Doña Inés making gorditas. (Santa Fe de La Laguna, Michoacán, México)
I'm still catching my breath from a quick trip (my first!) to Mexico last weekend. I went to learn about avocados and came back with an intense hunger, not for food — there was plenty of that — but to return and drink in more of this stunning place, using every sense.I have a heightened awareness of how many different senses at once can take in a story. The eye, the ear, the nose, the mouth. In Mexico, I listened to stories with a notebook in one hand and watched stories unfold with my camera in the other. My palate was busy taking in the food, and that was a whole other way to experience the place. The eyes often close in these moments.
Without a doubt, avocados from Mexico were the theme on this trip. Let me start by telling you about what it's like to eat an avocado straight off the tree in the middle of a Mexican avocado orchard.
This is Enrique. He appeared at our lunch smack in the middle of an orchard with a pocket knife in hand. We ate black Haas avocados, picked ripe from the tree. They were still warm from the volcanic soil reflecting up on their dark bellies. They were not watery or stringy in the least. Avocado after avocado, these fruits were heavy in the hand, their slightly bumpy skins polished glossy black with a cloth.
I sliced them in my palm, smashed them inside fresh tortillas, then drizzled them with avocado honey and pinches of Mexican sea salt. I had four of these sweet avocado tacos. My travel mate claims she had six. Entirely possible.
Each evening we returned to our homebase of Morelia, the capital city of the state of Michoacán. Coming in from the avocado orchards and the small indigenous towns, I loved feeling the energy shift from agrarian to a colonial municipality, teeming with lovers kissing in the streets, thumping discos, honking Volkswagen bugs, and bare lightbulbed carnitas stands. The street life is so bright here and food is central to the liveliness of the city.
The last day of the trip was a holiday called fiesta del niño de la salud (Holy Child of Good Health) so in each town we visited we saw giant groups of kids and adults marching all in white, waving flags and singing. At the end of the day as I walked around Morelia, I came across these slumber party angels in the cathedral parking lot.
Clearly, the colors are still coming through for me. Despite how short this trip was, I am digesting it slowly. I travel a lot, and often to places where food is central to the culture, but to be engulfed with flavors the way this place engulfed me was beyond my expectations. You see, these are the flavors I grew up eating in Los Angeles; my great grandmother was Mexican, so I like to think these are also the foods that go way back in my blood stream. To visit the birthplace of those flavors is like digging down to the patina'd roots of an old flowering tree.
The avocado — smooth, nutty, nourishing, sexy, dark and bright at the same time — seems the perfect metaphor for a first trip to Mexico. You get kicked over and hooked by the initial flavor and texture, but there is also something so rich and smooth about it, your adoration of it comes gently. I'm still processing the scenes, letting the colors slowly pop through. My love of this country is just beginning.
• Mexico is the world leader in both production and consumption of avocados.
• The exceptional flavor and texture of Mexican avocados cames from terrior: rich volcanic soil, mountain altitudes, sub-tropical sun and abundant rainfall create the ideal microclimate.
• Mexican avocados are available year-round. Peak season is from September though May, but because of the varying altitudes in Michoacán, growers are able to harvest four and sometimes five times a year.
Related: Smart Tip: To Quickly Ripen an Avocado, Use a Banana
(images: Sara Kate Gillingham-Ryan)
(Information for this post was gathered during a press trip sponsored by Avocados From Mexico. All views and opinions expressed in this post are the personal views of the author.)