Comida in Zacatecas, Mexico

In parts of my life, I seem to be surrounded by foodies.  Those that click on the television and watch the food network with zeal.  Some of the shows are interesting, but there are a few which are just food porn.  When the presenter describes, in detail, the flavor difference between different lemon rinds for scraping minute amounts onto your fish.

I am not one of those people.  I could happily go without eating for long periods of time.  I find myself annoyed at times because I have to stop and eat.  Why can’t I just take a pill and keep moving?  Just like I get annoyed sometimes with having to stop and fill up my motorcycle.

I am not going to say that I do not like sitting down and eating a wonderful meal, but it does not drive me, it does not make me interested.  I get annoyed because I can feel the differences in my body when I forget to eat, or when I only eat crappy things from fast food restaurants, and am forced to stop and think about what I need to eat to make myself feel better, and then go and make macaroni and cheese anyway.

But I am babbling, so let me talk about the stuff I ate in Zacatecas, Mexico.

Four and a half months was the total time I spent living in the city, and I cannot tell you about the restaurants.  I assume there were expensive restaurants with food that the gods would love, but I ate in my little apartment most of the time.

When I did not eat in my apartment I did one of four things.  Walked down the street to the local man (and his little old mother) who sold tamales from three portable burners set up beside their SUV on the street each day.

There were three to choose from, Verde; spicy chicken, Rojo; mild chicken, and Queso; cheese and green peppers.  It was best to arrive before noon as they might be sold out of one type.  I would buy ‘dos y dos’ or two and two of the Verde and the Queso, to take them home and sit in the sun on my balcony.

The second restaurant is the local ‘everyone eats there’ place.  Where the tables and chairs are plastic and there is a constant flow of people, they served the usual: tacos, menudo, and rotisserie chicken.  One time when they were very busy and the tables were full, I was sat at a table with two ladies in very local clothes who spoke not a word of English, and so we smiled and nodded at each other and said goodbye kindly when we left.

The third is the ‘Gordita’ place down the street.  A gordita is a mixture between a tortilla and a pita.  Like a pita the bread is hollow and a slit is cut on one side and filled with miscellaneous toppings.  There was head, and tongue, and pig skin, which I avoided, and there was shredded beef in a red sauce with potato, and cooked local greens with cheese, refried beans with cheese and Mole with rice.

The fourth restaurant I was taken to by the brother of the owner of the Hostel, after we visited Aguescaliantes for the day.  It was off a little side street, and looked like the front room of your grandmothers house.  There were six tables and a little screen between yourself and the kitchen.   There was one thing available each day, what the lady of the house had made.  When I visited we received watery lemonade, salsa and chips and the main course was tiny fried rolled tortillas with chicken inside, and rice and beans and salad on the side.

The food was simple and filling, the room felt comfortable, and I was sad that I only found this place two weeks before I left and it was closed each time I returned.

Most of the food I bought at the market and cooked to myself in my little apartment.

There were three general places where I bought my food, the first and least important were the supermarkets.  There were two right next to each other, Wal-Mart and it’s Mexican cousin Soriana.  Both were huge complexes with food and clothes and children’s bikes and pots and pans and rows of check-out stalls.  Each felt like the cold, heartless efficiently that I am used to in the United States.

But I would visit them occasionally because they had a few thigns that I could not find anywhere else.  Bacon, Kraft Mac and Cheese, Tonic Water, exotic cheeses and chocolate covered raisins.

Most of the basic food I bought, I bought at the local store.

(view of my local store from the park)

It was a tiny place, where it was hard to squeeze two carts past each other.  They carried the very un-Mexican food basics that I survived on:  granola, yogurt, spaghetti sauce, pasta, bread, cream cheese – known as ‘Philadelphia’ not crema queso – and some microwave popcorn for evenings watching subtitled American movies.

(Side Note: There is a local custom of tipping the little boys and girls who bag your items.  I did not realize this when I first arrived, until I noticed some of the shoppers tipping the baggers.  It is usually children of the 6-10 range and I assume they hang around trying to make tips to buy themselves candy.)

But those were just stores, and not very exciting, but it was the Central Market that made me smile when I visited it.

It was – not surprisingly – in the center of town and surrounded by an alleyway and a small one way street.  Both the street and the alleyway are lined with people and folding tables, selling what they got.

There are the fruit sellers, with their helpers chopping up the cucumber for my drink that evening:

There is the man selling chopped up cactus:

And everything else from lunch snacks to plastic toys, to CD’s to brown sugary snacks covered with flies and always a lone gentleman selling spices:

The central market was entered by either a pair of gates from the street or steps from the alleyway in the back.

(Gate entrance to the market from the street.)

