Friday, January 28, 2011

Dining at the Community Eatery for Social Development,Mexico City: Brother Can You Spare Ten Pesos?Mexico City's Rather Tasty Proposal

Community eateries are all over Mexico City, serving the various neighborhoods of Mexico's largest city. They serve a style of dining that would be very recognizable in the US, comida economica, or economic food-these are the combo plate and other proteins-served-with-rice-and-beans style restaurants found all over America.

Comida economica is a notch below in price from comida corrida, the three course dining found in Mexico City's small home style restaurants, which consists of a soup, a dry soup, and a main course with an agua fresca, or an agua de sabor(flavored water)and even a small complimentary dessert, like a homemade flan.In comida economica, it all comes on the same plate, except the soup, of course, and beans are common to add substance, and to compliment the simpler main courses offered in comida economica like steak with ranchero sauce, or pork in adobo marinade.

While checking out one of my favorite taco stands on Mercado San Juan's famed street food restaurant row, calle Lopez, I noticed a long line forming next door. "$10 MXP for a complete meal?", I thought.I wandered in to have a look around when I was asked why I had a camera there. I explained that I make online reports for a page in Los Angeles, and that I thought this was such a great deal, $10 pesos for a whole meal.That's about 87 cents here in the U.S.

The kitchen captain when on to explain that this community eatery was subsidized by the local government, free of influence by Mexico's two main political parties, the PRI, and PAN, to make sure those living in poverty had acccess to proper nutrition."They are all over the different neighborhoods", he said, with a stern but friendly demeanor. "You can take pictures as long as they are about sharing with people about this program, but really, you should eat something." "Have a seat!", he commanded.

Part of me was thinking about the limited real estate available in my tum-ta-tum-tums, and all the stops I had on my plate that day, but good manners and the chance for human interaction always prevail.OK, I'm in!

The crowd consisted of familes, and the elderly, and smiles were evident all around, the look of contentment from an approachable nobility, to be able to dine out and have home cooking. In the US, the needs of the poor and struggling families are mostly met by affordable fast food, the only way you can feed familes for under a dollar, or from the dollar menus.The indignities of having to eat fast food, food you know to be unhealthy, lacking in substance, purely chemical in nature, are seen in the languid and blank stares.

The captain and his crew dashed around large pots and pans, everything cooked from scratch.I took a seat at a communal table and immediately was greeted by all my table mates."Buenas tardes, bienvenidos", Good afternoon, welcome, from an older women with an adorable shake.

I thought of just asking for a taste, but kept quiet and engaged in conversation with my new friends.I even got the comida corrida experience here, each dish was plated separately, which adds labor and operational costs. With comida corrida, there's more dish washing and service.

The agua de sabor was orange Tang, the only thing here not made in house. But, it tasted just like my grandmother's kitchen here in the US, Folger's crystals for my grandfather, and Tang or Nestle's Strawberry Quick for my sister and I.

The happy diners at this community eatery were treated to a homemade sopa de fideos, pasta soup.The powerful scent of fideos cooking on the stove is one of those conventions understood by all Mexicans. Great fideos can make me forget the most rare or exotic offerings.

Well cooked rice and beans to provide carbohydrates and protein to these weary capitalanos.

The main course was al pastor, marinated pork cooked home style, in a pan. Along with bright cilantro and chopped onions, and tortillas that were made to order, oh yes, the kitchen even had a tortilla making station, this turned out to be fantastic lunch.I was told it was on the house, but I paid my $10MXP, and thanked them for allowing me to dine with them.

But,not before a little dessert, the ever popular palanquetas, Mexican peanut brittle found all over the various snack stands throughout D.F.

During hard times, the umbrage caused by not being able to fend for yourself, your family, find work, or meet your basic needs is often forgotten. This isn't just a meal for those having a rough patch, but a restoration of pride, just as important in moving forward.

For the local governments, the subsidy is not a great burden, taking into account that many comida economicas, and comida corridas operate in the $20-$35 MXP price range in Mexico City for more complicated cuisine. I think this a model for what we should be doing in the US instead of giving tremendous tax breaks for fast food chains, and the latest news is that our fast food chains will now be raising there prices.Ufffff! Viva Mexico.

Community Eatery for Social Development
Puente Paredo between Calle Lopez and Arandas
Near the Mercado San Juan
Mexico City


eastside food bites said...

I agree. These should be in every lower-economic neighborhood in LA, instead of yet another Burger King or Taco Bell.

It's pretty crazy that most fast food places take EBT now. Seems like such a giveaway to these awful, poison-peddling companies.

Nutrition for the people!

mattatouille said...

Bill, I absolutely love that you covered a community kitchen. Maybe not exactly the same, but it'd be like a blogger writing about a meal at Fred Jordan Mission in Skid Row. It's amazing that even with such little money, it's possible to enjoy a worthy meal. It's so easy to forget that so much of this world barely has enough to eat, and I think posts like this remind us of the blessings and bounty we have in the U.S. I think we as food writers need to do more to highlight how the rest of the world eats, and sometimes struggles. Your idea for community kitchens versus fast-food subsidies seems like a no-brainer.

streetgourmetla said...

Thanks Mattatouille and Eastside Food Bites-Man, can we just end the fast food thing, now? We give McDonald's all these tax breaks, and special real estate deals, srew 'em.Use those dollars to buy US produce and meat, and subsidize the poor, not the rich that are poisoning our communities. We need a revolution in affordable slow food!