Comida Mexicana

I don’t know when comida mexicana became comfort food for me.

I was tempted to attribute it to recent experiences but I think it was born before that.

I think it was the first time I tasted Ana’s home made tamales when I lived in Idaho.  It still makes my mouth water to think of that mujer’s tamales.  I gorged myself on them till I was up to my eyeballs in glorious smooth creamy firm masa.

Or maybe it was born, around the same time, in my visits to La Fuente where I knew I could be surounded by Spanish language, welcome respite and a cold tres equis didn’t hurt either.

Or it could be the first time I went with Sonia to a hole in the wall, a secret club of sorts, that sold gallons of crema, enormous rounds of queso blanco, mountains of chorizo, and made the most amazing menudo I’ve ever tasted.  The first mouthful made my eyes water with the amazing blend of the taste of home combining with the new flavors that were so familiar and bold.  My ex was repulsed at the patitas which Sonia and I eagerly snatched up from her bowl.  She was confused at the enthusiastic squirts of limon and hot sauce that went into our brimming bowls.  I didn’t grow up with that costumbre but it tasted like home even then.  Maybe it was the relief from monotony that a taco truck provided when I could banter in Spanish and eat delicious fresh tacos.  Or the homes I was invited to where I was fed fresh tortillas or mangos with chile.

I first noticed the comfort food connection after the elections this November.  After voting, a very emotional moment for me given that it’s the first presidential election I’ve been able to vote in.  I’ve voted for other seats in the past but happened to be in PR every time a new prez was being elected, and we don’t have voting rights on the island.  So, not only did I get to vote but I got to vote for a black man.  Wow.  I came out of the polling booth with tears streaming down my face.  And I went to the bodega on my way to work and stopped for a paleta.  The taste of mango making the tears come that much quicker, taste of home.

I’m experiencing conflict in a few different areas of my life and I was trying to figure out if I could eat without getting sick, and the first thing that came to mind was tamales.  I wanted tamales, carnitas, aguas frescas, or maybe a licuado.  I didn’t exactly get that order but instead I walked down to the colmado.  I walked to where I feel like I’m part of the comunidad, where the sadness in my eyes is recognized and garners gentle inquiries and kindness.  They roast chickens there on weekends and the whole neighborhood is fragrant with the smell of pollo asado making my mouth water as I approach.  With the loud sad corrida playing on the speakers I gather the few things I need, lingering as I walk through the aisles.  With my rice, beans, tortillas, and fresh salsa I was set.  I had a refresco de tamarindo to wash it all down.

And it tasted like home.

It was the perfect meal to nourish tired body and soul.

And isn’t that what comfort food is for?  It’s the food that makes you feel cared for, loved, the foods that remind you of home, of simpler times, bring happy memories even if they are vague and fuzzy they are Good.

It makes everything else that much easier to handle when I know I can care for myself in simple and healthy ways.  And it makes me smile to find that comida mexicana is part of what gives me comfort.  It used to be that living far away from home, or far from places where Puerto Rican food was readily available meant that I had fierce cravings for mi comida.  I haven’t experienced that here.  Even when I can’t find exactly what I’m looking for I’ve found that my idea of what tastes like home has expanded and my taste buds for patria are evolving.

And now to find the perfect tamales!

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