Carlos chooses my $1 lunch
1015 25th Street, San Diego
Can a feller fill a belly for a dollar in this town?
Just ask Carlos. That’s what I did, because that’s all I had. Exactly one Washington in the pocket, eaten nothing all day, had to last three more hours.
I was up here in Golden Hill. Thought my goose was cooked on this one, as you might say. But I noticed a little lean-to shop at the end of a strip mall at 25th and Broadway. It has a sloping tile roof and a hot dog place attached which is closed.
Carlos has had his fruit stand for 24 years
But in the main stall I saw two things: bunch of fruits, loads of sodas, and Carlos Negrete. I remembered he’d helped me out once before when I’d been light on the lettuce.
“What can I get to eat for a dollar?” I ask. “I mean something to fill me.” It helps to have a little Spanish with Carlos. He’s been here 25 years, he says, but mostly sticks to la idioma. He looks over his display. It’s mostly fruit, with some interesting veggies like guaje, which is long flat seed pods with flat pip seeds in them. “It’s from southern Mexico,” he says. “It’s basically for cooking with pork, or for making a salsa, but you can also peel the seeds out raw and just put salt on them. Here.”
He peels back the end of a foot-long pod. I pick out two or three seeds and start chewing. Hmm. Tastes like a cactus paddle, maybe, or a mint-like herb he brings out and rubs in his finger. He says it’s called epazote which means “skunk” in Nahuatl (the language of the Aztecs), because it smells so strongly. Goes great with, like, black beans. They say it’s great for reducing their gassy effects, too.
“So how much for the guaje,” I ask.
“You could buy 1/3rd of a pound for $1. That would be a lot of guaje,” he says.
That’s the thing here. Carlos has been here 24 years and has all kinds of interesting herbs and veggies and fruit, right here on the sidewalk. I can see strange-shaped melons, nectarines, grapes, peanuts in their shells, mangos, peaches. “Any of these would keep you going for a while,” he says. Hmm. Peanuts, but all that cracking. Mangos I love, but the mess.
“Here,” he says. “One dollar.”
He’s holding a nice, big, red nectarine in one hand and a banana in the other.
Deal. Mmm. Nectarine’s luscious, and the banana palliates the taste.
So yeah, sticky fingers but full stomach, at least for the moment. Plus I’ve learned so much. Mostly about how much I don’t know about Mexican food.
Next time, a dollar’s worth of guaje.