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Culinary Cab Confessions: The Search For Tacos And 'Authenticity' In Mexico
"Okay," he said. "Chica? You want a chica?"
"No," I said. "I already told you. Quiero comer." I want to eat.
And just then, he poked his head out the window at a short-skirt-wearing, twenty-something female standing on the sidewalk and said "Yo quiero un taco!" and laughed again. He jilted his head back at me and said, "Que una pussy!"
I was hoping to do another installment of my Culinary Cab Confessions in which I test the theory that taxi drivers are a knowledge repository of the best (and cheapest) places to eat, the out-of-the-way gems that you just don't stumble across. Except this rotund, randy cab driver I was currently with was a knowledge stockroom of other carnal pleasures. Just not the kind I was seeking. I grew up in southern California where Mexican cuisine has become something of a default comfort food. Having lived in good-Mexican-food-deprived New York City for the last nine years, I relish the moments when I'm in a place that has good Mexican food (like, say, Mexico, for example). I just had to find a cab driver who would show me the right place.
There were several questions that were nagging at me: Where could I go in town with fewer gringos? Did it really matter? Would my experience be more "authentic" if I were the only non-local? I asked the concierge at my hotel (about where I could eat without encountering other tourists). "No," she said, shaking her head at me. And then another question arose: was I just being a culinary traveling snob?
"These places don't exist," said the concierge when I repeated the question on where I could find good tacos in a gringo-less environment. "We go to the same places the gringos go." Or, rather, gringos go the same places the locals go. Still, I persisted. There had to be a taqueria-crammed neighborhood that tourists don't venture to. "No, no, no," she said. I sighed and walked away.
And then I got in a cab. I explained to the driver what I wanted and he knew immediately where to take me. La Aurora, a neighborhood that was about 10 minutes away.
He let me off at Universo, a street-plaza that was lined with food carts. There were carnitas tacos, porklicious tortas and a guy making Frisbee-sized hamburgers. (I'm not exaggerating.) I settled in at Taqueria Don Roque and ordered the house specialty: the al pastor tacos, the meat of which was shaved off of a huge hunk, like at a shwarma joint. The spicy pork in the tacos was intermingled with chunks of pineapple, an additional taste stratum that I very much appreciated. I ordered two more.
There was a fat man lounging in front of a grill on the corner of the intersection across the street. I wandered over and realized my presence had just roused him out of a sleep. He said he was from Michoacan and was selling a typical snack of his home region: roasted chickpeas. I bought a bag and strolled around the plaza gawking at what to eat next. The chickpeas were still in their encasing, making eating them a tad difficult but worth every juicy chickpea stream that was running down my forearm. I still had no answers to my questions about travel and the "authentic" experience some of us seek. I did, though, have one answer: I'd found the place I was looking for.