Category Archives: Taco Tour

Mérida and Progreso

Every time I come to Mexico I like to go on vacation. I know for some people it seems that my life here is a vacation, but I guarantee to you that no one on vacation would wake up at 6:30 in the morning to write. I am here to do research, and the first part of that involved visiting with people and conducting informal and perhaps one could say unauthorized by my research board interviews. The next part of my work here has been to visit archives, as you can see by my previous couple of posts, and gain permission to reprint some images, and then to write. And write. And write. Writing is exhausting. That is why I need a vacation.

A few weekends ago, I went to Mérida. Overall as a travel destination I’d give it a solid B+. This is because it was terribly humid and because of the sexual harassment (way worse than Mexico City on a day-to-day level. Although, in Mérida, there are no signs on public buses telling me I should blow my whistle (provided by the city) anytime I am assaulted. Maybe men should blow their whistles when they feel tempted? But I digress). I think the other part of this is my fault for flying a cheap airline that is always late and flies out of the most crowded corner of the Mexico City airport.

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La Chaya Maya Cochinita Pibil

The first evening I was in Mérida I just wandered around and at really good food at La Chaya Maya. The next day I went to Chichen Itza. That is the type of place that doesn’t even look real.

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Tacos PM

But, all my pictures look worse than the ones on the internet, and I think that mine look pretty good. That afternoon I ate some more tacos (Thanks again for the rec. Brian) in a very fancy neighbourhood with some smoky charbroiled flavour to the meat.

 

2016-07-17 10.44.24After that, I decided to go see some Cenotes. I highly highly recommend the ones in Cuzama. Really easy to get to as long as you don’t mind Mexican van travel. And if you have a long time to wait. I ended up being in the same van as two other guys who were visiting the cenote and so we took a little moto-taxi that I thought was going to break, and then shared a possibly former mining train-cart (horse-drawn)… little did we know we would spend like 5 hours together. We took one cart, to another moto-taxi, and then to another really long horse-drawn train cart. The first cenote, pictured, was pretty open, and like one I had seen before in Tulum. Then we went to two other cenotes, each one more closed up than the last, so that by the end we were wandering through a cave. It is among my top three travel destinations: Copper Canyon (Chihuahua, Mexico) and Semuc Champey (Guatemala) are tied for first.

My final afternoon (that would be after the cenotes) I went to the Progreso beach, which was insanely busy. My hotel also had overbooked (they say overbooked, I say, you are a bed and breakfast so you have 5 rooms, so you are disorganized) so I ended up staying at a decent Mexican hotel for the same price. It was clean, nice enough, and had terrible wifi. Everything a Mexican hotel should provide. The next morning I got to experience the beach without so many people. Much much better. Then I began my trek back to Mexico City.

 

 

Summer Travels, part 1

I am about to embark on the last leg of my summer travels and visit some friends from grad school and my parents. These travels have been interesting for a number of reasons, mostly that I returned to some places I haven’t been in a while – this is a good way to see how I have changed.

My first foray into the world this summer was a trip to visit my dear friends G and B, and all their friends, but not their dog (sniff), in Edmonton. They drove me everywhere I wanted to go, and we got to see B’s parents, my aunt and uncle (amazing) and some friends from Ottawa and Toronto. I met my friend’s husband for the first time and played with their cute kid (who is my distant relative, so, I claim ownership). I had some tea with a cousin who also lives in Edmonton and we caught up on the past a lot of years. This was a good holiday.

My next foray into summer travel was less fun. Instead of going to a conference in Puerto Rico as I had planned, I went to my grandfather’s funeral in Saskatchewan. This was undoubtedly the right decision and I spent some time with my dad and brother (my mom couldn’t make it) and my dad’s extended family grieving and remembering his life. When I came back to Bluffton, one of my friends asked me about my grandfather. I said simply that he was a good man. He was not a famous man (but he did write a lot of letters to a Mennonite newspaper, which makes him famous among my very extended family and friends of my dad in Mexico and Latin America). He did many things for his community, he loved my grandma and his family.

