Tuesday, July 08, 2014

dining out on memories

"It is so inexpensive to eat out in Mexico.  I hardly need to cook at the house."

The comment is as omnipresent as the face of Diego Rivera on a 500 peso note.  And it quite often baffles me.  The comment.  Not Rivera.

I regularly walk out of a restaurant in Melaque thinking the prices are not that different from those in Salem.  Usually, I leave behind 150 to 200 pesos for a dinner.  ($12 to $16 US -- according to the universal translator.)

Coming north helps to put everything into perspective.  Last night I had dinner in Portland.  Now, Portland is known for being a town fond of its grub.  The place where we ate was a rather seedy bar when I was in college.  It is now one of those upscale bistros with tables shoe-horned into a dining room that drips with casual elegance.

The tab was not 200 pesos.  The three of us spent just shy of $200 (US).  Just under $70 each.

Those are not Melaque prices.  Nor was the food.  I had a risotto that was the equal of any similar dish I have eaten throughout the world.

Of course, Melaque is not well-known for its food.  Very few places in Mexico are.  You can spend $70 (US) for a dinner in a place like San Miguel de Allende.  But your dinner will not be much better than what your neighbors in South Dakota would serve up in their authentic "Chinese and American" restaurant.

The exception is Mexico City.  If you know where to eat, you can find some of the most experimental food combinations of any large city in the world.  It is not Paris, but it is close.  And you will pay Paris prices, as well.  Seventy US dollars will not get you the best that Mexico City has to offer.

When people ask me why I moved to Mexico, the first possibility they offer is cost of living.  I academically know that it is possible to save money living in Mexico.  I just have not managed to build my budget around that concept.

But food in my village is good evidence that saving money does not increase life enjoyment.  All stereotypes and adages have some truth to them.  That is why they endure.  And "you get what you pay for" falls within that enduring category.

If I still lived in Oregon, I could not afford to dine out as often as I do in Mexico.  And my dinner last night (as good as the food was) reminded me once again that the primary purpose of dining out is to socialize and spend time with people whose company you enjoy.

And there is no price tag on that menu.

Note -- The photograph has nothing to do with the essay.  I just liked it.  I still do.


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