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Sardine Taco: Tlacolula, Baja California

Written by  Dean Moran
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Sardine Taco Tlacoula, Baja California

The early morning chill turned to a dry heat as the sun rose lazily above the distant bluffs. We passed agave fields at high speeds while simultaneously dodging boney highway dogs. My surroundings reminded me of past years spent in the desert, but unfazed by the arid landscape, I was distracted by the days plans. The town of Tlacoula appeared on the horizon. We skipped breakfast because we knew what lay ahead. My backpack was empty, anxious to be filled, similar to the situation with my stomach. We came here the previous week not knowing what to expect, but this time around, we arrived prepared. After several months of living out of the Tacoma (the Taco), experiencing Mexico in its raw form, I am reminded that experiences like the market in Tlacoula, makes this lifestyle all the more rewarding.   

 

 

We drove the Taco from Jersey to the South of Mexico and we were deep in the country. It is times like these when we are stoked that we quit our jobs in NYC for a life on the road. It is just a small reward for choosing the road less traveled. We arrived here by chance, a tip from a native. This is not the Mexico you see in travel brochures, this is not a tourist attraction. This is a market where locals buy from locals. They sell fresh produce from nearby farms, animals can be purchased either dead or alive, and the mounds of spices on display resembled miniature mountain ranges. We came for the food, but they sell everything here. Handmade machetes with handle of bone, freshly weaved clothing that has been made the same way for centuries, hand knocked pots and pans large enough to cook for herds of hungry citizens, and the list goes on. You get the idea. 

 

We swiftly walked past the nonfood vendors and spotted several smoking stew pots as large as beer kegs. An elderly Mexican woman extended her skeletal hand and placed goat meat in my mouth while I stared at the dusty wrinkles on her brown weathered face. If this happened in the states I might have slapped the hand of meat and retreated into the crowd, but I was in Southern Mexico, out of my element, and gladly accept the tender goat that melts in my mouth. We sat at her table and ordered two. Two what? (While travelingand buying street food, I sometimes know what Im ordering. Most venders specialize in a particular dish so I will order one. I then address the situation once I am served. It is always a success.) The elderly woman brought us each two tacos and a bowl of birria (goat meat stew served with onions and tortillas.) My wife Sara, claimed these were the best tacos to date. She might have been right, so I raised my eyebrows and gave a nod of agreement. After I traded Sara half of my last taco for the rest of her birria we kept moving through the crowd, satisfied and ready for the next. 

 

We mazed through the area where unrefrigerated meat sat openly on display. I had starring contests with decapitated pig heads, but they always seemed to win. Oil drums converted to grills fired amongst the crowd, because one might want to cook freshly purchased fare. I purchased a thinly sliced piece of marinated cow and lathe red meat on the makeshift hot grill. I cooked to perfection, while observing a complete disregard to any sanitation standards that USAers might take for granted. The beef was salty and satisfying, hitting the spot. 

 

The vendors are indigenous Mexicans wearing traditional clothing. They have corrugated skin from a lifetime of work. An old round woman, draped in colorful garb, was hunched over as she shuffled our way. Missing several teeth she smiled and extended her bag full of eggs in hope we would buy them. Her face and squinted eyes told a story. I denied the eggs, fearing they would break in my bag, then Sara stepped over me and purchased some. It was hard to say no to the woman, as well as my wife. We moved on.

 

Getting lost in the market your exposed to fruits and veggies, or any number of foreign treats that  exist in the states. Free samples are encouraged with hopes of a sale. It was here where I tasted chapulines (dried grasshoppers with chile powder) for the first time. Large mounds of chapulines sat on display. The woman manning the stand, hands one to me. It is crunchy, salty, spicy only comparable to popcorn, and along side a beer its a splendid afternoon treat. Salted fish, animal innards, gutted and plucked chickens lay on their backs with their feet pointed to the sky like a group suburban moms at their weekly yoga class. 

 

You need to be careful, you can overfill your backpack. Only buy what you can eat. Its hard when 10 pounds of food cost as much as a handful of avocados back in New Jersey. In this part of Mexico eating is cheap, and drinking is fun.  success but my shoulders are sore from a heavy pack on my back. We exit the market headed back to the truck, but not without a bottle of local mezcal with a scorpion sunk to the bottom. Before we caravan South we take a shot of the clear alcoholic liquid to celebrate the days splendor.

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    • latitude: 16.89806
    • longitude: -96.41417
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