Sunday, July 16, 2006

The Best Cheese Sandwich I Ever Ate

I was thinking about when I went on a few travel trips while in college (and through the college) recently, and especially about one of the trips I took to the Yucatan region of southern Mexico. We had toured almost all of the major archeological sites, the Mayan pryamids, passed through little Indian villages, and basically had a very wonderful time. One place we visited was called Agua Azul, or more properly, Cascadas De Agua Azul, a limestone waterfall formation with a series of descending little waterfalls; with aquamarine waters cascading over the limestone deposits under the water. A very beautiful natural geological formation, and a favorite tourist spot not only for the extranjeros and turistas, but well visited by the local and regional populace as well. I remember a little Indian boy who was hanging around the waterfalls, maybe about 6-7 yrs. old, who posed for a picture with me, and who wore the most ragged, torn, holiest shirt you could ever imagine. It didn't even serve as much of a shirt really, but more of a rag he must have pulled over his head when he put it on. It was so completely useless and unfunctional, that I eventually realized that that was the point; he was out there hustling money from the tourists (as probably part of a family business/enterprise of some sort most likely), and he needed to look as pitiful as possible. He really was a healthy looking kid, and the combination of this picture of health with the uber-ragged shirt on didn't initially add up. But I figured it out eventually, and of course gave him a little money. The kid was probably pulling in a decent little sum each day for the family, and he really was an engaging, humorous little kid, from what I can recall.

Our tour leader/professor was very good at making ad hoc arrangements for things for us to eat on the fly, having been on this travel circuit each year for many years previously, and knowing local people in many of the regional areas in which we visited. I saw him working a deal with one or two of the locals, and within an hour or so a bunch of sandwiches were laid out on a large table under a tent canopy. When I got a little closer I could see they were some sort of cheese sandwiches, which really didn't exite me too much, having hoped perhaps for something a little more exciting, perhaps a little more Mexican. But I think that these simple sandwiches were in fact Mexican, and also something I'd never had before. The bread was a very fresh French-loaf like bread, with a crumbly brown crust, and and an interior that seemed like it must have been baked only a few hours before. And the cheese, oh yes the cheese, was a very thick slab of some feta-like crumbly cheese, very much like feta except perhaps not quite as sharp in taste (and it may have been feta). Knowing from previous experience that much of what we ate on the road came right off of the land itself, I imagined that this must be goat cheese, or something, but I never found out exactly what it was, to my everlasting regret. That was it, nothing on them, just a series of sandwiches of the freshest bread imaginable, direct from some stone oven somewhere, and a block of white cheese like I had never had before. I ate one, and I knew that I would have another, and then another, and another still. Now, I am not really the type of person to eat all of the food at the table; I'll leave the last slice of pizza for someone else, or the last brownie, or the last cookie. But not on this day. I just did not care. I'd take two sandwiches and wander off alone, like a wolf, devouring these Mexican delicacies (which were probably just regular 'ol sandwiches to the locals), and then I'd circle back around that table and take a few more, trotting off to sit on a hill on my haunches and eat this heavenly food. I circled back again and again, and with only maybe one small sandwich left on the table, I quickly and surreptitiously took off with the last one, and devoured that one too.

To this day, I still dream of those sandwiches. Who made them? What were they made of? Where can I get another one. I've even thought of contacting that professor, engaging in a little small talk, and then asking if he knew anything, anything at all, about those sandwiches, and how to get more. So much of the food of the world which we enjoy so much, is really nothing more than peasant food. The food of Mexico: rice, beans, tortillas, tamales. Italian food is really just food from the countryside; pasta, eggplant, breads. Chinese food; rice, bean sprouts, water chestnuts, pork, beef and spices. Even foods of the American South, like chicken fried steak, I remember a female coworker from Tennessee telling me one time, was basically just the lesser cuts of a chicken, breaded and seasoned, and she marvelled at how people from other parts of the country made such a big deal over something that was basically just the "common" food of her region. And who would of ever thought that the best cheese sandwiches in the world came from Chiapas, Mexico, the home of the Zapatista rebellion and the Mayan Indian struggle for self-determination?

I would seriously consider joining Subcommandante Marcos and the Zapatista movement, if they would just pay me in those amazing cheese sandwiches.


Blogger Colleen said...

I have no problem with that...just don't be cheesy and get a motorcycle and try and be like Che.

ooo...I made a pun.

8:06 AM  
Blogger GC (God's Child) said...

Now I'm hungry.

9:26 AM  
Blogger Frank said...

I did see "The Motorcycle Diaries". Pretty good movie, except for the lack of any cheese sandwiches. Did you know that "Che" was really short for "cheese"? That's my theory, at least.

Sorry for my description of those "scrumptrilescent" sandwiches, GC. Now I'm hungry too!

10:55 PM  
Blogger willowtree said...

Frank, youre like the Jay Peterman of food description. I heard his voice when reading your description. Haha.
It's true about common food to you being exquisite to someone else, that's one of the things that makes life so interesting.

8:44 AM  
Blogger Frank said...

"Roaming through the jungle, in my khaki/suede 8-pocket survival vest ($299), I approach a clearing, where it is said that the legendary cheese sandwiches of Chiapas are made..."


12:29 PM  
Blogger Åñèè§å said...

hey frank my url has changed to

just thought i'd let all my blog roll ppl know

1:50 PM  
Blogger willowtree said...

Hey Frank,
Isnt today your birthday? If not isnt your birthday around now? I think so. Happy Birthday! Don't fall down the hill like I did.

4:54 AM  
Blogger Frank said...

Today (July 27) is my birthday! That's amazing that you remembered that. Thanks for remembering! If I remember right, yours is in the first part of August (I don't think I knew the exact day). Happy Upcoming Birthday to you too!

What does that mean about not falling down the hill? I am glad to say I have not fallen for at least a month now, since my "soccer incident".

4:01 PM  
Blogger willowtree said...

You know when they say youre "over the hill", yes, well I fell down the hill :).
You remembered that bday is the start of Aug, so it's just right I remember your bday too. My bday is next week. Maybe that's my issue. Birthday Blues. Hehe, hope you had a good one.

6:54 PM  

Post a Comment

<< Home