The five official meals of Mexico

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After 3 weeks of classes, I now have more than 3 tenses at my disposal, which means I have even more conjugations to run through my head as I search for the right one. We’re now in the murky world of tenses that don’t have a real equivalent tense in English, and we wrestle with the difference between a desire that may possibly be fulfilled versus a past desire that has already been thwarted. Neither tense is appropriate for the direct declaration, “I want…” There’s even a difference between asking, “What happened?” when you know there’s a definite answer, versus when you don’t. And we haven’t even gone over the subjunctive yet! The Spanish speaker’s sense of time, not to mention reality, must be so different from ours. My friend Lisa agrees; she says it’s the only explanation for why her half-Mexican husband takes 20 minutes to get out the door after announcing that he’s ready to leave.

This more complicated and possibly more nuanced view of time is carried over into meals, the Mexican conception of which differs even more from the American one than I’d previously thought. The main meal is definitely “la comida correa,” but in addition to “desayunar” (to breakfast) and “cenar” (to dine lightly late at night), there is also “almorzar” and “merendar.” “Almorazar describes the act of eating a bigger breakfast, like eggs or atole or chilaquiles, and it’s eaten around 8-10 a.m. Merendar is the act of eating a late afternoon snack, like coffee and a sweet bread, at 6-7 pm. I love that each meal deserves its own verb. It’s not good enough just to say, “I ate breakfast, I ate lunch, I ate an afternoon snack.”

So there’s no real point to this, except that I had my favorite “cenar” the other day. I only eat 3 meals a day, with an occasional popsicle in between, but my light-dinner is never a sweet bread or yogurt, as explained in my guidebook. I don’t know if it’s because Patty thinks I’m a hungry American–and given that I eat everything she gives me, she probably thinks I am. But usually, it is a big torta, or sandwich, and my favorite is bean-quesillo-avocado-tomato. I’ve raved before about Patty’s beans, but I’ll rave again. They’re black beans that have been pureed into a smooth, savory spread. She must just have some made lying around almost everyday, because I know she’s not soaking, cooking, and pureeing the beans right before “cenar.” But what a way to use leftovers! Patty combines the beans with the stringy Oaxacan cheese called “quesillo,” slices of ripe avocado and tomato, and then something spicy and creamy that I finally identified as chipotle mayonnaise.

In a week, I’ll be moving out of the homestay into my own apartment, and I’m curious to see how much I’ll maintain the Mexican pattern of meals, especially since I’ll be leaving the institutional classes of the school and switching to private one-on-one classes in the afternoon. If I keep nothing else, I just hope I can figure out some way to approximate Patty’s bean-quesillo-avocado-tomato sandwich.

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