My biggest fear coming to Oaxaca wasn’t theft or machismo or diarrhea. My biggest fear was hunger. Of course, I knew there would be fantastic food in Oaxaca. But my friends who had spent a lot of time in Latin America warned me that the Latino eating schedule would leave me with hunger pangs clawing at my gut like a wild animal. The schedule set by the language school reflected the way Mexicans eat: a light meal for breakfast around 8 am, the biggest meal of the day at 2 or 3 pm, and then a light snack for dinner at 9. For a girl who gets hungry every two hours—and eats every two hours—it was a frightening prospect.
Leslie recommended that I fill a suitcase with Powerbars, Lina told me to be prepared for restaurants and even street vendors being open only at certain times. So along with my sunscreen and my Spanish-English dictionary, I duly packed a box of Kashi peanut butter bars, and a bag of almonds and a bag of chocolate-covered pretzels from Sahadi’s. I figured these would tide me over until I managed to figure out where I could buy and hoard food for those hungry moments between meals.
But I’m not hungry! I haven’t felt serious, decapitating hunger once since I got here.
For the first two days, I packed a snack to take to school. I picked at my snack each morning, but I wasn’t really hungry and I skipped it with no problem on Wednesday. Sure, I eat an enormous plate of fruit and yogurt for breakfast everyday, but at home, I can be hungry an hour after eating two fried eggs and a bagel.
By the time I have my lunch at 2:30, I’m pleased to be eating but not desperate. The other day, I ate a “paleta de cajeta” right after class, but more for fun than hunger. “Cajeta” is dulce de leche, but made out of goat milk. How fantastic is that?
Lunch is never a sandwich or a taco. There’s always soup, with a homemade salsa always on the table. Then there’s a plate of meat and starch, like chilaquiles or rice, with maybe some beans or vegetables, including vegetables I’ve never tried before, like chayote. The homemade salsa is serious stuff, intense heat that isn’t cut by sugar or salt. I like to put it on everything.
And then, between lunch and dinner, I’m not hungry at all. Some days, I don’t even want another meal! I don’t mean to make such a big deal out of my lack of hunger, but seriously, it’s a completely alien feeling. Yesterday, after drinking so much chocolate in cooking class, all I wanted was to eat elote (corn) in the park. The corn here is different from American sweet corn, and more like Korean corn, with firmly separate kernels that pull away easily from the cob. Luckily, I like it “con todo,” since I don’t know the words for all the garnishes: lime juice, salt, mayonnaise, cheese, and chili powder. I ate it while watching Mexican skateboarders—isn’t it amazing how skaters have the same vibe all over the world?
It makes me wonder how much of my hunger in my regular world is the result of boredom, if I needed my stash of nuts and cookies in my drawers at work as much as I needed to read celebrity gossip blogs. I haven’t even craved a drink. Maybe this is what my body would want if I didn’t ever have to work again.