Jeff Smith 6 p.m., Feb. 27
Tijuana: The Purse in the Ball
I walk into the hall in the ball.
Cecut. Centro Cultural, Tijuana. Around 8.30 at night.
And man! You come in like you’re entering the sun itself. I mean some architect’s done something original for once. Beam me in, Scottie!
Up some steps and into the great hall where the I-Max theater is.
But I’m looking for something else original.
It’s black mold in a purse, believe it or not.
Café Cecut por La Diferencia (Cultural Center Café, by La Diferencia, a well-known group of eateries down here, in the Cecut, Paseo de Los Heroes, No. 9350, Zona Urbana Rio, 011 52.664.687-9600 x 9521).
Actually it’s a kinda modest place, woody, glassy, middle-classy like you see in museums everywhere, with yellow umbrellas and tables on the hallway “sidewalk,” but the main space a, like, see-through box.
All the walls are 100 percent glass. When you’re inside, you feel like you’re still in the museum halls, with its modern Mexican art paintings.
Pedro Trujillo the counter guy...
and the cook, Marilyn...
...are hanging out when I come in. Right now, with the iMax thing in full swing, it’s pretty-much empty here, except for a couple of museum guards in the hallways.
I check the menu...
...and yes! Crepas con huitlacoche. Crêpes stuffed with that black mold that grows on the stalks of cornplants.
Man, I didn’t expect to find this anyplace other than Mercado Hidalgo (the big beautiful street market nearby with all things from deep down in the mainland, where I first learned to love this stuff), but here it is, a crêpe packed with the mold they call black gold.
Farmers up in El Norte scrub the stuff off like it was the black mold in their baths.
But the Aztecs and Maya, and everybody from the land that gave the world hot peppers, tomatoes, potatoes, corn itself – central America – knew better. Good tasty savory stuff!
So I order a coffee ($1) and a plate of crepas huitlacoche, 45 pesos. Let’s say $3.50. Marilyn takes quite a while to prepare it. While she does, I look at some of the paintings around. Sharp, abstract, not afraid of color.
Very Mexican I’d say.
Then she comes out with a plate with – wow – two little purses, gathered and tied by cilantro, looks like. She has done this instead of the usual fold-over crêpe thing you get everywhere else.
Original! Just like the whole building we’re in.
The two crêpes sit in a creamy sea. Marilyn says it’s basically cream, milk, spices and garlic. Big pleasure in busting into the purse with your teeth...
...and getting the flood of earthy lava. It tastes earthy, sort of like mushrooms but stronger, and it's mixed with corn and onions and delivers a sharp tang on the back of your tongue.
’Course my Gringo mind starts romanticizing, thinking of all those Aztec warriors eating this stuff on the islands of Tenochtitlán 500 years ago.
What I also like is that this is a piece of the other Tijuana, beyond the street dogs and quesadillas. Like, beyond the cliché. But not beyond those basic prices.
I tell you, this sister city is full of surprises.
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