Hanging out at Cuenca’s food carts

Oct 6, 2018

I can still vividly recall how much fun I had as a kid when the family would vacation in Mexico. I always loved it.

The women wore flowing skirts and embroidered white cotton blouses that seemed to sashay on the slightest breeze, while mustachioed men in tight-fitting sharp suits swirled as on glass to vibrant, brassy, country music of the most romantic sort.

The sidewalks tumbled over an astonishing array of artisan crafts displayed in makeshift stands. The sometimes poetic, but always emotional murals throughout the city thrilled me as no place had ever done, and rivaled all that I read of Ali Baba or Sinbad and the exotic places they visited.

One of my favorite and most enjoyable moments was watching vendors splashing the street with buckets of water before setting up their carts and preparing grilled foods for passers-by. They wanted to settle the dust.

Soon, the recurring stream of customers drifted by snatching up skewers of delicious foods, the flavors matching a community in touch with the flow of her citizens, and a citizenry in touch with the contours and of their town. Although I did not recognize the value these carts played in the community social life at the time, I do now, and thankfully so.

Now that I am settled in Cuenca it is the romance of our carts that entice me. I love to join my neighbors for freshly grilled chicken skewers and a roasted plantain with queso fresco. I savor occasionally taking a break from my evening at home long enough to stroll down the street joining couples and groups of friends who stop to have a skewer, or two, and catch up on the latest street side gossip.

Occasionally, a car will pull to the curb, backed by a squall of honking horns accompanying rustling paper bags absorbing oil and herbs as the vendor packs food for a hungry family. Soon, they will all be home, swarming the blue glow of a television, plates on knees, drinks in hand. In a moment they will all be swept away into a grand story, but first, they are awarded a twilight room lightly scented with charcoal, herbs, and rainwater.

Lucky me, my entertainment rolled in on the smoky breeze announcing good food and great times to come on the street. There is no need for me to hurry because my favorite program is already playing right before my eyes, and that includes my next stop — a dessert of fresh fruit served from a wheelbarrow, or perhaps a small bag of lightly roasted nuts, just warm to the touch, served in a simple paper cone, just as I remember them when I was a young boy in Mexico so many years before.

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