2455 Imperial Avenue, Logan Heights
Ma Eugenia would hear the cry every year.
It was the cry of Don Miguel Gregorio Antonio Ignacio Hidalgo-Costilla y Gallaga Mandarte Villaseñor.
Okay, Father Hidalgo to you and me. He gave that famous cry that launched the Mexican struggle for independence from Spain.
In Dolores, Mexico, September 16th, 1810.
His was the cry like Patrick Henry's "Give me liberty or give me death!"
"We'd hear it every year in the Plaza Melchor Ocampo, in our town of Morelia, Michoacán," says Ma Eugenia's son, Alfredo.
They'd hear it the because the city's main plaza was where Eugenia had her food stand. She would hear the cries as she cooked and sold the foods of the patriótico fiesta. The tacos dorados, chiles rellenos, and other foods special to days of national celebration.
So hey, this being the week of *El Grito," I'm up here at 25th and Imperial looking for Mexican celebration foods, and had to stop in at Ma Eugenia's (2455 Imperial Avenue, Sherman Heights). Because Alfredo and his Ma and his wife (both named Eugenia) do the real thing. Just the same food as she cooked in the Plaza back in Morelio.
I see chafing dishes bubbling with everything from pig skins to cactus paddles to Poblano chiles stuffed with mozzarella cheese. "We would have all of these on celebration days," says Ma Eugenia.
I have a jamaica ($1.79), the red juice of the hibiscus flower that's often used in celebrations Alfredo says, and is also incredibly good for you, loaded with antioxidants. And then I go for the chile rellenos plus a small pile of fried pork skins, chicharones, in salsa verde ($7.50).
Eugenia cooks me up some fresh corn tortillas and brings them to the table in a closed round box along with my "Grito!" dinner.
First thing you notice on the plate is the big poblano chile pod, golden in its egg batter.
You cut it open, and there inside is the oozy cheese and the green skin of the pepper. Dang, it's tender and delicious.
But so are the chicharones. Their salsa verde is light, but prickly hot. I risk scalding my hand to haul out a corn tortilla and wrap some of the rice and frijoles that also fill the plate.
As I eat, Alfredo tells me how his ma came up single-handedly to the States, back in 1988, after his brother was killed, and funeral costs ruined her tender finances. She has never been back. But now, 25 years later, she has made a life for her family here, cooking exactly what she used to cook in Morelio's town square, on days when the crowds all around would be shouting the Grito.