Pizza


 

Domino's pizza

I had some pizza with my sons the other day and I remembered how difficult it was finding food for them to eat in Mexico. It’s not that they don’t have good food in Mexico. It’s just that my sons didn’t like Mexican food made by Mexicans that wasn’t like the American Mexican food that we usually eat in Chicago. We went to Pizza Hut in Celaya and the menu listed many of the same combinations available in the U.S. Of course, they also served pizza with jalapeño peppers. I would have been surprised if they didn’t offer jalapeños. This is a country that always adds some sort of condiment to whatever food is served. If you sit down to eat, you are expected to put red or green salsa on just about everything you eat. So, I was surprised by what I saw at Pizza Hut. People put catsup (in Mexico, it’s hardly ever ketchup) on their pizza. I tried explaining that the sauce on the pizza was made from tomatoes, but everyone said that pizza didn’t taste right without catsup. Well, the surprise was that they actually ate a food item that wasn’t spicy!

Please pass the catsup

Mexican Chinese food


A Chinese restaurant in México City.

While I was in Mexico, we went to several malls, which were very much like many American malls I have visited, only newer. Since finding a restaurant that was appetizing for my sons and the rest of us was was a huge challenge, the mall provided the perfect solution with their eateries and their variety of restaurants. Each one of us could order our favorite food at different restaurants. My sons chose Subway, not surprisingly. I wanted to try new food that I had never eaten in Mexico before. I found a Chinese restaurant in a hidden corner near one of the mall exits. I just love Chinese food! But I suspected that Mexican Chinese food would be different from American Chinese food. And I was right. The choices on the menu were different and I didn’t recognize all the entrees. But true to the Chinese restaurant tradition–even in Mexico– I was served very large portions and at a very economical price compared to the surrounding restaurants in the mall. An elderly Chinese man served me. He understood all of my questions about the menu. However, he barely spoke Spanish and had a difficult time communicating to me. I think the best Chinese restaurants are the ones where the cooks only speak Chinese. Yes, even in the U.S. Well, the food was delicious! But I was hungry a half an hour later. Yes, even in Mexico! I was disappointed that they did serve green or red salsa. I mean every restaurant in Mexico serves salsa!

I would like soy sauce and salsa!

Dogs


Toluca, México

While driving through Mexico, I noticed two things about dogs. One, not many people keep dogs as pets. And, two, stray dogs didn’t scare people like they do in the United States. In America, if someone sees a large unleashed dog, they feel automatic dread and run for cover.

I don’t recall seeing a pedigreed dog even once during my last two trips to Mexico, except for my cousin who has an English sheepdog. Most of the dogs I observed on the street were large mutts that were some shade of brown. They usually stood on the curb looking at the traffic as if they were waiting for an opportunity to cross. These dogs were laid back and didn’t seem to be in any kind of hurry. I saw more dead dogs on the highway in the U.S. than in Mexico. These Mexican dogs coexisted peacefully with the people, which surprised me. They often sleep on the streets and sidewalks and no one bothers them.

When I was a boy, I remember laughing at one of the pushcart food venders in Mexico City because he sold hot dogs. I just never imagined any Mexican wanting to eat American hot dogs. But I laughed even more when I saw the sign on the push cart that advertised the hot dogs as PERROS CALIENTES! A literal translation of the name for hot dogs.

In English, I never pictured a four-legged furry animal when I thought of hot dogs. But in Spanish, perros calientes did not evoke any appetizing image of one our typically American foods (As American as baseball, hot dogs, and apple pie, so the saying goes.). I pictured an actual dog on a hot dog bun.

Well, on this last trip to Mexico, I noticed that the venders who sold hot dogs no longer advertised them as perros calientes, but rather as hot dogs. I asked my cousin in Celaya why that was and he told me because the name conjured up the image of actual dogs, which they didn’t want to eat. Well, in Mexico, according to my cousin, there are people who eat tacos made from dog meat. So now hot dogs are sold instead of perros calientes.

Glasses


Holy Cross School, Back of the Yards, Chicago, Illinois

I wear glasses. I’ve worn them ever since I was in grade school at Holy Cross. The optometrist told me if I wore them while I was young, I wouldn’t need them when I was older. What a lie! I’m still wearing glasses.

I bring up glasses because, as of today, all three out three of my sons (I have no daughters! Alas!) wear eyeglasses. Today, Adam and Alex picked up their new glasses from the optometrist. Adam wasn’t so happy about this, but Alex was exploring his newly corrected vision as if they gave him a new super power, like the kind of super powers that comic-book heroes have.

