posted Wed, 14 Dec 2005
A colleague and I went to a Mexican restaurant for lunch today where I had the always-interesting experience of watching someone try to order a vegetarian meal. Latinos don’t do vegetarian.
Now this is no gentrified Mexican restaurant. This is one of those geniwine pure Mexican restaurants that serves Mexicans, not gringos. I have always been the only gringo in the place any time I have been there. It’s hard to find the place, being as it’s tucked in behind a Burger King and all. When I go, there are vatos out front working on their cars. Inside, there are announcements (in Spanish) about how to send money home. English is rarely heard.
The Last Supper fresco in the cathedral in Cuzco shows Jesus and the disciples eating cuy (aka as guinea pig). It’s a delicacy in that part of the world. It’s not a vegetarian meal. Jesus was not a vegetarian.
When Patrick and I got to the counter, I realized that there was not a single item on the menu that did not include meat. I asked the attendant what she could make for a vegetarian. We had the whole conversation in Spanish, but I couldn’t remember the word for “beans,” which put me at a significant disadvantage for talking about a meatless meal in a Mexican restaurant. I finally remembered the Chilean word – “porotos” – but that’s not the one Mexicans use – “frijoles.”
She thought and thought, but could come up with nothing. The owner came up and more discussion ensued. “Anything – just make any of your dishes, just without meat!” I said. “How about a burrito without meat?” Remember, I still can’t think of the word for beans. I wanted to say, “Make a bean burrito,” but I couldn’t think of how to say it. I would say I was having a blonde moment, but I haven’t been blonde for years.
The owner said dramatically, “I have never been presented with this sort of challenge!”
It sounded a lot better in Spanish.
We switched to English when he realized I was a gringo. Then Patrick said just to make a burrito with everything in it but the meat. The owner said, “Of course! Yes, that will work!”
When I emerged from the ladies’ room, he was quizzing Patrick as to the reason for his vegetarianism. “I have never had a vegetarian in the restaurant,” he explained, as if a spaceman had dropped into the store. Patrick explained that when he was in the navy, he got sick of the bad meat he’d had to eat on the ship and that he just didn’t eat it any more. He didn’t eat fish because his dad had been in the fishing business and he was sick of seafood from a childhood of having to eat that.
The owner shook his head and said, “In Mexico, if there’s not meat, it’s not a meal.”
The end of the line
11 months ago