I couldn’t believe it came out of Don Day’s Wife’s mouth.
It wasn’t like I hadn’t heard the word before. Just not in such a personal way. Or quite in that context.
I thought I knew what the word meant. I thought it had something to do with a government getting rid of some troublesome members of their party. Or maybe what happens when you drink tap water in Acapulco.
What Don Day’s Wife was doing was telling me to do though was to get rid of the most precious and personal things in my possession. She was telling me to P-U-R-G-E.
No more collection of Mamie Van Doren posters. They must be purged. No more cigar store Indian. Chief Two Trees must be purged. Game over for my fifties pinball machine. It must be purged. No more Hawaiian shirts filling two separate closets. All had to be purged. No more memorabilia from the actress that got me suspended from high school. Everything, absolutely everything, was to be purged.
You see, we were downsizing because it’s apparently “absolutely stupid to have a house this big in Toronto when we spend half of our life in Mexico.” And downsize has, unfortunately, now become almost a synonym for purge.
I needed an escape for lunch. Somewhere in San Miguel that had been untouched by the word purge. Somewhere that, since I began seriously collecting anything and everything, since about the time that actress got me suspended from high school…it was Jayne Mansfield by the way…they had not gotten rid of anything in their possession. Untouched. Unpurged!
Dick Brinson and I were getting together for lunch.
“How about La Alborada?”, I said. “It’s only a couple of blocks away.”
“For pozole?”, said Dick.
“For sure”, I said.
Ceneduria La Alborada has always been the go to place in San Miguel de Allende for pozole. Even though it serves a lot of other Mexican specialties, including cecina and menudo, I personally find it impossible to order anything else, especially seeing it’s where I lost my pozole virginity.
Though it could probably hold 50, maybe 60 people when full, I don’t think I’ve ever seen more than five maybe six people in La Alborada. Which is a shame. Because they’re not only missing some of the most authentic cuisine in central Mexico, they’re missing some of the most typical Mexican restaurant decor. Including walls that have never heard the word purge or its Spanish equivalent, purga.
Dick and I ordered a margarita and while Dick’s eyes perused the menu, mine wandered over the walls.
Eating at La Alborada is like being in one of those Fifties black and white Westerns where every shelf in the Cantina is overflowing. Where every wall has at least one photo of Cantinflas or that Marilyn calendar.
On the wall behind where I was sat in La Alborada and staring back at Dick in the face, there was a shrine. A shrine not to Saint Michael. Or the virgin of Guadelupe. Though of course they’re represented in other parts of the restaurant. As, not far away, are the obligatory black and whites of Pedro Infante and Dolores Del Rio.
The wall is a tribute to Jose Alfredo Jiminez. And no, this is not the Jose Jiminez played by Bill Dana on The Steve Allen Show (difficult to type that without doing a “My name is…” impression at the same time). Jose Alfredo Jiminez is perhaps Mexico’s most treasured mariachi singer who hailed from Dolores Hidalgo, a town very close to San Miguel de Allende.
Until I went to La Alborada and saw that wall of eight by ten glossies, I must admit that I’d never heard of Jose Alfredo Jiminez but thanks to YouTube, I can listen to him while I write this blog. And while I listen, I can think of all those eight by ten glossies of Jayne I now have to purge (I have never ever brought Don Day’s Wife with me to La Alborada by the way as I’m afraid she’d start straightening the photos).
The essential trimmings for La Alborada‘s pozole were paraded to the table. The chopped lettuce. The powdered chiles. The dried oregano. The quartered limes. The slivers of onion. And the radishes, the one addition that never seems very Mexican, even though I know that December 23 is celebrated in Mexico as The Night of the Radishes (yes, really).
While we awaited the arrival of the bountiful bowls of broth, I looked at the light coming in the window and casting an eerie glow over the sill of skulls. Somehow they seemed appropriate as I thought of the origins of pozole.
Pozole is basically a pork and corn soup or stew but it has many variations and the original version had an ingredient that is absolutely impossible to find in any San Miguel de Allende butcher shop. Pozole (sometimes posole, pozxole or pozolli) is mentioned in General History of the Things of New Spain written around 1500 by Fray Bernandino de Sahagun.
Fray Bernandino describes a feast where, in tribute to the god Xipe, Emperor Moctezuma (and yes, despite the way it was spelled in our Grade 7 history book, that’s the more correct way of spelling his name) was served a huge pot of pozole topped with the thigh of a prisoner who had been slaughtered by tearing his heart out in a ritual sacrifice. After the Spanish conquest, when cannibalism was banned, pozole con carne humana soon became pozole con carne cerdo as, according to a Spanish priest again, pork tasted “quite similar” to human flesh. The corn in pozole is also historically significant because ancient Mexicans believed that the gods created humans from cornmeal dough.
Pozole traditionally includes a large kerneled white corn called cacahuazintle (no, I’m not sure how to pronounce it either) that is boiled in a solution containing slaked lime (calcium hydroxide) for a couple of hours until the outside husks are freed and a frothy stew is left. Alternatively, you can put the lime in your margaritas (yes, I’m kidding) and simply do like Don Day’s Wife and go to Bonanza and buy your hominy (the common English term for the corn) in plastic bags or cans. You might even agree with me and think the stuff in bags is just as good.
I should point out though that other stuff in bags, like photographs that include ex-wives, are not good. And must be purged.
La Alborada serves a red pozole, colored and flavored with guajillo chiles and available with either pork or chicken. I prefer the pork but that may have something to do with never having tried the chicken. Dick ordered the pork as well.
“They don’t skimp on the meat”, said Dick. “This is really hearty.”
La Alborada doesn’t skimp on the broth either. It’s a very large, rich and flavorful bowl. Which is a bit of a shame because it doesn’t leave room to try anything else on the menu.
We couldn’t leave the restaurant without wandering through the back room and checking out things like the cupboard of old liquor bottles and other assorted treasures. Yes there are a lot fewer liquor bottles than my collection of miniatures that has to be purged from the Toronto house but at least most of mine are still full and will be purged with a smile.
And if you’re wondering how Jayne Mansfield got me suspended from high school, let me take you back to November 21, 1960 and the town of Hamilton, Ontario, Canada. The new city hall was being officially opened and who could be more appropriate to bring in and cut the ribbon in this blue collar town than the “working man’s Monroe”. I convinced my friend Freddie Troxell that this was an event of epic proportions or at least Jayne’s attributes were of epic proportions and definitely worthy of giving up that afternoon’s attendance at Delta Secondary. It was unfortunately also the day that someone decided to break into and rob the school safe at lunchtime and, when the powers that be determined that two of the more mischievous students were there in the morning and AWOL in the afternoon, we were obviously not presumed innocent.
As Dick and I walked through the courtyard crammed with Coca Cola collectibles, with that warm glow that only pozole washed down with tequila can give you, we passed a sign advertising Lucky Strikes and their slogan LSMFT. I remembered how the lovely or talented Jayne smoked hers in a holder and how she asked me that day how I would like my eight by ten glossy signed. Me, in my middle teens and still a virgin (and I don’t mean pozole virgin), just stood there with my knees buckling. She signed it “With Love, Jayne Mansfield”. Now I know I have to purge most of my Mansfield memorabilia but do you really think I should have to part with something as precious to me as that?
Ceneduria La Alborada is located at Calle Sollano 11 in San Miguel de Allende, Mexico. They are open every day but Sunday from 1:00 to 11:00 pm.