This photo is the only documentation of one of my favorite food quests of all time.
Back in 2011, I didn’t give much thought to photographing my food. I read a lot of food blogs but taking photos of my meals just didn’t occur to me. That is, until that trip to Mexico.
In my last post I described the revelation that is the twirling, spit-roasted al pastor tacos in Puebla, Mexico. We ate many other foods in Puebla that have stuck close to me through the years; Freshly fried churros, banana leaf tamales soaked in mole, toasted grasshoppers, amaranth seed bars, and chiles en nogada. The most memorable meal we enjoyed is one that we chased on a winding bus ride somewhere between Puebla and Cholula.
“It’s around here, somewhere,” David kept insisting two bus rides later.
I really hated David.
David wanted to take us to a roadside chicken restaurant he remembered from his childhood and I was convinced that he didn’t actually know where it was.
“It’s ten minutes away,” he said. Ten minutes later, he’d say it was just around the corner. We transferred buses and boarded another bus full of people and chickens.
After an early morning climbing the great Pyramid of Cholula in the blazing sun, we were hot and tired. Our hostess Maria’s birthday was, in fact, that very day, and she had reserved a big table at a local karaoke joint for us and all of her friends. She was also planning to cook a birthday dinner with her grandma. Therefore, we hoped to arrive at her house before dinner. The introverts in our group hoped to be back even sooner to catch some down-time.
It became clear that this detour for chicken wasn’t as short as David first stated.
“Why would you want to go back to the house, anyway?” he asked. “You’re in Mexico! Don’t waste your time resting.”
By our third day in Mexico, we were starting to feel the effects of little sleep and lots of travel. The introvert inside of me wanted to snap.
“Be happy! Smile!” David insisted every time one of us looked irritated. Did I mention that I really hated David?
“This chicken is the best chicken I’ve ever eaten. Someday you’ll thank me,” he added, before reminded me to smile.
Finally he waved at us to disembark. He led us on a long walk along the highway ditch. “I think it’s just down the road,” he said. It wasn’t.
We wandered for a while, stepping over weeds and trash. Finally, a small, roadside building appeared. Swirls of smoke billowed from the open structure. We stepped inside and walked past the open hearth where a woman twirled wire contraptions that held spatchcocked chickens over the flames. I was mesmerized.
Once we settled into our seats, a server brought us bottles of Boing, baskets of thick corn tortillas, rice, beans, and nopales (cactus). And then the chicken appeared. We enjoyed the family-style meal, digging into the meat with our fingers and passing around the bowls of side dishes. The stewed cactus had a mild flavor and texture like green beans.
Besides the chicken’s fire-kissed flavor, I found the fat’s rich yellow color remarkable. It melted my irritation away.
Somewhere along the bus rides back to Puebla, I had to use a restroom.
“My house is just around the corner,” said David. It wasn’t.
Eventually we made it to Maria’s birthday party. By midnight, the mixture of karaoke, tequila, and tiredness culminated with me stepping out of the bar and crying in the parking lot. “I’m so tired,” I sobbed. Lonna patted my head.
The next morning brought rest and mole-soaked tamales. I still didn’t love David, but I no longer hated him.
Five years, I still think about that glorious chicken meal we chased down. The funny thing is that he was right. I would thank him later.