Saturday, December 3, 2011

Sandwich travelogue

Throughout America's history, its immigrants have both sought to assimilate and to maintain their ethnic heritage. From the Sons of Norway to the Ancient Order of Hibernians, people coming to America banded together to preserve their ethnic heritage. Towns, streets, and homes were named to commemorate after places in the home countries. In early Los Angeles, Americans from eastern states gathered to remember their homes in Iowa, Ohio and New York. The main street of Boyle Heights - once home to LA's Jewish community -  was called Brooklyn Avenue before it was changed to honor Cesar E. Chavez.

Some loncheros have creative ways to bring in more revenue
So it's no wonder that today's immigrants, while working hard to be American, take pride in their former hometowns and do so through the medium of food. Regional specialties and hometown recipes from many regions of Mexico are available throughout Los Angeles.

And what better way to acquaint yourself with them than by sampling food from LA's vast fleet of taco trucks? 

Food trucks are all the rage now, from Korean Fusion tacos to artisanal ice cream sandwiches. But LA's loncheras, or mainly Latino food trucks, were here first.

Many taco trucks are beautifully painted, with fantastic scenes or cartoon-like tableaux. One of the most intriguing ones I've seen recently is the Cemitas Tepeaca #2 truck, which regularly operates on North Indiana Street, just south of Cesar E. Chavez Boulevard in Boyle Heights.

The paintings on the truck show views of Tepeaca, a city in Puebla, Mexico. It was founded in 1543, by monks who built the San Francisco de Asis convent. The church itself was built in 1726. Today thousands of pilgrims come to Tepeaca to venerate a somewhat more recent figure, Santo Niño Dios Jesús, Doctor de la Enfermos - or Holy Child Jesus, Doctor of the Sick.

Throughout Latin America, there is a tradition of honoring Jesus as a child, especially during the Christmas season, and at Candlemas, February second, the figure of the child is presented dressed in new clothes - sometimes Aztec-inspired costumes or even soccer clothes

In 1942, a Christ Child figure was brought to the convent at Tepeaca. As the story goes, people noticed that the figurine's shoes were smeared with mud on some mornings during the rainy season. Tales were told of the Child visiting sick people during the night, healing them.  Soon people came from all over to pray for Santo Niño Dios Jesús, Doctor de la Enfermos to bring health to their sick loved ones.

Today, the feast of Santo Niño Dios Jesús, Doctor de la Enfermos is celebrated on April 30
The Cemitas Tepeaca truck shows a scene of the town plaza, its beautiful Spanish baroque church and belfry, with the image of the Santo Niño Dios Jesús, suspended magically in the sky above. 

Also pictured is El Rollo - a Moorish-style octagonal tower, built in 1559 as a pillory where native workers were imprisoned, but by 19th century transformed into a clock tower and symbol of the city. 

Cemita poblano with carnitas
The cemita is a sandwich originally from Tepeaca's state of Puebla. Like a torta, it's a sandwich with meat - chicken, carnitas, or breaded steak called milanesa - dressed with chopped white onion, lettuce, avocado slices and salsa rojo - but it's distinguished from a torta by the bread, a fluffy, yeast-raised egg bun with sesame seeds. Cemitas poblanas are often served with a fresh Oaxacan string cheese. 

You can read more about cemitas poblanas HERE, as Bill Esparza of Street Gourmet LA explains how they came to be.

After a virtual visit to Tepeaca's beautiful plaza, aren't you hungry for a cemita?


ifthethunderdontgetya™³²®© said...

I could use one of those. Probably not sold here in W.V., though.

Anonymous said...

I can't decide which is more fascinating to me right now: the sandwich pictured or the thought of Jesus as a young boy in soccer uniform (you know, he totally would have if it was what kids did then).

Sheila said...

Do you work in this neighborhood? Just wondering why you spend so much time in East L.A. since it's not really close to where you live.

Glennis said...

I really like exploring a lot of neighborhoods in LA, Sheila.

I invite you to join me sometime if you like - feel free to contact me.

Or even better, help me learn how to explore your neighborhood in LA.

Sheila said...

Thanks for the offer! I'm so busy when I'm in the area (part time) but if you want to explore Long Beach without me, there are plenty of get-down-gritty areas with some good food. Areas that I would say are best visited during lunch time, if you choose to do so.