A few weeks later, I began my epic summer of travel in Mexico. I went to DF for a day (and went to none of the coffee shops or taquerías I had written about before), did a few errands, and then travelled to Chihuahua and Zacatecas (with brief time spent in Coahuila and 10 minutes in Durango). I felt like I encountered about 5 cultures in a week – Mexico City, airports, broader Northern Mexican culture, and, broadly speaking, Kleine Gemeinde, Old Colony (two kinds) and General Conference Mennonites in three different colonies. It was a lot to take in. I had heard of these places all my life but had never known what they were like – in some ways it was like visiting the community my dad grew up in, and in other ways, not at all. The way people’s houses are structured is, for example, more like how my grandparents’ house was than most Mexican homes I’ve visited. The food was a delicious blend between Mennonite and Mexican. A bit more coke that I’m used to, and a bit more Nescafé as well (fairly common in Mexico), but it was lovely. I of course was doing research for my new project so I was trying to take everything in. I may have succeeded.

I was able to bring some of this pseudo-ethnographic research to bear on two presentations I did when I got back to the part of Mexico I understand a bit better. But more on that next week.

Taco Tour: LASA edition

A few weeks ago I was in Chicago for the Latin American Studies Association meeting. I organized a panel about the body in Church-State conflict in Mexico and presented a paper about blindness and Church-State conflict and convergence in the 1940s. It was a very enjoyable experience. Some friends even showed up for the panel’s 8 am start time, and other friends appeared at a much more decent hour after they had had some coffee and breakfast. I enjoyed going to other panels about Mexico, about religion and regret missing others. I do not regret organizing a taco tour.
Faithful readers of this blog may remember that I first went on a very small taco tour in January in Chicago, and then in March a colleague and I took a group of students to Chicago, and some of them (ok one of them) accompanied us on a taco tour. I jokingly concluded that post inviting others to a taco tour during LASA. Given the overwhelmingly positive response, I decided to actually do it.
One day, at a time I selected so as not to conflict with anyone’s panel, we went to Carnitas don Pedro, Reyes de Ocotlán (el lugar del bautizo taquero – the place of my taco baptism), and Nuevo León in Pilsen, Chicago. Nuevo León was a new location for the tour. I highly recommend it for vegetarians – because it is not exclusively a taquería – it has all kinds of delicious Mexican food. I couldn’t eat anything by the time we arrived. Fortunately, the bill was so low that I didn’t have my typical conflict between “Is food in a restaurant outside of Bluffton really that expensive?” and “I am sure I still owe you money, did I tip enough” that happens every time I am on a group bill or group taxi or group anything.

I had plans to conclude the tour at a pupusería, but we all were exhausted from eating too much meat so we did not make it that far. If you plan to go on a taco tour, I recommend eating only half a taco per place, walking at least 20 minutes between restaurants, or spreading the tour out over two days. The next time I am in Chicago I might just do that.

 

 

 

Taco Tour: Newport Beach

This post should really not be part of the taco tour. Rick Bayless’ “O” is so far from any normal taquería in appearance – one could go so far as to say overwhelming aesthetically – that is should really be called “Mexican Restaurant in the Plastic Surgery Capital of the World.” This was not the place for taco tour t-shirts, unfortunately. The food was quite delicious. I technically ordered tacos, but there was so much meat on my plate I couldn’t even make more than one. I just had to focus on the good stuff. And accept the food of others, that, to be honest, was amazing (Thanks friends who work for other universities). I have no idea what I was eating. It was just good. Apparently it compares to Topolobampo in Chicago.
Still, this was not even the highlight of the conference. That was eating Persian food at one of the organizers’ houses, and giving a well-received paper alongside colleagues whose work I admire. I even alluded to my taco tour as I responded to questions from the public. (I might have made some double-entendres as I responded to the most famous critic of women’s writing in Mexico, but since I live in Ohio, someone had to point out this albur to me). I’m looking forward to the taco tour in Chicago this week.

