Chicharron

Eating is a big part of travel, or at least it is for me.  When I was young, I traveled quite a bit and was very lucky to have parents who coerced me (maybe forced me) to try everything once.  I’ve carried that motto through my own travels. I will try any food item once, unless I know that doing so will actually harm me. Most of the time, this works out just fine and I get some fun stories out of it.

I was looking at one of my favorite websites today and came across a beautiful picture of Filipino Chicharron from Cherrie Moore at sweetcherriepie.com. My memories of Chicharron, however, are quite different from the heart-stopping, artery-clogging, crispy, salty snack (think really good pork rinds) enjoyed by Ms. Moore and her family.

It was Summer 2002. I was studying in Cuernavaca, Mexico, but was on a weekend trip to Oaxaca, with a brief bus stop in Puebla. You know how everyone advises against eating from local taquerias while in Mexico, because our weak American stomachs don’t have the proper flora (or fauna)? I was with a Mexican student, wandering Puebla for an hour, and decided to ignore that advice. Surprisingly, this story does not end with me experiencing the effects of Montezuma’s revenge. Instead, the problem was simply ordering.

We stood on the sidewalk in the sun and ordered through a window. There was not another gringa in sight. My Mexican friend (let’s call him…Juan) placed his order for 2 tacos de chicharrones. I had no idea what chicharrones were, so I just said I’d have the same. Juan asked me if I was sure, and the lady in the window looked at my dubiously. This should have been a warning. I plowed on, pretending I actually knew what I was doing. I don’t think I was very convincing, and the lady in the window said I could trade one of the tacos back if I didn’t like it.

Our tacos were passed through the window. The tortillas were amazing, fresh and hot. The filling was….unidentifiable, red blobs of fattiness. I later learned that chicharrones, at least in this context, are basically pork rinds stewed in a spicy, red sauce. All eyes were on me; the locals seemed to be wondering if I would make it through two of these tacos. I suspect I was the first gringa to order the tacos de chicharrones. I noticed the eyes, but picked up the taco and took my first bite. It was INCREDIBLY spicy. And squishy, and slimy, with a little bit of toughness that made it difficult to chew. Did I mention that this was basically pork fat and skin? Tears came to my eyes with the effort of keeping my gag reflex in check, and sweat broke out on my forehead from the spiciness.

After I made it through one taco, I traded the second one in to the kitchen for something a little less adventurous. My motto is “try anything once” not “punish myself by eating something I don’t like.” I think I gained a measure of respect for eating one whole taco, and they happily obliged me. To be honest, I don’t remember the other taco I ate (although I’m sure it was quite good)–I only remember the taco that I conquered!

We got back on the bus and continued the trip to Oaxaca. More on that another time (hint: I ate more weird things).

Penelope

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