Sunday, September 03, 2006

The Flavors of San Miguel de Allende

There are many wonderful restaurants in San Miguel de Allende, that marvelous Colonial city nestled in the Guanajuato mountains north of Mexico City. But my favorite is the one owned by Dona Meche, with its cracked linoleum floors, its stone archways and its comal (a flat griddle), set in the front entrance so that people walking by can watch Meche pat masa harina, the flour often used to make tortillas, into circles and then fry them as customers make their selection of fillings displayed in the glass covered cases in the crowded entranceway. El Comal de Dona Meche is not the most sophisticated restaurant in this town where Americans and Canadians account for one out of every eight residents, but the food, simple and true, reflects the best of traditional Mexican cuisine.
Here, on Insurgentes Avenue, not too far from El Jardin Principal, the town square where jaracunda trees bloom, vendors come to sell their wares and even the occasional burro makes its way down the cobblestone street, Meche specializes in gorditas, fried masa stuffed with a variety of fillings including chicken with cactus and potatoes; grilled poblano peppers with mushrooms and cheese and picadillo mixed with green beans, carrots and puréed tomatoes.
For ten pesos (approximately a dollar), Meche takes a cooked gordita from her comal and cuts a deep pocket into the middle before filling the center with one of the many mixtures that sit in large ceramic bowls. A glass of Jamaica (hibiscus flower tea), horachata (rice water) or guava juice costs another five pesos. The flavors of the fillings are intense, the softness of the gordita melding the taste into a one of a kind treat.
El Comal de Dona Meche is proof that despite the influx of North Americans, San Miguel has retained the charm of a true Mexican city.
But surviving invasions is nothing new. In the early 1800s, the whole state of Guanajuato was a tinderbox of rebellion against the harsh rule of the Europeans. Indeed, Ignacio Allende, who was born in San Miguel, would go on to become a revolutionary hero and his name would be added to the town’s name. For those who have eaten their fill of Meche’s gorditas, a quick tour of the town is a way to walk off those delicious calories and gain an understanding of the town’s culture and history. The Cuna de Allende, located across from the main square, was the home of Allende and is now a museum featuring exhibits from his life and his battle against tyranny. The muted yellow of the walls, the charming courtyard, the quietness of the adobe rooms attest to a man who eschewed violence and worshipped wisdom until events forced him into
saving his country.
Just a few steps away is the pink Gothic style Parroquia de San Miguel Arcángel, a cathedral whose roots date back to the 1600s. On the day I am there, a marriage is taking place and the sense of community as people arrive to attend the ceremony and townspeople and visitors just stopping by to look creates a sense of tradition and respect, make it apparent why so many Americans choose to live here.
Just kitty corned from the church, underneath the arched colonnade along Calle Hidalgo, take a stroll among the young girls and older women who sit in front of large baskets of blooms, shaping them into sweet smelling bouquets.
For shoppers, there are many stores, many of them selling upscale pottery, clothing and home furnishings, near the downtown plaza. But its worth walking the extra blocks to the Artes de Mexico on Calzado Aurora, a vast open air, multi level market place selling ceramics, iron works, local art, clothing, jewelry and home furnishings at a much better price.
And for those who want a sense of architecture, there is nothing better than wandering the narrow streets, gazing at wrought iron balconies with window boxes overflowing with blossoms and heavily carved wooden doors some of which date back to when the town was first founded almost five centuries ago.

1 comment:

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