I knew Adam needed glasses a few weeks ago when we went to the concession stand after his Little League game and he couldn’t read the sign that listed the food for sale. Alex was wandering around the house looking at everything with a renewed appreciation of his eyesight and only now realizing what everything really looked like. For instance, he could read the titles of books that were way up on the top shelf. He never realized that there were words up there.

That reminded me of when I got my glasses at age ten; I should have gotten them three years earlier, but my parents didn’t want to spend all that money just for glasses. My grades would improve and then I would want to go to college!

So when I finally got my glasses, I saw a whole new world. I remember walking home from the optometrist and seeing the trees near my house, as if for the first time. I mean, the green part at the top of the trees consisted of many individual leaves! I knew that, but now I could actually see them for myself. At church before school, I always stared at the girl’s brown coat in front of me. I always liked the brown shade of her coat, the way it wasn’t consistently brown. Then, when I got my glasses, I was excited to learn that her coat was not just brown, but also made from corduroy. And corduroy has lines! I never saw the lines before I got my glasses.

My sons laughed when I told them that I discovered that her coat was made of corduroy. There was one downside to my new glasses until I got used to wearing them. When I looked down at the ground as I walked, it slowly waved up and down as if it were made from Jell-O. If I looked too closely, I wasn’t sure where to put my foot. My sons also thought this was funny.

Going to Mexico


Some of my home cooking.

Okay, I’ve been preparing my sons to go to Mexico. They’re still excited about going even though I told them that in Mexico everyone speaks Spanish. My oldest son used to speak Spanish when he was little because I always talked to him in Spanish and he went to Cordi Marian and was taught by Mexican nuns. The twins are learning Spanish in school now. For the past few years, I’ve tried to get them to speak Spanish at home, but they won’t. If they sneezed, I said, “Salud” and they were supposed to respond, “Gracias.” But they wouldn’t. Ever since I told them that we were going to Mexico, they speak a little Spanish with me. I’m glad their attitude has changed a little bit. If I’m writing something in Spanish, Adam will read it aloud and ask me if he pronounced it correctly. I’m happy that they’re trying because now I know they really want to go to Mexico.

I’ve also tried to explain some of the cultural differences between our two countries.They shouldn’t have any problems, but I want them to know in advance that they shoul expect some differences. They probably won’t play any video games while we’re in Mexico. But my sons are very adaptable. They’ll manage somehow. We’ve taken driving vacations before and we always adapt to every situation. I’m really not worried about much. Well, except maybe Montezuma’s Revenge. If they get it, I hope they get it right away and they won’t get too ill. After that, they’ll build up their immune system. I warned them about how the food will be different, too. We won’t be going to McDonald’s or Burger King once we cross the border. They won’t see a burger or chicken nugget until we get back to the U.S. And, all the food will be spicy. In Mexico, even the candy is spicy. On Sunday mornings, I make huevos con chorizo and tell them to eat them with tortillas because that’s how Mexicans eat–without silverware. So far, they’re still excited about going to Mexico.

Speed Racer


Great movie theater snack!

I love going to the show. And I love to spend quality time bonding with my sons. If I can do both simultaneously, I feel like I have accomplished greatness. At least in my own eyes.

When I compare myself to my twelve-year-old twins, I realize that they’re much more mature than me because emotionally I’m ten. When Horton Hears a Who came out as a movie, I wanted to see it with my sons, but they refused to see it because was a kiddy movie. I was rather disappointed to miss seeing Horton Hears a Who because I remembered really enjoying reading the Dr. Seuss book and watching the TV special as a boy. So I’ve missed out on some very good movies just because my sons thought they were childish. But I never once threw a tantrum.

Anyway, last week I brought up going to see Speed Racer and my sons instantly refused. I was rather disappointed because I remembered watching Speed Racer as a cartoon show on TV when I was a kid. Today, I finally talked them into seeing it. As we drove to the show, they didn’t seem too happy. I knew I was pressuring them to see it.

Well, that got me to thinking about how I used to watch Speed Racer after school. Then, I remembered that I didn’t actually like watching Speed Racer. But my brothers and I had this policy that whoever arrived home first from school could pick the first show to be watched. After that we would all vote on the next show to be watched. If Danny arrived home first, he would watch Dark Shadows. I was the only one who didn’t like Dark Shadows. I liked comedies. After that, everyone except me voted to watch Speed Racer. I remember now! I hated watching Speed Racer! And now I was driving with my sons to see the movie version of Speed Racer at the show.  Well, it was too late to tell them that I didn’t want to see it. However, as I drove, I realized that I liked the show, but I was just upset that my three brothers had voted against me.