Taco Tour: Chicago March Edition

This past weekend I went to Chicago with a colleague and some students, hosted by the Chicago Center for Urban Life and Culture. We did many things, some of which I enjoyed, and some of which the students enjoyed, and some of which my colleague enjoyed, so I think overall it was a good weekend. I tried Puerto Rican food, which was a lot like Nicaraguan food with its emphasis on plantains, rice and beans. We also ate so much delicious Mexican food in Little Village and Pilsen. Little Village is a fairly ungentrified primarily Mexican-American neighbourhood. Pilsen is a bit too hipster for my liking. And I like all the hipster things – skinny jeans, macs, the glasses. Except I don’t like people who are entitled and unaware of their privilege.  On the afternoon slated for the taco tour, the students all looked so tired that we did not all go on the taco tour.

My colleague, a student, and a friend from Bluffton all went to a few taquerías. Well worth it. Some of them are repeats from the January edition. We began at Carnitas don Pedro (sooooooo delicious. everyone go there on Saturday rather than Sunday), continued along 18th street to Birrería Reyes de Ocotlán (where I had my conversion moment to tacos, well before I had ever been to Mexico). The only strange thing was that they gave us lemons instead of limes. I thought it was because they saw a group of people who were muy gueros (white), but then I learned that there is some kind of lime shortage to accompany the avocado shortage.

the scales fell from my eyes

Reyes de Ocotlán

We also stopped off at a santería shop (because you never know when you will need another candle to pray to the Virgen de Guadalupe, San Judas, or extra-official saints) and finished with pupusas, because the student wanted to try them. Then friend and I continued on for some quesadillas sincronizadas. This was after a lunch of chilaquiles, aka tacos with a fork, and tacos the day before in Avondale at el Cid. Overall: I think it is possible more delicious tacos could have been found in Little Village, or in Avondale, but this was fairly amazing. I would repeat. ¿Quién se anima para LASA?

How to Make a Taco Tour T-Shirt

1. The Dean visits your class and you end with “let’s make t-shirts for our trip to Chicago.” All students seem on board, and not just because they are on their best behaviour. Take this as “all signs point to yes.”

2. Do research. Learn that t-shirts ordered online cost too much for a small group.

3. Consider making one’s own.

4. Pray that Meijer will have T-shirt transfer paper in its craft supply department. It doesn’t.

5. Realize this will involve shopping at Hobby Lobby or Wal-Mart.

6. Unsure which is worse, pick Hobby Lobby.

7. Make design. Make sure your students know that the lettuce-like object in the taco is actually cilantro. Because even though cilantro is the devil’s food, it belongs on tacos in a way lettuce does not.

8. Realize need inkjet printer, which you do not have.

9. Go to your colleague’s house and print them.

10. Iron them on during class while talking about trip to Chicago.

11. One of your students’ transfer papers doesn’t stick. Watch her scrape it off like she’s trying to win a lottery ticket. Feel bad.

12. Other students seem really excited, and want to add other images for future trips and activities.

13. Success! Image

Success!

 

Taco tour: Meta edition

I have now received a certain measure of fame because of my interest in tacos. I wonder, if I had devoted the time and energy to writing about tacos to writing about mid-twentieth century Mexican literature, would I be as well known for that? Or is the escape to the taco tour an essential part of writing about Mexican literature for this guera? I also wonder if my subsequent research project should be about tacos rather than about Mennonites represented in Mexican literature and culture, or how I could bring tacos into that project. Queso menonita [Mennonite cheese, like a mild cheddar or mozzarella] would be a good point of contact.

These thoughts about writing and tacos and Mennonites bring me to something I have just begun to realize. I instinctively want to give every presentation and write every essay in the style of a Mennonite sermon (the right kind of Mennonite sermon, naturally). It begins with an anecdote, talks about other people’s opinions, and then gets into a close reading of the text. And always room for laughter. (I am the right kind of Mennonite, naturally).

Part of me wishes I had more beliefs than doubts, because then I could employ this format when speaking in a church context. The other part of me is more annoyed than wistful, because only in an alternative reality would the church be a place that would invite regular honest discussions about doubts from the pulpit, and only in an alternative reality would it regularly seek the contributions of women in areas that do not involve looking after children or preparing and serving large quantities of food. I think a sermon about tacos would bridge the gap.