I belong to a Yahoo forum where new members are asked: "What do you like best about Mexico?"
The answers vary. But there is always the holy trinity. The People. The Culture (which seems a bit redundant to me). And, of course, The Food.
I would love to cross-examine the people who give those answers. What do they actually mean when they throw out those broad categories? But, it is the internet, and actual human interchanges are limited.
It is that last one that sticks in my craw. What do people mean when they say they like the food in Mexico? I am going to assume that they mean Mexican food -- that it is so much better here than in Mexican restaurants up north. Or wherever they came from.
I have had several real conversations with visitors on this topic. They usually do not get past "I didn't know tacos could taste this good."
And there is the rub. The Mexican food whipped up around these parts is really simple stuff. The list of ingredients includes a handful of choices. "Would you like your pork wrapped loosely or tightly in a tortilla -- and would you like some salsa on it?" Same ingredients, but we will call it three or four different things.
I am going to raise my hand right now. It is very likely that this has more to do with my personality than with the food.
When it comes to food, I love experimentation. The same with music. If I have heard a piece of music three times, I don't need to hear it again. The chances of finding anything new to analyze decreases with repetition -- unless the piece is one of those rare masterpieces of music.
Food? Same thing. I am constantly looking for new things to pique my interest.
The cook in one of my favorite Villa Obregon eateries prepared salsas with unexpected ingredients. Like mango, habanero, and jicama soaked in lime over chicken.
Some worked. Some didn't. But it was always a joy to see what her imagination put on the plate.
She stopped her little project when northern tourists complained that it was not the food they expected. Fair enough. They are paying the fare. But it was fun while it lasted.
Another restaurant here on the coast caters to my particular eccentricity. I consider a menu to be a list of ingredients to be combined at my whim. During the past two years, I have enjoyed a series of experimental foods.
The constant is my sauté: made up of jalapeño peppers, bacon, and onion. I have combined it in pancakes; as the filler for a chimichanga along with the topping for chili dogs; and as an addition to oatmeal. Not all of them work. But there is always something else right around the corner.
When I was younger (and I could afford the luxury of applying filters to dates), I had a rule to determine if a second date would be forthcoming. If my date, while ordering dinner in a restaurant, started telling the waiter all the things she could not eat and how she needed to take a lot of ingredients out of menu dishes, the date was over. I was not looking for high-maintenance relationships.
Several years ago, a group of us were having dinner at Le Cirque, when it was still located in the Mayfair Hotel. The beautiful young woman, in her mid-20s, sitting next to me glanced at the menu and told the waiter: "I will have the veal chop with the orange-sage sauce from the duck confit, and a bit of your fresh arugula." He smiled, and responded: "A very nice combination."
She was a fellow experimenter. I would have married her on the spot if she had not been young enough to be my daughter.
That is one reason I bought a house with adequate kitchen facilities. There is no need for me to grump about the lack of variety in restaurant food -- here or anywhere else. I can purchase my own ingredients and experiment away.
What do I like about Mexico? The Food. Because I can make almost anything I want whenever I want it -- at home.