Thursday, December 4, 2008
Next the tour bus took us to a little town called El Quelite for lunch. And so much more. Now, this is where things started getting weird. Like Hunter S Thompson bat country weird. The tour guide was going on about witches, ancient rites of the Aztecs and indiginous cannibals in the mountains. Then he asked the group, "You like cockfights?"
Everyone was taken aback. One person said haughtily, "Those are illegal in the United States. He said, "Yeah, they're illegal here too" and laughed a creepy laugh. As we passed a bullfighting ring he told us about the quail farm behind it. Animals do not fare well around here. Or to put a positive spin on it, you could say that people are eating "local". That's some seriously fresh food.
One of the main features of El Quelite is this statue. It is of an ancient game like hackey sack or soccer, but you can only use your hips to touch the ball. I hope they had ancient athletic cups.
Next we hit a panaderia, not exactly an unfamiliar sight for an Angeleno. But I had never seen an oven like this, so the visit was cool. And who doesn't love pan dulce?
There was an interesting "burnt sugar turnover. It is like blackstrap molasses. It rises so fast the sugar adheres to the pastry leaving an empty center.
Then we walked along the town.
I swear to you, I do not seek out cemetaries. They just seem to always be there. It was a few weeks after Dia de los Muertos, so everything had a fresh new coat of white paint.
As I was taking photos of the cemetary, I started hearing roosters. Oh no! He didn't! He did. The tourists all blanched, like when you have accidentally gotten yourself in way over your head. Like you are in some kind of nightmare and can't get out. The discomfort was palpable to everyone but the tour guide.
He asked, "Who wants to see a cock fight, hunh?" trying to get everyone excited. They all looked from one to the other. Half these people were probably going to eat chicken that day. Half of them were wearing leather. Really, at what point does it become hypocrisy?
He asked again, "Come on! Who wants to chicken fight???"
To lighten the mood, I said, "I'll take one on! Strap one of those knives on my feet! I'll fuck these chickens up!"
Surprisingly that did not help.
Really, it's much more humane to use the knives so it is a quick, clean kill instead of letting the chickens hack at each other in a painful, drawn-out battle to the death. But I have to admit it's kind of messed up the way he's showing off this knife so proudly.
At this point, the guide finally noticed everyone's discomfort. he started trying to defend the sport of cockfighting. He insisted the roosters love it; it's in their nature; they aren't forcing them to do anything they don't want to do. Then he actually walked over to one of the roosters and started kicking it! And that rooster went apeshit. He kicked and the rooster pecked and flapped and I thought, "I can't believe I am watching this guy fight a fucking chicken."
Finally, after everyone was sufficiently freaked out we meandered over to the restaurant for lunch. It was a bit of a tourist trap, but that meant bright and safe-feeling with clean bathrooms. The group was needing the security of colorful woven tablecloths at this point in the tour.
Meson de los Laureanos is named after Jose Laureano, a local folk hero.
The tour guide had described the local dishes to us on the tour, "Machaca, that is beef, carnitas is pork, pollo is chicken, and birria, that is beef." I looked around wide-eyed for someone to elbow, but I was the only one who knew that he was totally lying. So when I picked up the menu, I immediately checked the translations. They all described the animal, except for Birria. It said, "A Mexican specialty". As in special Mexican goats.
As usual, I was unable to choose just one dish and asked if they wouldn't mind making me a "mixed" platter. Clockwise from top right: Lamb, Goat, and Beef. They cooked it barbecue-style, then stewed it in a sauce. Mmmmmm. The lamb was a little gamey, but I loved the goat. It was not "wild" or weird or gamey. It was perfect. The beef was very good, but the birria goat, err, uhhh, "beef" was my favorite.
Since there was a quail farm nearby, we thought we would try the fresh quail. I had always heard complaints about the little bones, but it was no different than hot wings. And they were so succulent and light - not gamey, and not like chicken, better than chicken. I love quail now - at least super fresh quail.
On the way there and back we crossed the Tropic of cancer - my first time!
After such an eventful day, we took it easy and ordered a simple dinner from room service. Sinaloa supplies most of the tomatoes for the United States, and it really showed. It seems like they pick the fruits and vegetables closer to ripe than we do, but they also sell them a little longer than we do too, as I was to learn in the Old Town Market later in the week.
I was completely freaked out when I tried to eat my chicken soup. It took me a second to realize it had clear plastic wrap tightly wrapped around the bowl.