Wednesday, June 3, 2009

Dancing in the parking lot

This weekend we returned to East Los Angeles's Boyle Heights, seeking the wonderful street food served at a kind of unofficial street fair by the Big Buy Foods store at Breed Street and Cesar Chavez. If you didn't read the earlier post click on the link if you have time, but otherwise - just know that this is a totally unofficial assembly of street food vendors that regularly occurs on weekend evenings in East L.A.

When we arrived at 7:10 on a Sunday evening, it was in full swing, and we went immediately to Nina's, a vendor set up in the City of L.A. parking lot with a hot comal and a deep fat fryer, making huaraches, sopes, quesadillas and pambazos from fresh masa. We ordered sopes and a quesadilla frita.

While we waited for it to cook I explored. The barbacoa stand was there, so I got a taco and took it back to share. The meat was lamb or goat - good and savory with a gamy rich taste.

A small TV was set up before Nina's stand and in the parking lot beyond people sat on folding chairs, eating and watching the futbol game. There were good-natured catcalls and whistles if someone blocked the view by mistake. To the side, a vendor selling CDs and videos had the music cranked up, playing rancheras, cumbia, merenge. Small children darted among the grownups; one little girl in a velveteen dress and a sparkly hair clip twirled and danced.

Our food was wonderful. Each plate was topped with crema, chopped cabbage and crumbled cotija cheese. You could add to this from an assortment of salsas, chopped onions and cilantro, pickled red onions, nopales and radishes. We opted for a salsa de semilla, a condiment of mixed peanuts, sesame seeds, and pumpkin seeds mixed with herbs and deep red chiles. It was fiercely hot, but delicious, and with a wonderful crunchy-salty texture unlike any other salsa.

My photos were not very good - and it's difficult taking photos at this street happening, since recording devices make people nervous. So all I have is one shot of my sope de huitlachoche with a scoop of that wonderful nutty salsa on the side - a little blurred. We sat on the curb with a couple of bottled Mexican cokes (real cane sugar).

The evening was slightly cool, so I tried a cup of champurrado from one other vendors on the sidewalk. Champurrado is a warm, creamy drink made from toasted masa mixed with hot water, flavored with piloncillo sugar and cinnamon.

We were so tempted to eat other things, but soon our tummies were full! [The Man I Love] had another barbacoa taco, and our son had a fresa - a drink made with fresh strawberries and milk.

I watched one vendor as she made dessert crepes - ladling the thin batter onto the hot comal in spirals, then flipping it with her fingers until they browned. Then she rolled them, filling them with fruit and cream. They smelled and looked so good we had to try them.

By this time, evening had fallen. Lights clipped under the umbrellas lit up the cooking food. Extension cords snaked through the parked cars to sputtering generators, hidden away to hide the noise. A guy selling battery-lit toys strolled through the darkened lot, his wares spinning and flashing, glowing and chasing.

The futbol game had ended, and the mariachi music was cranked higher. Suddenly from one of the folding chairs, a couple got to their feet and began dancing to the music. The children ran around. The young woman from the quesadilla stand ran out from behind the table and took a man's hand, then spun around in a twirl. "I love to dance!" said the lady at the crepe stand, and dashed out to take a quick turn herself while her daughter tended the pancakes.

You could hear the laughter, hands clapping. Someone from the other side of the parking lot honked an air horn. The dancing crowd was lit by headlights as cars patiently eased their way past the crowds, dancers' shadows spinning in the beams

My crepe was brushed with butter and topped with chopped strawberries and kiwi. [The Man I Love] had the especial - thin crepes rolled with cream cheese, fruit and cajeta - a tan caramel syrup made from concentrated sweetened goats milk.

The pancakes were sweet and tender, melting in our mouths, and the evening air was cool and fragrant. Although we could barely speak a common word, everyone smiled back at us. It was Sunday night in spring under the stars in East L.A., there was laughter and music, dancing and food. What could be better?


Liz said...

How fantastic. And if I'd been there... I would not have been dancing. I'd have been waddling from all the food. :)

JCK said...

You and the Man you love do some veyr cool things. I'm sure it is wonderful to have your boy back for a bit.

And those Mexican cokes with no high fructose corn syrup? Can you believe I haven't made myself a Jack and Coke with one of those, yet? Crazy, huh!

Gilly said...

It al sounds so fantastic - and so foreign!! Half the stuff you mention I've never even heard of!!

Maybe I need to get out more....

Queenly Things said...

Pambazos!!!!??? I love those and even have a hard time finding them in Mexico. I love it when you go a-eating. Even if I can't be there I can almost taste everything from just reading your posts.

Life with Kaishon said...

I love your escapades. They make me thankful for love and adventure.