I’m tired of Mexican food. It became unavoidably obvious during Mimi and Alex’s visit, as I tried to show off Oaxaca’s culinary highlights. Until they had come, I’d been punctuating my big Mexican comidas with a simple pasta for dinner or even just a slice of wheat toast spread with peanut butter. But as we ate beautifully light tamales, the best fried pork in the world, steaming bowls of pozole, mole negro of course, an unbelievable dish of chicken stuffed with plantains in a guava-chile mole sauce, another unbelievable Biznaga creation of chicken in a chile poblano sauce, even simply cooked fish and octopus, one after the other, something in me rebelled.
I knew I had reached some desperate point when my body steered me towards 100% Natural, a self-described “healthy” restaurant on the south side of El Llano. My friend Lisa had told me about this place months ago, and how much she loved it, but since Lisa is allergic to my top ten favorite things to eat, I didn’t rush off to try the food there. But suddenly, I felt almost pregnant, like my body had cravings I couldn’t control. I had to eat something that wasn’t, well, special. As we walked there, I kept apologizing to Mimi and Alex in advance. I had the awesome responsibility of making sure they ate well in Oaxaca, and what was I doing?
As we waited for our menus, the informational cards on the table describing 100% Natural’s philosophy and advice for healthy living seemed to confirm my worst fears. “They tell you to eat lightly for breakfast, lightly for lunch, and then lightly for dinner! When are you supposed to eat?” I giggled as I read out loud the advice for how to get ready for bed, which included the suggestion that if you do not have the energy for intimate relations with your partner, you should say goodnight through loving words and kind caresses. Maybe you’d want more sex if you weren’t so weak from fasting! But it wasn’t really funny. There was a real chance the food would be seriously undersalted, especially since I didn’t see any salt on the table.
There were two menus, one full of fruity and veggie drinks to which you could add a shot of wheatgrass or yeast or whatever else health-food people like to drink. I didn’t look at it too closely, though I was very happy with my big goblet full of agua de jamaica, which is hibiscus flower, combined with watermelon juice.
The other menu listed many, many food items, and believe it or not, there were several dishes that appealed to me. I thought about getting Mexican-flavored health food, whole-grain tortillas made into enchiladadas or chilaquiles, but I couldn’t deny that my heart was drawn to a dish that containing tofu, bean sprouts, broccoli, and sesame pasta. I couldn’t stop thinking about the tofu, even as I wondered what kind of tofu could possibly be available in Mexico, even as I knew I was violating every rule of ordering in foreign countries. Tourists who eat sushi in Mexico deserve to eat bad sushi.
The anticipation and the fear were abated a bit by the bread basket that arrived soon after we put in our orders. There was, not surprisingly, no butter, but there were three little ramekins filled with a green salsa, a tangy white cream sauce, and pickled vegetables. The bread, also, was excellent. It was moist and tender, wheaty and flavorful, with a real crust to contrast to its soft crumb.
And then the food arrived. Mimi was happy with her shrimp, Alex with his turkey sandwich, and I, I was thrilled with my tofu-sesame spaghetti. It did need a little salt, and luckily, it turned out the big shaker on the table full of something that smelled nutty was actually sesame salt. The tofu, however, had been marinated generously, and the broccoli and other vegetables were cooked not too long, not too short, just right. The pasta, gracias a Dios, was almost al dente.
I turned to Mimi and Alex and bestowed the best compliment I could: “I think I would eat here again.”