Wednesday, December 29, 2010
fiddling with the soup
Tradition is hard to break. And Mexico is a land of traditions.
You could re-write Fiddler on the Roof into a Catholic passion play, and it would play line for line in my little village.
This week I decided to make some white chili -- with chicken,white beans, onions, oregano, cumin seeds, and loads of our local peppers. While I was at the store, I changed my mind about the chicken. Ham sounded better.
OK. I know it simply sounds like spicy pork and beans. But I wanted ham. It was comfort food.
I should have stuck with the chicken. Here is the problem.
I only needed enough ham to make a stock pot of chili. The size of one of those little hams that populate Safeway meat coolers.
But there is no Safeway in Melaque. And the only hams I have seen are the size of the Oxford dictionary -- the unabridged edition.
This is Mexico, though. There is a solution for everything.
My local market sells sliced ham for sandwiches. Real ham. Most of what passes for ham sandwich meat around here had a snood and wattle while it was alive. Almost to a slice, it is made from turkey.
Even though it is next to impossible to find sliced turkey for sandwiches. I don't even think about it any more.
The real ham slices come from a large ham displayed in the deli case. The solution seemed too obvious. Order a half kilogram of ham -- unsliced.
I had rehearsed my lines in Spanish with all of the assurance of being the opening act in the Cervantes Festival.
I delivered them to the clerk. She just stared. You could sense upside down question marks pocking the air.
I repeated my question. Same response.
Knowing that slower and louder was the next tourist ploy, I instead decided on my best Marcel Marceau impression. Nothing. I then tried measuring the meat with my fingers.
That simply got a giggle. But she was still perplexed.
And then it came to me. This must be just like the hardware store. Instead of telling her what I want, tell her what I want it for. Let her be part of the solution.
I told her I wanted chunks of ham for a chili I was making. Wrong ploy. I am certain she envisioned me feeding ham to hungry peppers.
So, I made it easier. I lied. I told her I needed it for omelets. After all, I use the same diced him when I cook eggs.
Her eyes lit up and she went to work.
While she worked on my order, I chatted with the store owner about the state of the village. The clerk handed my my wrapped meat, and I was on my way home.
The chili was in full process when I opened the meat wrapper to discover -- sliced ham. Just right for a sandwich. Not so much for boiling liquid.
I started laughing. In Mexico, almost all meat is cut very thin for quick grilling. I forgot the same rule applies to meat in omelets.
There was no recourse but to use it . And it tasted fine -- even though cubes would have been far better.
But it is a good reminder that tradition will be served.
Even if it is thinly sliced.
Note: The photograph at the top of this post is not from my deli in Melaque. It is from New York a couple of years ago. One of the funniest marketing errors I have ever seen.