Wednesday, December 24, 2008

How To Order Your Eggs Without Fear

One of the lesser, but frequent challenges for the expat in Mexico is ordering eggs in a restaurant. If you are fussy about how you want them cooked, as many are, you should read the following primer about getting your eggs the way you want.
But before anything else, I want to confront head on the nearly apocryphal mysteries of the double meaning of the word, "huevos". While it's true that it also has a second meaning of "testicles", or more accurately, "balls", the visiting gringo or savvy expat should not worry about evoking snickers or even guffaws from the waitstaff. The staff deals with eggs all morning, and if they were constantly snickering, they'd have no time or energy left to serve customers. That sort of humor, and also about chiles (a potent phallic symbol) is best relegated to the humorous repertoire of small boys and barely pubescent adolescents.

Nota bien: if you accompany your ordering with sign language, you may provoke humor. If you personalize your order, you run further risks. For example, don't say, "I'll have your eggs, fried, and over easy."
That's personalizing it. You just want "
huevos estrellados."
Common Pitfalls In Ordering Eggs
1. "Huevos al Gusto", literally, "eggs to your pleasure", but really "eggs to order".
Don't make the mistake of a one of our visiting friends and say, "I'll have the huevos al gusto." The waiter will have to ask you again how you want them prepared.

2. "Huevos Estrellados", or eggs, sunnyside up. These are among the most popular. You need not accompany your request with elaborate sign language, making what seem to the waiter to be confusing and possibly humorous gestures. You have a better chance of getting them as you like if you use those two simple words. And, "por favor", of course.

3. "Huevos a la Mexicana": eggs scrambled with chopped chiles, tomatoes and onions. Simply, "eggs in the style of a Mexican woman". Try not to say, "huevos al MexicanO", which gives a simple order a new, special meaning.

4. "Eggs, over easy" aren't easy to order. Many restaurants don't get the concept. You have to ask for "huevos fritos volteados". I once mistakenly said, trying to be helpful to another breakfaster, "huevos revolcados", or something like, "knocked down eggs". Where did I get that?

If you are lucky, one of your breakfast companions will order eggs sunnyside up, using gestures, and his eggs will arrive revolcados, umm, volteados, and you can swap.

Let's move along quickly now. The following egg dishes are less fraught with peril:
5. "Huevos Rancheros": eggs sunnyside up, on top of a lightly fried tortilla or two, covered with a salsa picante. Why this is totally snigger free is a mystery.

6. "Huevos Divorciados." Sounds spicy, and they are: two eggs, estrellados, one in salsa verde and the other in salsa roja, on top of tortillas. This is a gringo favorite, especially those who have been in Santa Fe, New Mexico.

7. "Huevos revueltos": I almost forgot them! Scrambled eggs. They are seldom cooked as I like, so I do not order them while breakfasting out.

8. "Omeleta" Sounds like "omelet", and it is. Usually made with two eggs, and filled "al gusto". What does
"al gusto" mean? Class???
"As you like.", that's right. Muy bien.

So, you will need to specify what you want in it. "Tocino" (bacon), "queso", (cheese); "cebolla" (onion), et cetera. Omelets are usually attractively garnished with onion, tomato and avocado, so you get a bonus for your breakfast pesos.

Special hint: The Omeleta de espárragos, cebolla, nopal y queso at the Gran Hotel Café in Pátzcuaro is a delight.

9. "Huevos Albañil", or "Stonemason's eggs"; scrambled eggs drowned in a very spicy sauce. Order this, as I do, when you want to be a cool, Old Mexico Hand.

10. Poached eggs: in general, don't even try, unless you are in the restaurant of an international hotel. My Spanish-English digital dictionary yields the word, "escalfar" for "poached", but we have had some limited success with "huevos pocheados". Don't get your hopes up. Please
, whatever you do don't call them "huevos pochos".

There are other ways of preparing eggs, but the above listed are among the most commonly encountered. For further information, sign up for our advanced Huevos Clase.

Always be polite, and say "Por favor" and "gracias" at appropriate times. Try to keep gestures and especially sign language to the minimum. They look rude.

Finally, try to remember that Patience Is A Virtue, and that glitches in service do not occur only in Mexico. I'll end with a video drama, made in an American diner, to keep things in perspective.

This is probably my last post of 2008. We'll be travelling to México D.F., Puebla, and then spending a couple of weeks on Oaxaca. I hope to be observing, tasting and even cooking while we are there. With luck and energy, I'll report back on our experiences.
May you have una Feliz Navidad y Provechoso Año Nuevo 2009!

Tuesday, December 23, 2008

Chile Verde y Queso Potato Knishes

We were invited to a Winter Solstice Party last night at Ed 'n Lyns' house.
I decided to make something different as part of our contribution to the festivities: Green Chile and Cheese Potato Knishes.

The basic recipe was one I'd downloaded from Only the filling varied from the original. I also used about a kilo of potatoes and only two medium white onions instead of the prescribed 5 pounds of the former and two pounds of the latter.

