Tuesday, March 28, 2017

Jicama, Jicaletas and Yam Bean, Oh My!

While I was on my Trump Apology Tour of Mexico, in between apologizing, I became an unapologetic culinary observer. All it took was one working eye to observe that Mexico is the land of the jicama. These mighty, pre-Columbian tubers were in full regalia on every calle and corner from Mexico City to Puebla and Cholula. Also known as Mexican yam bean or Mexican turnip, this tuberous root is from a vine that’s a member of the bean family. Not only is it a good source of vitamin C and high in fiber, it's good photo fodder, too.

The most ubiquitous jicama sightings were on street vendors' carts paired with papaya, melon, mango, orange or cucumber. It’s the perfect complement to fresh fruit with its crisp bite and striking color contrast. It also appeared either cubed, sliced or grated in buffet offerings, acting as a quiet compadre to all the alpha meats, manly moles and sassy salsas. You could see whole jicamas piled high in every market, from the small mom and padres to the large supermercados. In fact, there were so many tubers to go around, Trump could build the wall out of jicama and Mexicans wouldn’t even know they paid for it.

Jicaletas y paletas

Just when I thought I'd seen it all, I eyed the jicaleta. This modern-day street-food phenomenon of sliced jicama on a stick is an homage to the popular Mexican ice cream bar, the paleta. Hence the name: jicaleta (jicama + paleta). The moniker may sound cute, like designer jicama for the youthful YouTuber market, but these tuberous treats seem to appeal to every jicama-eating demographic. But if you think a piece of naked jicama doing a pole dance on a stick of raw wood is sexy, you should see what comes next: the colorful rub-down in a tsunami of umami.

First, a thick slice of jicama on a stick is brushed with chamoy syrup (the red goop on the right) that's either a sticky liquid or paste consistency. It's made from pickled fruit that’s salty, sweet, sour and spiced with chiles. The jicama is then rolled in either tajíne (a seasoning powder from chiles, salt and lime juice) or a sugary powder that comes in different colors and flavors that adheres to the chamoy. While I never tried a jicaleta (artificial colors and flavors aren't how I roll) or got a photo of one in its final glam-shot glory, you can see what they look like in the short video below and some wilder designs here.

I'm already planning my next Mexico trip to do more apologizing—mostly to myself for not trying a jicaleta. And while I’m there, I might as well hit the Trump apology trail again. I barely scratched the surface. In fact, I better start planning my world tour.

Related Links:
My Trump Apology Tour of Mexico
My Trump at the Table eCookbook 
Street Snacks, Mexico City
East LA Meets Napa and a Love Letter to Mexico

Tuesday, January 10, 2017

My Trump Apology Tour of Mexico

Before embarking on my holiday trip to Mexico, I decided that instead of donning a Canada pin like U.S. travelers did during the George W. Bush era, I would just come right out and apologize for my country. I would be the self-anointed anti-ambassador of Trumpistan, imparting to the Mexican people that the majority of Americans are horrified by Trump’s words, that there will be no wall, and that as a Californian, I value and appreciate them.

How would I achieve all that in the largest Spanish-speaking city in the world? I would stand in the middle of Mexico City’s swarming, humongous zocalo near the historic Metropolitan Cathedral, holding a handmade sign. Droves of people would see the crazy gringa who’s spreading good will, and whether they embraced me or not, they’d have to appreciate the effort, right? These were some of my sign ideas:

  • América es lo siento (America is sorry)
  • California te ama (California loves you)
  • Haga el amor, no muros (Make love, not walls)
  • Trump es no America (Trump is not America)
I would make eye contact with as many people as I could and offer them a smile, a nod and an hola. In one nanosecond, we would share a universal understanding that humility and humanity transcend borders and that we are all in this together—one big wall-less familia.

Oh, who was I kidding? Did I really have the cojones to stand in the middle of Mexico’s largest square like Michael Moore or one of those terminally happy people giving away free hugs? Hug shmug. I needed a plan B. I would be a real investigative journalist, engaging people who could speak enough Inglés to have a conversation with me. I’d get their names, take photos and quote them. This would be a highly respectable mission with journalistic integrity.

But when I got there, I remembered I was on vacation, and having integrity seemed like too much work. I was there to detox from Trumpistan. I needed to get all that hateful, swampy rhetoric out of my damaged psyche so I could go back to the States recharged, with renewed determination to fight. Plus, serious gastronomy awaited.

Plan C wasn’t likely to earn me a Pulitzer, but it was low impact, and I could still be an exile from Trumpistan for 95% of my trip. I would simply ask people what they thought of Trump whenever I felt like engaging someone.

“What do you and your countrymen think of Trump?” I asked a young woman in Puebla (two hours southeast of Mexico City) who worked at the Ampara Museum. She said half the people were truly afraid and the other half were very angry. Needless to say, none were happy. I told her that I was sorry and please try not to confuse Trump with the American people. She said she understood, and that likewise, not all Mexicans wear a sombrero and have a mustache. We parted with a big mental hug.

See, that wasn’t so hard. So what if I didn’t get her name, and I have no journalistic integrity. Next, I approached a saleswoman selling Talavera pottery in a Puebla store. I said, “I want you to know that Donald Trump does not represent America, and that I am sorry.” She smiled and said, “I do not hate Donald Trump.” 

Wow, I thought. She is so much more evolved than me.
“I don’t hate Trump,” she repeated.
“Why not?” I said.
“We will kill him,” she said casually, as if informing me that I had a piece of lint on my collar. “We are Mexicans. Carlos Slim was his boss. We won’t let him get away with anything. Someone will take him out.”

There was something oddly comforting about her bravado. As badly as we had treated Mexico, maybe Mexico had our back. When I told her that I was on an apology tour, she said many Americans had been apologizing to her. Apparently there was a whole club of traveling apologists from Trumpistan.

“I am not worried,” she said, before we parted ways as BFFs—or at least BFs for the next four years.

A man in Mexico City I apologized to simply smiled awkwardly and acted like he didn’t know what I was apologizing for and didn’t want to get into it. I was starting to wonder, too, because after a few more apologies, I realized that instead of bringing up Trump—which was a total buzz kill—I would simply try to exude a friendly, gracious persona so they could see that all Americans aren’t jerks. I would show, not tell.

But that was easier said than done. There was the time I was tired and hungry, waiting for a bus that was woefully late, and some guy was hustling me to buy a cupcake that I didn’t want. I just wasn’t in the mood for his spiel. 

“Where are you from?” he said with a boisterous swagger. 
“Trumpistan,” I said with a feigned smile. “Lo siento,” I said. "And I’m sorry I can’t eat gluten either.”

Related Links:
My eCookbook: Trump at the Table
Travel Bite: Street Snacks, Mexico City