But back to the movie today. My sons didn’t seem too happy about going to see Speed Racer today.  Well, I wasn’t either after I recalled all the surrounding cirmcumstances. However, I was determined to have fun with my sons. So we watched the movie with mixed feelings. Once the movie started, we were captivated by the music, the story line, and all the color graphics. Plus, I snuck in a bag of authentic tortilla chips for us to eat during the movie. (I’m becoming more like my father with each passing day!) We talked about many of the movie details afterwards. We really enjoyed the movie! We were all surprised at how much better it was than we had expected. Plus, I think we all grew a little closer through this bonding experience!

More salsa


Peppers and salsa are a daily part of Mexican life.

I heard on the radio that salsa is the number one condiment in America! And I was glad to do my part to help. You see that pepper underneath this blog post? I did my part to publicize salsa over the years. So Mexico, or whoever it is who makes your salsa, can thank me whenever they have time. I’m following in my father’s footsteps. My father, who always carried a jar of salsa with him wherever he went, always had to have his salsa on everything we ate, from Burger King to Dunkin Donuts. This is such a happy moment in my life, even though I don’t eat that much salsa, thanks to my father. He always wanted me to put salsa on all my food. Once when I was about eight years old,  he made some salsa and wanted me to try it. At first, I refused. But then he told me to try a small cube of potato that he took from the salsa. He was happy when I did. But even the potato was spicy! It had absorbed the hotness of the salsa. It’s no wonder I don’t like to eat salsa very often.

My father


José Diego Rodríguez Rosiles

My father is a very unique person who has his own way of doing things. He was a factory mechanic who could work wonders with duct tape. No matter where we were, he always had some tools in his pocket. He was proud of being mechanic. If someone had some sort of mechanical problem, my father would volunteer to fix whatever needed fixing. No problem was too small for him. A squeaky door? He carried an little oil can with him. Door knob keeps falling off? My father would attach it with his tools and extra screws that he always carried with him just in case. I should write a novel about him: My Father, the Super Fix-It Handyman. Or maybe make him into a comic book superhero who can fix any problem no matter how small. My father was always fixing bicycles, skates, skateboards, and automobiles for everyone on the block. He had just enough mechanical aptitude, talent, and expertise to keep him trapped in the middle class the rest of his life. And, it turns out that I’m not much different than him, although I’ll never be able to make repairs just like my father.

When I was a boy, my father often embarrassed me. He always liked to attract attention to himself by telling jokes in his broken English. I was afraid to bring home friends when my father was home because then he would want to get in on the conversation with them and he didn’t speak English very well. So most of the converstation would involve a lot of repetition because he didn’t understand everything that was said, but he wanted to show that he was eager to learn English. It’s now forty years later and he still does this. He has never stopped trying to learn English. If I talk to him in Spanish, he still insists that I speak to him in English so he can learn English. In fact, if I talk to him in Spanish, he doesn’t understand a word I say.

Another thing about my father was that he was always so Mexican. He could just stand there silently and everyone would know that he was Mexican because he always stood there looking so Mexican. He was about 5’6″, thin, with black hair slicked back with vaselina, brown eyes, and a Cantinflas mustache. Plus, you could see the tools bulging from his pants pockets, along with a small jar of salsa or peppers, just in case.

Whenever we did something together, he would always preface it by saying that he used to that activity in Mexico when he was a boy. When we played basketball in our backyard at 4405 S. Wood Street in Back of the yards, he told us that he always played basketball with his brothers in Celaya, Guanajuato, Mexico. When I was eight, I actually thought that basketball was a Mexican sport. While playing, my father told me that once I stopped dribbling the ball, I couldn’t dribble it again. I had never heard of such a rule. I told him, “I don’t want to play the Mexican way.” Of course, I didn’t know any better at the time even though there is a rule against double dribbbing.

For breakfast, my father would prepare this concoction that he learned to make from his father in, you guessed it, Mexico. He would pour some Mogen David grape wine into a glass, put in a raw egg, and mix it up together.  He would drink the first glass to show me how it was done. Then, he would hand me a glass and I would force myself to drink it. At first I didn’t like it and I told him that I didn’t want a Mexican breakfast, but I eventually learned to like it. I also learned to eat raw eggs right out of the eggshell by poking to holes at either end of the egg. I learned from my father because this is how he ate breakfast in Mexico. This was long before I had ever heard of salmonella. I guess God does protect children and idiotas. 🙂

La Humita


The flag of Ecuador.

