Ay Caramba!

Well, Karen and Michal, coincidentally, I too have a chili story or two!  And, yes, Karen and Michael, we do have all them kinds of chiles down here, I think!  Although even in Jocotepec, you’d have to search around.  We mostly have sweet chiles (green, red, and yellow), serranos, poblanos, and jalapenos.  But I have definitely see bottle habaneros here…..I just run away from them!

One thing we don’t have too much of here, except during the Chili Cookoff in Ajijic, is chili!  It’s just not served here.   Kind of like tostadas and enchiladas.  You can find them, but you have to look for them.

If you asked for tostadas here, this is likely what you would be pointed to:

Tostadas here are fried tortillas upon which you put things, not fried tortillas with things upon them, like this:

Sure, you can make them look like that, but don’t expect them to come like that.  Tostados are shells upon which one builds, not the completed building (so to speak).

And as for enchiladas, you need to find a Tex-Mex restaurant to get what you might be expecting.  Some place like El Sarape in Ajijic that even advertises itself as serving Tex-Mex.

Don’t even get me started on tacos!  If you think this is what a taco should look like:

you are going to be SO disappointed!  We have lots of kinds of tacos, but none of them look like this.  They’re more likely to look like this:

or like these tacos dorados:

All delicious, but not your Taco Bell taco.

There are, as I mentioned, a few restaurants where you can get a bowl of chili, but they’re places that cater mainly to gringos.  My favorite chili comes from Gossip’s Cafe in Ajijic.

They actually “specialize” more in Cajun-type food, but their big bowl of chili is delicious and just spicy enough for my taste, which is a little on the hot side.

A couple of weeks ago, for my friend Warner’s birthday, we went to dinner at my favorite “library,” Cafe Magana, in the pueblo of Riberas del Pilar.

I’ve written about it before.  Aside from being a really good restaurant, they have a huge selection of books for swapping.  You bring one in and you choose another to take home.  (Although, honestly, I always bring in 15 to 20 and take home about the same amount since I read so much.)  Here’s Jeffrey, the owner, in front of just a few of the many bookcases in the place.

Anyhow, Jeffrey serves a VERY spicy bowl of chili.  There are warnings on the menu and in his print advertisements that the chili is very hot and that he doesn’t want to hear any whining about it if it’s too spicy for you.  Since, to my knowledge, Jeffrey does not exaggerate about this, I’ve never had the nerve to order it, but Warner loves hot food, so for his birthday dinner, that’s what he had.

Here’s Warner sitting next to me at a dinner at Kathi and Warner’s house at an earlier time, just to show you that he’s a tough guy who can handle cigarettes, beer, and me all at the same instance:

But by about the third spoonful at Cafe Magana, Warner’s nose was running, his eyes were watering, and he was frantically signaling for another beer!  That’s when I became even happier that I had ordered my favorite from Cafe Magana:  fish and chips.

Nonetheless, after I got home that night, I started craving chili.  Not as hot as Warner’s, obviously, but rather spicy.  I fought the craving for a few days and then caved.  You know how it is.  So when Kathi and I went shopping last Monday, I bought half a kilo (1.1 pounds) of ground beef at my favorite carniceria here in Joco and whipped myself up a batch (or whatever you call a bunch of chili).

I had the very low-fat ground beef (not intentionally….that’s just the way ground beef comes here) and the right spices (cayenne pepper, salt, chili powder and garlic), but I was lacking the tomato paste that most recipes call for.  Tomato paste, like cheddar cheese, is difficult to find here.  I figure the cheddar cheese shortage can be blamed on Mexicans liking white cheeses better, but the lack of tomato paste I can only attribute to the fact that tomatoes are generally so cheap around here that none of my neighbors would even consider buying a CAN of tomatoes in that form.

However, we do have (even in Joco) a rather large selection of canned and bottled salsas and I figured that would do great as a substitute, plus I’d be getting some onions and cilantro.  My personal favorite is Herdez Salsa Casera, so I purchased a couple of little cans of that and dumped those in, too.  My chili looked fabulous as it simmered on the stove top and smelled so good that one of those cartoon ghostly fingers seemed to call me to it!

So I whipped out a bowl, ladled in a large amount of the chili, and commenced to eat.

And, then, just like Warner, my nose started to run, my eyes started to water, and, had there been a waiter nearby, I would have been signaling frantically for another beer.

