I crave it.
I will do anything to get it, even if it requires walking long
distances in the middle of the night: I WILL find it.
I love the way it hits my tongue, all confused and complex, and how it
feels inside of me.
It has taken over my brain.
I always walk to a corner downtown Tehuacan, Puebla, next to the cathedral, where the
most famous street corn vendors put their stalls. A few years back one
of the most successful vendor-couple got divorced, and now I don't know
who to buy from now: the woman who was scorned and probably got the
idea of doing the corn in the first place? Or the man whose famous
"Joven! Joooven!" shriek has made him famous and who sells more (which in the stree-food world almost always means they are 'damn' good?
I've tried to try all of the different stalls, but this is almost a
territorial battle. You simply can't go to another stall unless You
completely sever all ties with previous vendor. And that,
unfortunately is not so easy. I've tried alternating between all of
them: Monday for scorned woman, Tuesday for squealing man…. But it
just doesn't work; I go back to same-same.
In recent years the vendors realized that they could fry the corn with
chili, instead of only boiling it. This new process made for a more
robust bite and also a less watery snack.
It is also a deeper, smokier taste that is simply irresistible.
I always buy the fried corn. Some of its kernels are blue corn, some
are burnt black; there is always some husk pieces floating about, and
some corn-fuzz, but it doesn't matter. Sometimes you get quite a few
whole dried chilies, and most people like to eat them too. Not me,
though, I just push them into a corner.
In honor of being the gringa who will demand individuality and
uniqueness from everything I eat (thank you Starbuck's), I always ask that
the man scrape the bottom of the pan, to get all that caramelized
sweetness of the burnt corn. This isn't such a good idea when its early in the
night, because the bottom, at that time, is just oil. One time, the vendor had
already scooped the oily corn into my cup and it was too late to
complain. Yuck! But when I go late, like at 11:00 or 12:00 at night,
the bottom is sticky and heavenly.
The man scoops some corn into a styrofoam cup (I've tried taking my
own cup but he won't use it) then dollops a big hunk of mayonnaise on
top. This might sound nasty but our mayo, just like the European one
that is used on fries, is more like cream than mayo. (I love the
gigantic mayo bottles; they almost reach my knees) Then he scoops some
more corn and another hefty dollop of mayo. The cup passes to his
helpers, who ask if you want the spicy chili or the not-spicy chili.
The funny thing is that the spicy chili is inedible, and the not-spicy
chili is quite spicy. A 1/3 cup of dried fresh cheese (it sound like
they are opposites, but fresh cheese, is a type of creamy, crumbly
cheese. When it is dried, it gets saltier and adds less moisture to
the mix) goes on top. Then comes a half a lime. At the top, the blood
red, not-spicy chili.
My combo is: Fried corn from the bottom, less mayo, more cheese, less
lime, and only a small spoonful of chili. They hate how I keep
repeating the instructions, but unless they memorize it, I will
continue to repeat my order.
I always take it to go, but then they feel the need to give me a lot
more and since I have absolutely no will power, I feel the need to
consume it all. So now I've had to be very explicit and state that
even though it is to go, I still want the 80-cent portion. They get
all upset, but someday they'll understand they are helping me.
When I get home my tongue is already tingling. I like my corn shaken
not stirred. I want to feel the individual flavors, the way I mix them
in my mouth rather than my dish. I never use my own spoon, it has to
be the tiny clear plastic one they give you at the place. I don't
know, something about the way it carries just the perfect amount of
corn to your mouth, and the plastic feel just completes the
I scoop a tiny bit of the mayo with the corn; the first bite never has
chili or cheese. As it hits my tongue, I can feel the burn, the hot
and spicy and smoky flavor and I love how the mayo slides through my
cheeks, all cool and creamy. When they meet all hell breaks loose and
I honestly think that that collision represents Mexico for me. This is
not fiery, fiery Korea, nor bland USA. This is magic!
A couple of scoops down the road, I start to take some of the cheese
and the chili. The cheese's grainy texture really adds complexity. As
soon as the chili touches the tip of my tongue, I get all dizzy. It is
sparkly and shiny and it jostles my nerves. It's like when you don't
want to go into the pool because you know the water is too cold and
all your nerves are on high alert. It's the same. My body anticipates
the citrus lemon, the heat of the chili and sometimes, I don't like
it. But the moment those flavors mix with the rest, everything is
great and I'm in love again.
I have eaten one of these almost every night for the past 2 months. I
used to do it in company, you know, when Maryam or my boyfriend would
want one too. But now, I have to get my fix regardless of my social
I feel independent just walking by myself at night, with my
beautiful corn on one hand, and a look of desperation over my face.
Nobody messes with me anymore.
As I get fat with fried corn and mayo, I wonder if they put some
addictive herbs or something in that corn, cause I just can't stop