After mashing the potatoes with the fried onions, I added 4 medium sized roasted, peeled and seeded Chiles Poblanos, chopped coarsely.

After letting the mixture cool, I added about 5 ounces (well, it was half of a small wheel) of grated Queso Panela from Cremería Aguascalientes. That creamery makes high quality dairy products. So far, I've found their range of cheeses, butter and crema in Mega Comercial in Morelia. One could substitute muenster or cheddar or even mozzarella cheese with no dire effects.

I followed the makeup and handling instructions, and it was the easiest I'd ever done. The dough is supple and easy to work with.
The baking time was longer that expected; about 30 minutes at 375º F, but that could be in part due to our high altitude. They emerged looking a lot like the Potato Knishes in this eGullet photo

There were a few hours between the baking and serving times, so after the trays of knishes cooled (the recipe yielded 46, and I had a few cups of filling leftover.), I consolidated them on two baker's half sheet pans, covered with heavy duty aluminum foil.

When we arrived at the party scene, another guest found a place for the pans on a wood burning grill. Before long, he passed around the now very hot knishes.

Not only were they hot from the grill, they had a zesty picante kick. A serendipitous touch was the subtle tinge of wood smoke from the grill that infused the knishes.

These were so good that I'm thinking of making a half batch of dough to uses up the reminder of the filling and freeze them.

Sunday, December 07, 2008

Bananas With Bones and Nervi-Oxin

Last Friday, we were waiting out on the zagúan (porch) of la Presidencia in Tzintzuntzan (sort of our county seat), while the young couple to whose wedding we'd been invited filled out sheaves of papeleo or paperwork.

A vendor carring a cloth bag came up to us and made his quiet pitch for the medicinal and beneficial qualities of the large, black "huesos", or seeds in plastic bags.
huesos came from the unusual looking plátanos he carried to demo his spiel. Ten seeds in a liter of water was said to benefit the kidneys and alleviate other organs' ailments. A bag would suffice for a month or more of treatments.

I passed up this unusual health opportunity, as I am saving my pesos for three bottles of El Tónico Nervi-Oxin. There's a truck that drives up into our rancho at irregular intervals. His spiel is loud and persistent. I'm just about convinced that Nervi-Oxin will help me sleep better, settle my stomach, etc. One hundred pesos gets you three bottles of that wonder tonic, which seems to cure everything. I'd give it a try if I could get a sample or demo bottle.

I collect various gritos or spiels from the mobile vendors, but I didn't get a decent recording of the Nervi-Oxin guy. I'll try again and when I can figure out how to upload it, I'll do so for my blog audience's listening pleasure.
If I do take that tonic, I'll give a thorough review of its eficacy. (I'm guessing that the número uno ingrediente, after water, is alcohol.)

Friday, December 05, 2008

A Bowl of Frijoles

One week to the day after a sumptuous Thanksgiving dinner at the home of our friends in Tzurumútaro, the DuBosques, we were invited to another comida. Yesterday's meal was at the Las Cuevas home of una amiga, María de La Luz. She'd invited us to share a simple meal, along with two VIP guests from the local Vo-Tech School. We arrived on time, but the Vo-Tech people, traveling independently, were delayed by other matters for several hours.

We chatted and sampled the food as it simmered in clay cazuelas.
We stepped outside to take in the warmth of the sun and to admire the newly acquired chickens. We looked out over the beautiful valley and surrounding, still green clad mountains.

Finally, hunger caught up with us
at 4:00. Susan and I went inside and sat down at the kitchen table, covered with a lacy tablecloth protected by a plastic cover. The kitchen is sparsely decorated with cups and mugs hanging on the walls, but well ventilated. There's a false ceiling of plywood below the tiled roof, with openings to the area under the sloping, tejas covered roof. The floor is concrete.

The meal consisted of pinkish-brown beans cooked with salt and a little chile güero, a relatively mild yet sufficiently picante addition to gringo palates. I didn't notice any herbs or meat or spices.

On top of the frijoles were nopalitos cooked with tomatoes, onion, garlic, chiles and salt, which added their tangy flavor to the mellow beans. Bowls of a rather picante salsa verde were on the table, as well as a small wheel of queso fresco for crumbling onto the frijoles or for making tacos.

Essential to this meal were the tortillas hechas a mano, cooked on a comal over a wood fire. Many homes in the area where we live have kichens attached to or detached from the house, where smoky fires lend savor to otherwise simple daily foods. These are where to roast chiles, cook moles, and make tortillas. The flavor of foods cooked on the comales sobre el lumbre cannot be duplicated on a gas range.

An added benefit, according to María de La Luz, is that it's a good place to be on cold mornings, close to the wood fire. Moreover, the making of tortillas by hand has a soothing effect on the maker. I think the repetitive and
tactile work connects la cocinera with her mamá y abuelas who are no longer living.

The proof of the frijoles is in the eating. They were simple, tasty and satisfying. The tortillas were infused with the smoke of tradition.

We gave gracias to our amiga and when we left, the anticipated VIPs still had not arrived.