Ah, the luxuries afforded a musician on the road.The Southwest flight to El Paso, the border crossing, and then the five hour schlep to the city of Chihuahua, the state capitol of Chihuahua. Of course, there weren't any direct flights to Chihuahua, right? Impossible!
Then, the busted radiator. "I have a cousin who's going to bring a replacement radiator," says our driver. We wait. One of the guys is getting nervous."I don't like being here in Ciudad Juarez, man, it's fucking crazy over here," he mumbled, eyes shifting to and fro.He's from Chihuahua, but me, I just don't worry about those kinds of things.Beer,food,chicks,tequila....
My cynical predictions almost always coming true."We're going to catch the bus to Chihuahua," said with an all too familiar sigh. I had suggested this about two and a half hours ago. "If they can't send another vehicle, let's catch the bus!" No one listens. I don't like idle time in Mexico, too many good eats and drinks awaiting, and all I could think of was the scent of flowing cheese stabbing the air, just down the road in Villa Ahumada. Villa Ahumada is a cheese huffers wet dream.
I passed out on the luxury Chihuahuenses bus line and came to while we were stopped somewhere along quesadilla row in Villa Ahumada, the smoked village. I gulped a startled breath and began to stumble out of the bus when the driver passed me and said with a smile,"we're leaving." "Nooo,how much time do I have?", I gestured. "Vamanos," he commanded,"we will stop farther down the road." He would be taking us to his account, the place that all bus drivers and cab drivers strike deals with. Do not listen to your taxi drivers and bus drivers unless they're off duty. They get kick backs for bringing customers to hotels, bars,restaurants, strip clubs, and even quesadilla stands.
Villa Ahumada is famous for their quesadillas.They resemble the American style quesadilla in every way, but on a superficial level. They're flour tortillas folded in half and filled with cheese. The difference is that the tortillas are made from scratch, not store bought, and the cheese is Chihuahuan asadero, a soft white cheese first made by the Mennonites of Chihuahua. Unlike the processed cheese used in American quesadillas, the asadero doesn't leech any oil, and gets nice and creamy. It has a low melting temperature, so no need for grating. Two whole round slices of asadero are placed on the tortilla atop a comal, and in minutes, a delicious northern quesadilla. The cheese has a mild tang, with an attractive flavor of fresh cow's milk cheese. These aren't served with guacamole, none is needed.
They can be ordered sencillo, just cheese, con guisado, with a stew, or you can get burritos, a handmade tortilla with a guisado. The typical guisados are deshebrada, shredded meat in a suace,picadillo,ground meat with vegetables,chicharron in a red or green sauce,rajas con queso, poblano strips with cheese,machaca,dried meat,beans and cheese, mole, eggs and chorizo, or even weenies. The ultimate is the montado, a burrito with asadero, a guisado of your choosing, and a thin chile relleno. There is also a burrito filled with a chile relleno and refried beans, this is referred to as a chile relleno in Chihuahua, or burrito de chile relleno.
We passed all the miles of quesadilla stalls as I peered helplessly from the windows of the bus. It's quite a sight to see, stall after stall, all making quesadillas and burritos, the smell of burning cheese soaking up the night air. When I thought all was lost we ended up at a truck stop style restaurant, Los Arbolitos.
The nice ladies at Los Arbolitos do a great job.The guisados are all very tasty, and I no longered felt gipped by our bus driver.
You can even get asadero, jocoque(cultered cream), queso mennonita(Mennonite cheese), or other local cheeses to go.
I went with a quesadilla con guisado. First, the melting of asadero, more exciting than the Super Bowl,well, for me anyway.
Then, the guisado. Hmmmmm......
A quesadilla of deshebrada roja and a chicharron rojo topped with a trio of salsas. These stellar quesadillas washed away my moans and groans, and the guisados were of the best kind, slowly cooked, savory, and rich.
Ordering quesadillas for most of us here in the states is SO mundane,but this isn't the case in Northern Mexico. From the the south of Mexico, quesadillas are fried or grilled masa turnovers filled with guisados, and in the north the quesadilla lies in the dominion of the flour tortilla stuffed with artisanal cheese made by Mennonites. These quesadillas are a smokin' good time.
Sated and rested, it was off to the city of Cuauhtemoc, Chihuahua for a show, where I met a small town beauty queen with big dreams, too big for Cuauhtemoc.
On the way back to Ciudad Juarez, we stopped at one of the many rows of stalls in Villa Ahumada before crossing the border and catching that flight from El Paso to LAX. Villa Ahumada is an hour and a half outside Ciudad Juarez on highway 45 as you make the five hour trek to Chihuahua.
Touts from the various stands run out to wave in drivers from the highway, directing you to their stalls.
In the back, the quesadilla specialists do their thing. Out front, the burrito and chile relleno carts await your orders.The burritos in the northern states are thin, and are a member of the taco family. They're just a tortilla wrapped around a guisado, no other ingredients.What we call burritos in the US aren't the same thing....at all.
The asadero stand is minimal,just sliced cheese and handmade flour tortillas.
The quesadilla sencilla. This is a Chihuahuan quesadilla in its purest form, no salsas, just tortilla and asadero cheese.The flavor is more than surprising. You might find yourself scanning the tables and stands for salsas, guacamole, or just about anything to put on these naked foods, but just one taste and...perfection.
From the burrito cart I ordered the burrito de chile relleno. A roasted, and battered Anaheim chile spackled with refried beans.A reversal of fortune where a chile relleno becomes the filling. "Take that!", says cheese to chili.
But the montado takes the prize here.The mounted burrito! This is a tortilla with asadero cheese, a guisado, here I chose machaca, and a chile relleno.
Even with all these goodies wrapped in the lightly flavored tortilla, the burrito remains thin.Store bought tortillas impart strange flavors to burritos, sometimes even a pancake-like flavor, but flour tortillas made from scratch, and rolled into their rounded form are a different prospect all together. This is the flavor of my grandmother's Aguascalientes kitchen. In Sinaloa the flour tortillas are more larded, in Sonora they are thin and more boldly flavored, but in Chihuahua, flour tortillas are more dry and milky white, with a natural taste of flour.These are the tacos of Chihuahua, the burrito, or burro.
These quesadillas and burritos de guisados of the northern states of Mexico are just as valid and representative of Mexican culinary heritage as their southern counterparts. Anyone who'd propose otherwise is merely being obtuse.
Yes, there is a quesadilla village in Mexico, an amusement park for cheese lovers. The asaderos in Villa Ahumada are the reason families love to make this trip. It's the cheese.....and burritos! For the burrito obsessed in Los Angeles and other parts of the US, I believe a visit here might elicit a tear. It's the realization that your favorite Mexican-American foods actually have tangible roots in Mexico, but here you can experience the pinnacle of burrito and quesadilla attainment.
Driver, take me to Villa Ahumada!
Villa Ahumada, Chihuahua
Various stalls, restaurants and carts
Located on the Juarez-Chihuahua highway 45
Truck stop on the edge of Villa Ahumada heading on to Chihuahua