After the play last night, I ate at La Humita, which serves Ecuadorian cuisine, at 3466 N. Pulaski Avenue, 773.794.9672. I had never eaten Ecuadorian food, or at least I don’t really remember if I did. I ordered the pork chops and they were good. So were the vegetables. They have live music on Fridays and Saturdays and karaoke on Thursdays and Sundays. Okay, so my review is a bit terse. Now you know why I don’t write restaurant reviews. Anyway, here is their website:

www.lahumita.com

Salsa


My father loved his salsa. In fact, he always carried a jar of salsa in his coat pocket just in case of an emergency. By an emergency, I mean that rare event when we actually ate a non-Mexican house or restaurant that had never even heard of salsa, peppers, or even Tabasco sauce. My father was always at the ready with his jar of salsa. He was prepared for just about any disaster of this type. At Burger King, when they asked him if he wanted everything on his Whopper, he said, “Yes, everything. And salsa!” When they would tell him that they didn’t have salsa, he would say, “That’s okay! I brought my own!” And he would pull out his jar of salsa from his pocket. He loved watching their facial expression when they saw that he actually had a jar of salsa. Some days, he felt that one jar of salsa alone would not suffice, so he would also bring a jar of jalapeño peppers. He ate jalapeño peppers like some people eat olives.

At home, my father tried to instill in us the values of our Mexican heritage. Number one on the list was teaching us how to eat salsa or peppers at every meal with every food that we were served. We always put up an argument every time. He even wanted me to put salsa on my corn flakes once! He loved to make his own salsa, but no one else liked it, not even my mother. Once he made some salsa and I saw him put a spoonful in his mouth. He had made it extremely hot. It was too hot even for him. He drank a tall glass of water, but it took a while before he actually cooled off. Then, he offers me some. I said no, of course. But then he gave me the “What kind of Mexican are you?” speech and I felt compelled to try some of his salsa. My father had tricked me into tasting it by telling me that it wouldn’t be that spicy. I did taste it, but grudgingly. He told me to try a piece of diced potato that had been floating in the liquid of his homemade salsa jar. I think, how hot can it be? It’s just a potato. Wow! I bit into this potato and it was hotter than any jalapeño pepper I had ever tasted.

When I was growing up there were people starving all over the world, but our parish and school decided to collect alms for the starving children in Biafra. They showed us pictures of these Biafran children who were basically nothing but skin and bones with bloated stomachs. On the one hand, these children so evoked our sympathy for them that we donated our candy money to feed these starving children in Biafra. On the other hand, some boys soon forgot about the starving Biafran children and invoked the name of Biafra for other purposes. In fact, they started calling the skinniest boy in the school Biafra. Biafra, I mean the skinniest boy in the school, happened to be in my class. And whenever someone wanted to poke fun at this skinny boy, he would go up to the Biafra collection can on the nun’s desk, drop a coin in the can, and say, “This is for Biafra.” Of course, he would then take a long look at the skinniest boy in the school. I’ll never understand why the skinniest boy in the school just took it, instead of exploding and just start pounding someone. Anyway, back to my father and his salsa. Nice segue, no? Sometimes my father would cook our food and put the salsa in it while he cooked, as if we wouldn’t notice the flavor of salsa in the food. And as a diversion, he would put a big jalapeño pepper on the plate, too. One day, my brothers and I were just sitting there staring at our food on our plates. We were starving, but we couldn’t eat it. Then my father got angry at us and said, “You should be grateful you have food to eat. There are starving children in Biafra!” I said, “Well, why don’t you send the food to them?” But then I realized that no matter how hungry someone was, he or she wouldn’t eat my father’s food anyway. I tried to imagine a skinny boy in Biafra receiving my father’s care package and seeing my plate of food with a big jalapeño pepper on top of the food. How hungry would he have to be in order to eat my father’s spicy cooking? No, I never could imagine a Biafran boy eating my father’s food.

And what did I learn from all this? Well, I learned a valuable lesson that I sometimes share with my own sons. It’s part of our family tradition. So when my sons are sitting around the table complaining about the meal, sans salsa, that I cooked for them, I tell them, “You don’t know how lucky your are! There are starving children in Africa who would like to have an X-Box 360 Elite!”

Le hace falta un poco de salsa.