Pan-American Trails part 5

Unworried by time, Jose Porta enjoys to the utmost a great adventure

By Jose Porta, Photography by Jose Porta

The market place has always been the main attraction for me whenever I reached a village. There I could see food displayed all around me and I could feast my eyes on those luscious fruits in delightful anticipation. Fruits that I never tasted before, fruits that I never heard of in Northern countries. There were chabacones, zapotes, zacatos, chirimoyas, uikumos, mangoes, changungas, and many others too numerous to mention. I acquired a weakness for mangoes and I would buy them by the score and eat them all and lick my fingers.

I also learned to enjoy the highly-seasoned chile con carne, the real Mexican kind, I mean, which is not like what you get in Texas. The first spoonful would irritate my throat and burn my stomach and affect my nose and eyes. Yet it tasted good and I would eat some more. With tears running down my eyes I would swallow spoonful after spoonful of chile.

I would then move to the next stand and try new delicacies. I ate tamales and tacos and chalupas and carnitas and quesadillas and God knows what else. I even ate a plate of worms, Gusanos de Maguey, they call them, and they are considered a delicacy.

Since I started on the subject of gastronomy I might as well check up on the Mexican diet. While the natives live mainly on maize and beans, they seem to manage to set their hands and teeth on anything they can find. In the deserts of Northern Mexico I partook of a meal made out of a rattlesnake and it was good. In the jungles of Southern Mexico I tasted the iguana, a genus of lizard one or two feet long, which is also not so bad, and be it said en passant, it lays the most delicious eggs that I ever tasted.

I met many a peon on the road with a tenate full of tortillas, a live iguana wrapped around his neck, and a bunch of nopal leaves skewered on a stick. The nopal leaves made a refreshing salad, the small and tender ones being used only. The whole meal didn’t cost him a cent and it made a well balanced diet, consisting of meat, vegetables and grains.

The Mexican people are not meat eaters, and when they partake of it, they usually eat birrio, which are long strips of sun-dried salted meat. Fresh meat is only to be found in the largest towns. In the small villages or ranches I was lucky if I could get a few strips of birrio. In some villages of three or four hundred people I couldn’t even get that. They just had tortillas and dried cheese and beans, and maybe a few eggs. Birrio is very cheap, and after it is dried it lasts a long time. They make it out of anything: steers, cows, mutton, lambs, and somebody told me they make it out of dog meat, too, although I can’t vouch for that.

By Jose Porta
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