by Alex Bradley (Nov. 2014)
Once upon a time, well, actually every Sunday morning, there is cochinita pibil available in the Pueblo, which sells out by about 8 a.m. Cochinita is slow-roasted pork, often cooked in a pib (underground oven), not unlike pit-cooked pulled pork from the South, and can be incredibly delectable.
Not wanting to get up early enough, much less trek the half-mile or so over yonder, I started negotiating on Saturday night for a personal delivery from a Pueblo resident the following morning.
He assured me that a new place had the best, coming from an interior Yucatán city, Valladolid. An agreement was reached, whereby he would deliver on his way to work the following morning, about 11 a.m. He was to text my cell phone when approach was imminent, and I would meet him and the goods at the nearby little lunch counter and treat him to some fresh-squeezed orange juice. I emphasized that pickled onions were not an option, but absolutely mandatory. I would find tortillas on my own.
This necessary inclusion of the heavenly onions is much like the episode of M*A*S*H, when Hawkeye manages to get a call through from Korea to Chicago, to order ribs and sauce packaged as medical supplies, hangs up triumphantly, then remembers he forgot to order the coleslaw. I would brook no such omission.
Having not fallen off the tortilla truck yesterday, I knew that this all may occur, or may not.
As 11 a.m. on Sunday approached, I readied myself to spring into action as soon as the message arrived. It did not. I sent my own message, with no reply. Oh, well.
About 11:30 a.m. I went to the supposed courier's place of employment, a nearby restaurant. Many places are nearby on this non-Pueblo side of the highway. To my surprise, he actually had the cochinita and the onions! Yay! It turns out my friend had indeed texted two messages to my phone … only to my U.S. cell, not my Mexican one. Can't wait to get back on U.S. soil, turn on the phone and receive those messages. I paid him the 50 pesos due for the food of the gods, or at least the Maya.
I negotiated with the restaurant owner to acquire a goodly amount of tortillas, like 40, for no charge. I am a frequent customer of this establishment, and have eaten many meals while declining the tortilla accompaniments, since I'm a gringa. Seemed fair to me.
I took my bounty home to my little, basic room.
People who have not spent time in little, basic rooms in Mexico do not appreciate the time and effort of what are simple tasks in the comfort of one's northern home.
I found a plate that had been in storage for a year and washed it. But first I needed to herd two ants out of the way of certain doom in the little bathroom sink. I then found my fork and spoon (yes, singular, for each).
A major component of cochinita is grease, hereafter referred to as G. The cochinita is provided in its own plastic bag, with the top twisted into an impenetrable knot—no one wants all that great G to escape. The onions are similarly in their own Gordian-knotted bag. Both are in another plastic bag, and that is put into a plastic grocery bag.
I began attacking the knots, to no avail. Okay, now I had G all over my hands and I needed to wash them. I had closed the bathroom door, to preserve the a/c in this little room, so now had to open the door to get to the hopefully ant-free sink to wash my hands. I got the door open, washed my hands, and now washed the doorknob, leaving the door a bit ajar.
I am a big fan of Ivory bar soap, one of the few substances which can actually cut through cochinita G. Another is a local powdered soap, Foca, which has a rather disquieting photo of a white, baby harp seal with a soulful stare on the package; I hope it wasn't its last.
Once more into the fray … but the knots wouldn't. Kicked door open and washed hands again. Got scissors and cut the bags open. Washed the scissors, and hands again. Progress.
Got a number of paper towels ready. Since the food had been resting on top of the fridge for a while (couldn't put it in, because the G would congeal), I needed to inspect it all closely for any foraging ants. So far, so good.
I dried the plate and arranged 3 tortillas on it. I picked through the cochinita, avoiding the useless bone included to add weight to the purchase, and added shreds to the tortillas, spooning the gorgeous pink onions on top.
I opened a bottle of Mexican Coca-Cola, still with sugar and not corn syrup for now, to accompany my meal. That is another substance that can help cut through the G. I sat down to experience bliss.
Sí, pero no.
It was …. okay. I have had much more flavorful examples. Perhaps there was a lack of achiote or bitter orange. The onions were not tangy. Had they used water instead of vinegar? I've eaten many good Maya dishes in Valladolid, but this sure didn't meet my standards. Sigh.
I finished the tacos, closed the bags with twist ties, closed up the larger bag, washed my hands, closed the grocery bag and stashed it in the fridge. I washed the plate, fork and spoon in the tiny bathroom sink, under the low-flowing cold-water faucet.
I wanted a few Choco-retas for dessert. These are half-marble-sized rounds of chocolate center surrounded by a neon-green mint candy coating. Just the thing to offset the G. There is an arrow indicating where to tear open the package, but this was an example in Mexico of sometimes form but not function. I cut the package open with the damp scissors, savored a few, and then hurriedly sealed the candy spheres into a Ziploc bag before the ants could discern them.
I was exhausted, so took a siesta.
The cochinita has formed into that congealed mass in the fridge. Even if I wanted more of it, I would need to carve it like a Thanksgiving turkey, unless I let it come to room temp while checking often for ant scouts.
I reported back to my friend on my disappointment, and he said there's another place he can bring some from next Sunday. I'll think about that mañana.