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.
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I do not believe virtually all meat is sliced thin in Mexico for quick grilling. I believe it's an economic thing. You pay less, and it goes farther. I'm 99 percent positive this is the reason they slice everything so thin. I could be wrong, of course. It happens.
Here on Isla my friends and I laughed when a restaurant that had “thick sliced” ham on their breakfast menu recently closed. Where would we find that now? Of course the thick sliced ham could almost be seen through.
When I want a thick slice of ham or bacon, I ask for it "en un trozo, no rebanado", we have sliced turkey here, but they call it pechuga de pavo, turkey breast to distinguish it from all that other turkey stuff. Also they sell something call chuleton which is not a large chop but a Candian bacon like meat cut in thick slices.
I may have it in reverse. Mexicans grill everything because it is thin. The clerk in the store was a bit confused at why I was going to put meat that was already moist intio a soup. The usual route is to put tough meat in soup to soften it up.
I never thought of that possibility. The clerk may have thought what she gave me was a thick cut.
Good language tip. I'll remember it. I suspect the rarity of turkey lunch meat here is our location. Lots of things are scarce in my small fishing village by the sea. The store carried pechuga de pavo about a year ago. But there was not much demand for it.
Glad you enjoyed it. Just another fyun adventure learning to live in Mexico.
I am glad you enjoyed it. Just another fun advenrure of learning to live in Mexico.
I.m glad you enjoyed it. Just another adventure in learning to live in Mexico.
I'm glad you enjoyed it. Just another adventure of learning to live in Mexico.
I feel a similar frustration trying to buy a normal uncut piece of ham in the US when we travel through. Everything is spiral cut it seems, and Canadians like to decide for themselves how thick the slices should be!
Look for those little hamlets (as I call them). They are very convenient for a lot of purposes.
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