Thursday, August 9, 2007

Fighting malaise at El Tule

Last Sunday, eating an empanada de mole amarillo in El Tule, I realized that as long as I have an appetite, I will always be able to cheer myself up. There are those times when even I lose my appetite, like when No-No dumped me and I stopped eating for a week. But general malaise, pshaw!, I can easily get rid of just by going someplace I’ve never been in search for something good to eat.

Sunday morning, my last friends from ICO, who were also my neighbors, left Oaxaca. It had been a difficult, emotional time for them, and even watching them leave as a bystander was so exhausting, I considered forgetting my plans to go to El Tule and just getting in bed with “Black Lamb and Gray Falcon,” the book that will not end. I felt a little sad about being alone in Oaxaca and a little sorry for myself. But after I’d mopped the tiny footprint of my apartment, I was hungry, and I thought I should seize the opportunity to go try one of the famous empanadas de mole amarillo of El Tule, only available on Sundays.

El Tule is otherwise famous for its giant cypress tree, over 2000 or 4000 years old depending on who you talk to. I don’t know how tourism from the tree can be so lucrative when the entrance fee is 3 pesos, but the town seemed to be profiting well from the tree, as the buildings in the center were fresh and brightly painted, almost like Disneyworld, right down to the white-maroon-and-blue church.

I walked right by the entrance booth and around the church, looking for the empanada place recommended to me by my homestay mother, Patty, as “muy limpia.” I don’t know if it was the right place, but it was clean and airy, and I could imagine my middle-class homestay family eating there. It was little more than a straw-roofed shack with plastic tables and chairs, with an arcade attached to it playing loud American rock music, but it a pleasant place to sit on a sunny Sunday afternoon. There was a surly girl working the comal and an older woman swatting flies away from the chicharrones and a sweet-faced man watching a soccer game on TV. I sat down with a bottle of grapefruit soda, in a really good-looking bottle, and waited.

It was my fourth taste of mole amarillo, and if not the best, it was very very good. Instead of cilantro, it had the herby scent of hoja santa, the heart-shaped leaf. The mole sauce was thicker than at Iglesia de Carmen Arriba, but spicy, the kind of spiciness that doesn’t hit you right away but grows in the back of your throat. The tortilla vehicle was perfect, hot and toasty. I was so happy, I ate another empanada, of flor de calabeza and quesillo. I didn’t like it as much, but it didn’t matter.

I walked through the Mercado de Antojitos, or “Market of Appetizers,” across the street but was too full to eat anything else, but next week, I am eating barbacoa, or barbecued goat, for sure. Why don’t we have markets of appetizers in the U.S.? I’m sure it would do a great deal for depression.

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