By Meagan Micozzi/AmericanFoodRoots.com
Looking back, it’s surprising to me that I was capable of any intelligent thought at all.
I was standing outside, jockeying for shady spots mercifully afforded by a scraggly mesquite tree as I waited for a taxicab to take me to my local market. As I stood there on that first August afternoon in Arizona’s Valley of the Sun, fearfully watching my neighbor’s plastic window-mounted thermostat inch past the worn 115-degree mark, I realized that nothing in my East Coast upbringing had adequately prepared me for life in my new desert home.
Shortly after arriving in Scottsdale, like in so many other instances in my life, I had quickly turned to food as a comforting salve for the ill ease I felt at being a stranger in this strange land. And strange, to me, it was: aside from the surface-of-the-sun temperatures I was contending with on a daily basis, there were monsoons and haboobs (dust storms) from which to shelter, bobcats and coyotes threatening my two small dogs and a language barrier constantly reminding me that I should have paid closer attention to Señora Schultz’s lessons in the sixth grade.
It’s no wonder that I turned, and turned hard, to the comfort of cuisine to quiet my frayed nerves.
I had taken the time, before leaving the East Coast, to casually poll friends, family and fellow food fans on their opinions of Southwestern-style eating. The results of my research were nearly uniform and uniformly discouraging: I was apparently moving to the one place on the planet where fine dining and thoughtful cuisine went to die. Images of tree-trunk-sized burritos drowning in Cheez Whiz were invoked. Tableaus of vacant-eyed taco vendors slinging flavorless ‘taco-inspired’ monstrosities were enacted. And I began having nightmares of a tragically flavorless future.
I would be lying if I said that the perception of Southwestern cuisine as the stepchild in the great family of American regional cooking wasn’t a strong personal motivator; surely there had to more to this story. Which is exactly what I was thinking when my taxicab pulled up.
After giving directions over the din of the creaky air conditioner, the driver and I began to talk. He had immigrated from Mexico to the United States several years ago and had been driving his cab for just a few months. He became animated when I told him I was interested in learning more about local food and culinary traditions. He said his family in Mexico had been well known for several of their traditional recipes.
I got excited when I learned that he was from the Mexican state of Puebla. I had done enough research to know that more than a few of the seminal dishes originating in Puebla had a tremendous impact on Arizona’s Sonoran cuisine. Then the discussion turned to my driver’s mother’s personal, passed-down receta for mole poblano.
Ultimately, I think it was his own curiosity that compelled him to pick up his phone. He had mentioned that his mother was actually in Chicago visiting family and a mere time zone away. My enthusiasm likely sealed the deal. (We had long since reached and returned from the market, and the cab was idling in my driveway as we discussed the art and science of moles.) He dialed the number, coaxed his mother onto the line, switched on his speakerphon, and causally inquired about her “famous mole poblano recipe.”
To learn if the cab driver’s mom gave up the recipe and to read full story visit: http://www.americanfoodroots.com/50-states/cab-ride-opens-door-southwestern-cuisine/
Photo of Mole Poblano for AFR by Meagan Micozzi
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