a child that she had to leave when the moved to San Juan, about her husband’s love for birds, and how happy she was in the neighborhood – “such a friendly street, people sit outside to pass the time” as she joined in the conversation with her more talkative neighbors.

This was only the second time I had gone to eat gorditas at Doña María’s. I had been trying so hard to take advantage of my time in San Juan that I spent the time when I didn’t have scheduled appointments in the archives. Probably that’s the way it should be. I am here to work, after all. But I’m glad that I had a couple opportunities to sit and chat, eavesdrop on the neighbors and taste her delicious delicious handiwork. And it’s one more thing I’ll remember fondly from home about the time I’ve spent here in Mexico.

1 comment:

From Michigan with Love said...

Now there was a real post...I sit...awed...unable to find the words to describe such eloquents! :-) Bravo!