In a city of 33 million people street food is everywhere and yesterday morning, rather than spending thirteen dollars at the hotel breakfast buffet, I decided to head out and grab something on the way to the Compentencia Mexicana de Baristas which is being held at the World Trade Center - about two blocks from my room at the Crown Plaza.
It's a short walk but there are a number of choices, most of which I don't know anything about. On the first block, there's a lady deep-frying some sort of cake filled with something or other. Fried food always attracts me but I pass. Maybe it's because I want to see what else is available or probably it's because my command of Espanol is poor and I don't know what to call it much less order.
On the next block, at the corner, is a married couple selling a variety of foods - all of which look delicious. Luckily, there are two women ahead of me armed with a list and ordering everything under the sun for their co-workers. As they prepare this barrage of food, I'm able to spy on the offerings and make my decision - not to mention that it allows me to listen to the name and read the names off the list of the two girls.
Everywhere I go on this planet, I try to blend in as much as possible. Try to savor the local flavor. See things are the people who live in that place I'm visiting do. Which means I try to pick up some of the local lingo as much as possible. Of course, with such a superficial knowledge of language, one has difficulty communicating thoroughly and I almost inevitably get in over my head with their conversation that I have to admit that I don't know what they're saying and that I'm just another pinche gringo from Los Estado Unidos.
But sometimes, I can move along without being busted (too much).
My turn to order comes and I tell the lady: "Una torta chilaquiles, por favor."
She replies: something, something "...a todo?"
I've learned enough to know that todo means "all", so I reply with a casual: "Si, gracias."
By now, I'm feeling hip, cool and very cosmopolitan about myself. You know, here I am in another part of the world, speaking the local lingo, hanging out with the people, mingling, entertaining - sheesh, I've become The Great Communicator.
Of course, Ana tells me the other night: "You're 'Rs" are not very good." What she means is that The Great Communicator's "r" rolling sucks.
Without a doubt, upon the opening of The Great Communicator's mouth, the lady and her husband have already labeled me as the guy who's thinking he's cool, hip and cosmopolitan while trying to pass himself off as part of La Raza. In other words, they're thinking: Pinche gringo.
To their kind nature, they don't reveal any of this, they just prepare for me a great sandwich.
Until this trip, I was one of the uninitiated on chilaquiles but Ana says they're good. I had some at the hotel buffet the first morning in Mexico City and it was good. Basically, you take fried tortilla chips, mix with salsa rojo and cook until the chips have been thoroughly soaked and softened. And, oh is it good.
To make my Torta Chilaquiles, she took pan or bread and pulled out some of the interior of the bread (it's pre-sliced) to make room for the filling. Add a big scoop of chilaquiles, some shredded chicken, grated cheese, top with a big squirt of crema and you're ready to go.
She wants to know if I'm eating it ahora? Si, I am going to eat it now and she hands me my sandwich with a couple of sheets of wrapping paper "to go."
The torta is good. Not spectacular. Just good, solid eating. These two know what they're doing and it's truly Mexican comfort food. It's also very large. I'm eating mine for the next half hour as I walk to the competition and chat with people with this huge Torta Chilaquiles in my hand and starting to spill out as I near the end of meal. It's good, tasty and a perfect way to start the day - although a good coffee (or Coke) and some fried eggs would be wonderful accompaniments.
One thing I still haven't figured out - mainly because I haven't tried it alone, is what exactly is this "crema" stuff. I mean, it's everywhere and on almost everything. Mexicans are fanatical about it. Ana tried to explain it to me while shopping for groceries the other day and I think it's something similar to sour cream - of course, I'm saying this because the Mexican joints in Ameria use sour cream, but it could be different.
I'm thinking a more thorough investigation is necessary. Time to head out and eat!