Now I don’t know if we get more sensitive to spicy foods as we get older or whether the substitution of Herdez salsa for tomato sauce did it, but I do know that my entire body was in rebellion against this chili!!  SOMETHING MILD, it screamed.  GET SOMETHING MILDER INTO ME NOW!  It was almost as bad as that night in a fancy restaurant that I took up a forkful of what I thought was guacamole and turned out to be wasabi!

But at least this time I was alone in my house and didn’t have to grab the elegant water pitcher on the table and drink it down while my date said, “Er, what the hell is going on with you?”.

And, P.S., if you care, my saving grace this time was beans.  I dumped in a huge can of black beans and all was right with my world again.  The frijoles negros enteros saved the dinner….and the next four days while I ate chili every day!

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About Barbara

in april of 2008, i moved from the united states to mexico. during my working days, i held lots and lots of jobs....almost all chosen because they were fun or interesting instead of how much they paid. when i started thinking about retirement (in my 40s), i realized that i would never be able to retire to a country where english was the native language. and although i had traveled to every state in the US -- and lived in lots of them -- i had never been outside the country with the exception of canada and mexico. and since you now know that i could never afford to retire in canada (even to the french-speaking area), mexico won by default.
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8 Responses to Ay Caramba!

  1. Kathi says:

    Now I’m all hungry! Will have to run down to Joco and get some nice tacos…..REAL ones.

  2. Have you tried the Osos Super on Morelos for the tomato paste? It’s amazing the things you can find there with a litlle patience and time. You really make me curious, wondering what NOB folks are hoping for when they order tacos, (nobody really likes Taco Bell food, do they?) enchiladas and tostadas. I’m so used to (and much prefer) the local version. But, as usual, you tell a great tale my friend. ps I love it when a NOB recipe says “1/2 cup of chilies” period. My friend gave me a great recipe that called for same, saying there were called California chilies there. I finally figured out that here they are called guerros (blondies). Do you know those?

    • Barbara says:

      Phyllis, i KNEW i had seen tomato paste somewhere. now, it might have been at Costco, as Mike suggests, or it might have been at the Oso Super. By the way, i don’t know where you buy your bacon, but the meat/deli counter at the Oso with the standup freezer has EXCELLENT bacon which they slice as you like it. And it just doesn’t shrink up while frying. i love bacon (ask kathi or jonnie or sher) and two kinda thick slices of theirs is plenty for me! (it’s the same place where they sell the Danish salted butter that i first had at your place, as well as where they sell Warner’s whipped cream in the spray can.)

  3. Gaby says:

    miss eating REAL tacos, missing talkin’ to you – but still here in PDX eating chili us-style. bland!
    lookin’ for a place in Joco for the winter, write me back-channel when possible. take care

  4. vsvevg says:

    fun post, I too have noted and mourned the lack of cheddar 🙂

  5. Miguel de Joco says:

    Hola mi amiga!
    I emphasize with your chili conundrum. I too suffer from chili withdrawal several times a year. Since I drive north to visit family in the D/FW area twice a year I can alleviate the problem through bringing back a dozen can of my favorite(s).
    If you’d like to try the Central Mexico version of “Chili Con Carne”, which is really what we mean when we say chili, you might want to ask if your restaurant has “Carne con Chili.” Note the reversal of noun and adjective. It is commonly served with white or mild Spanish rice. It isn’t American and especially not Texas chili, but it is an interesting diversion.
    I use almost exactly the same recipe as you for homemade “quickie” chili, including the use of Herdez Salsa Casera, though I had some for chilies for flavor and picoso (hotter than picante.)
    One last thing; When you need one of those tiny cans of tomato paste just ask; They carry them at Costco, but it’s necessary to buy something like 12 at a time and I use it sparingly. You can also get whole canned peeled tomatoes there, but I am constantly running out. I can buy tomatoes, scald and peel, but life is to short.
    As always, thank you for your wonderful insights.
    Mike “Miguel” de Joco

    • Barbara says:

      Mike, i’ll keep an eye out for the carne con chili! Although like i said, i really do like chili at Gossip’s and now Cafe Magana has a less hot/spicy version of their chili on certain days. oddly enough, Cafe Magana serves their chili with a baked potato on the side!

      • Miguel de Joco says:

        A potato on the side with chili con carne isn’t all that strange. I’ve know places that take a giant russet baking tater, scoop it out and put the chili inside. Another big name place, though I can’t remember the name, hollows out a round sourdough, fills with good chili. Now that’s good eatin’, though my ability to eat such large portions has gone bye-bye as I’ve gotten older.

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