It was three years ago when I first heard about them. It was in a post by Dan Myers on The Daily Meal called “12 Life-Changing Sandwiches You’ve Never Heard Of”. There, amongst the wonders of the world, was one from Mexico. I think it was the words “it’s insanely delicious” that hooked me.
A Mexican sandwich that I’d never heard of? Impossible I thought. But it was true. It was called the pambazo. Popular “especially in Mexico City” said Myers.
I located a photo of a street cart that made pambazos in Mexico City. Now the hunt was on to bring that picture to life in San Miguel.
Every time I walked the streets, I was in pursuit of one of these pambazos. At every restaurant with Mexican cuisine. At every taco cart. In every hole-in-the-wall. On every menu. On every blackboard. In almost every one of the town’s colonias.
Then, one recent Sunday, Don Day’s Wife and I were in El Cedro, that temple of menudo and pozole on Salida de Queretaro, and there on the wall were some little paper signs and down near the bottom of one was that magic word.
“I will have a pambazo sencillo, please”, I said to Rachel, the chef and owner, wondering how I was going to eat it after already being three quarters of the way through my menudo grande.
“Not today”, she replied, “we don’t have them today.”
I tried again the following Sunday, this time Rachel telling me, “we only do them on Saturdays.”
Then last month I came back on a Saturday, only to find El Cedro closed for the day.
Next came the near sighting at the restaurant Nicasio. There I was looking for something to read and I saw an old menu and there on that menu was that pambazo word.
“Manny, can you make me a pambazo?”
“No, Don, that was our special Independence Day menu. But I think I may put it on our regular menu next month.”
“I think”…“I may”…“next month”…foiled again!
Then, one day recently, I went up to La Nueva Aurora, my butcher in La Luz, forgetting that they close for siesta time. I had an hour to kill so thought I’d take a walk through Colonia Ignacio Ramirez and, of course, grab a bite. There’s a cart outside the General Hospital with pretty good volcanes and after downing two I noticed this stately home across the street with massive white ironwork and, from a distance, spotted three mini, cranberry-colored footballs on the grill out front. Could they be, I thought.
“Senor”, I said to the chef, “Pambazos”?
“Si, senor, pambazos”, he replied.
“I’ll be back” I said, thinking why did I eat two instead of one volcane? “I’ll be back soon.”
Soon was last Tuesday but, first, I better tell you what a pambazo is.
The name has its origins in the almost obscure Ladino language, pan being bread, basso being lower, and pambazo implying bread for the lower class. The word pambazo is, in fact, used both for the Mexican bread roll and the dish that’s made from it.
The roll is very much like the bolillo, the standard Mexican bread roll traditionally used for tortas or sandwiches, except a little drier which makes it excellent for the next step in creating the pambazo, a good long dip in guajillo chile sauce. Next, it’s sliced in half, stuffed with the main ingredients, fried until it’s crispy and then topped with a few more ingredients.
As mentioned, last Tuesday, old buddy Peter Ross and I headed back up to the place I had told him was the mauve mansion and soon discovered was actually called Antojitos Mexicano El Jardin.
“Two pambazos”, I said to Jose Angel Martinez Olvera, a partner in the restaurant with his sister-in-law, Catalina Sanchez Trinidad.
“How would you like them stuffed?”, asked Angel.
“Exactly like they would be stuffed in Mexico City”, I replied.
“That’s exactly how they should be. That’s a perfect pambazo”, said Angel, with his thumb and middle finger forming an “O” and a wide grin on his face.
As pambazos, the bread roll, are not available from any San Miguel bakeries, El Jardin uses easy-to-find-almost-everywhere bolillos.
“They work fine, as long as they’re not too fresh. You need them to dry out a little,” said Angel.
In El Jardin’s Mexico City style (there are apparently Veracruz and Puebla-style pambazos as well) the chile soaked bread is first lined with rich cream, then filled with potatoes, carrots, longaniza sausage and chorizo before being crisped in a shallow amount of oil in the cone-shaped grill. It is then topped with lettuce, ranchero cheese and a little more cream.
“Do you see the size of these babies?”, said Peter, “they’re huge”.
They were big, so big that we immediate cancelled our plans to also check out some barbecued pink elote (corn on the cob) that was only a couple of blocks away.
I thought of asking for a knife and fork and then thought better of it. This is a sandwich. Sandwiches are meant to be eaten with the hands. Yes, it’s a lean over the plate while you eat sandwich. And yes, my face and hands were covered with the cream and chile sauce when I was finished (“you’ve still got a little red on your left cheek”, said Peter), but a pambazo may even be worth a dry cleaning bill.
And how did it taste? Just like Dan Myers said, “insanely delicious”, And do you know what else was insane? The price. 15 pesos. Less than a U.S. dollar. For what may be one of the best lunches in town. Though by the time you get there, it may be up to 17 pesos which is still in the category of insane.
Antojitos Mexicano El Jardin is located at Avenida Primero de Mayo #52, Colonia Fraccionamento Ignacio Ramirez, in San Miguel de Allende, Mexico. I have circled the street in green at the right of the map. They are only open from 9:00 am to 3:30 pm, Monday to Friday.