Instantly it feels like a good place.  There are children holding the hands of their mothers, and ladies sitting in corners chatting to each to each other.  The central space is an open courtyard, with thin white stone pillars leading into arches holding up the building.  The open sky in the center is covered with white tarps, holding out the harshest of the light, but letting shafts and squares to drop through.

Surrounded the central point, are rooms and corridors filled with people and their wares.

There are at least four fruit stalls scattered about, where I would buy my apples, bananas and lettuce.

There was the local version of Jamba Juice, or whatever they are calling the smoothie sellers these days.  Here in Zacatecas there is a lady sitting behind two blenders and rows of fruit, which you picked out and she chopped up and added to the blender with milk.

There is the stall where I bought most of my cheese and sliced ham. Part of the reason for visiting the supermarkets was that the cheese at the local markets was boring.  There seemed to be three kinds:  a rectangular bar made in Zacatecas, which was very similar to mozzarella, kinda stringy and tasteless.  This was the best.  There was another bar cheese made in Aguacalientes and it was hard, and stiff, but not crumbly, and had no taste.  And lastly was the round cheese that looked like Edam without the red wax.  It tasted like curd, and had an unpleasant grainy texture.

The ham comes in a few different types, but all in a giant tube, which the lady slices for you.  The most prevalent one was called “FUD” and it seemed to be the lowest quality.  There was at least twice the stripes of fat that the other type had.

As I returned every few days, the lady behind the counter would smile when I arrived and make small talk and quickly find the items that I liked.
But sadly when I asked to take her picture, she declined and hid behind the counter.

After taking the picture of the lady missing from her cheese and ham counter, the man next door said I needed to take pictures of his stall.  So I did, but he refused to be in the picture as well.

Next to the figurines was the chicken stall, where I bought my eggs.  There was a glass case which the electronic weigh scale sat, and inside the case was the dissected chickens.

What struck me as odd, was that most of the days there were whole plucked chickens in the case, and the disconnected legs and thighs and wings.  But every once in a while fully half the case was filled with pale yellow chicken feet.  Hundreds of them stacked upon themselves.

I – one day – asked why, but sadly my Spanish, and her English, were not up to the challenge.

Across from the chicken stall was the meat stall.  When I first arrived I bought the stuff-that-looks-like-linked-sausage – Churizo – hanging from the back of the stall.  It is not like sausage as the outer casing is not meant to be eaten.  The meat is squeezed out into the pan and cooked like ground beef.

I wondered why my stomach was mildly annoyed the first few weeks in Zacatecas, like it was in India, until I placed the cooked Churizo on a paper towel and watched the hot fat slowly saturate the whole sheet.

Churizo has a wonderful spicy rich taste, but because of the high fat content, became an intermittent treat, rather than a daily meal.

So I tried the other meats at the stall, I finally ended up buying the Adobada, which translates to marinated.  It was thin steaks – about a quarter inch – and about the size of a dinner plate.  The meat was marinated in a red sauce, which was spicy but not hot, and I spent most of my time eating this.

The lady behind the counter always smiled when I arrived and asked me if I wanted the same.  On the day I asked for her picture, she blanched and looked nervous, but agreed to the picture.  My purchase of meat that day is sitting in a plastic bag in the metal scales.  We talked haltingly after taking the picture, discussing some United States politics (everyone was happy for me that I no longer had George Bush as a president)  and I wandered off to buy some tortillas.  But standing in line for the tortillas, realized I had not paid for the carne that day, and so returned to pay, and found that she had not realized I had not paid either.

The room of the tortillas is fabulous.

It has a room all to itself, on the side of the courtyard –filled with steam and clinking metal machinery.

Whenever I entered, the lady behind the old wooden and metal cash register smiled and remembered the I usually bought one kilo of tortillas.   But the day I asked to take pictures, she smiled even more, and guided me behind the counter, to the machines.

In the back and along the left wall the corn is ground up into a light brown dough.  I noticed that some people bought the uncooked dough, rather than the finished tortillas.

The dough is placed in a metal bowl on top of the central machine, and out of the bottom of this bowl is extruded perfectly round –uncooked- tortillas.  A conveyor belt takes the tortillas away, and drops them into unseen cooking chambers.

From the cooking cambers, on another conveyor belt, the warm tortillas slide down a chute and drop into a round holder,

where a lady would weigh them on a scale, wrap them in paper, and hand me the still warm tortillas.

There were also  little baggies of salsa sat next to the register; green was the best.

The steaks made a great addition to the spaghetti sauce, but most of the time I would chop it into stripes, lay in onto a fresh tortilla, add cheese, salsa, and lettuce and enjoy my simple meal in the comfortable town.

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1 Response to Comida in Zacatecas, Mexico

  1. Sprawn! says:

    Only for you will I read a “foodie” post. More than the food, you have brought to life the excitement of trying new things in new ways in new places. What a bunch of adventures just to get food in your mouth!

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