11 April, 2013

Give a little Whistle!

One of the best things about living in a small colonial town like San Miguel is that you get to experience some old time traditions that are not as common in the big cities.  You get to appreciate more of Mexico with only having to walk to your curb.  UNESCO honored Mexico a few years back with an award for most Intangible Cuisine.  Street food is a huge part of this.  I know back in the states we are limited to thinking only of Greasy Taco Trucks but the food scene in Mexico is so much more than that!  We make jokes with our friends that we are going out for some Vitamin "T" when we head for the streets.  Tacos, Totopos, Tortas, Tamales, Teleras, Tostadas, Tinga, Tortillas, Tetelas, Tlacoyos... and that's just the goodies that start with the letter T.

Once versed in street food in Mexico you inadvertently get trained to the sounds and calls of the vendors. Even if  you do not understand what they are saying a certain string of notes and tones tells you what they are selling.
 Having visited nearly 30 different cities in Mexico I can personally tell you that the call for airy desserts are the same from one city to the next, and I do not think they are all related. Merrrrrrrrrrrrrraaaaaaaaanges!  In any city means the same delicious thing.

While visiting Boris' sister in Mexico City I heard this low pitched call and I thought Boris was going to jump from the 4th floor to reach the bottom faster!  I was nearly 3 stories behind him in the pursuit of whatever it was he was after.  When we got to the man selling Meringues Boris looked disappointed for some reason, but none the less he bought all that WE could carry.  Enough for everyone in the house to have 2 or 3 helpings... he was excited as I mentioned before.  On the much slower climb UP he explained to me that he could have sworn the voice was the same as he remembered as a child.  In fact it turned out the man that sold us the treats was the grandson of the man pictured below.

Don Merengues from DF
Many generations have enjoyed these special treats
"Haaaaaaaaaaay Atoooooole y Tamaaales" normally comes from the back of a bicycle cart.  There is a comedian that makes a joke that the Tamale vendor chases him all over town and how he is faster even then the bus he takes to work.  Because when he climbs the bus he is there and when he gets off the bus there he is again!


You are subconsciously trained to react to certain sounds.  The clanging of a piece of metal (usually a broken shock... it has a special ring to it) signifies that it is time to take out the trash. A mechanical mooing noise means the gas truck has arrived to fill your tank if so needed.  A special jingle played over and over is NOT the ice cream man but the water truck. A special whistle signifies the man who will sharpen your knives and he has a funny device usually attached to his bike...  I can list hundreds of examples but I really want to share with you this story.

One night we were driving back from a catering event, hyper as usual after a good event.  We had the windows down as it was a nice night and we were chattering away like always.  Off in the distance I heard this whistle.  It started off slow and then got louder and then faded off again.  It reminded me of the train whistles you can buy when you visit the train museum.  I figured some kids were playing and thought nothing else of it.  

That is until Boris heard it and started driving around all over the neighborhood muttering something about Camote and we have to find him, about it being rare and then a much more urgent, "WE MUST FIND HIM!"  Always wanting to help I urged and nagged until Boris FINALLY told me WHAT it was that WE were searching for.  A cart that sold camotes and was the producer of the long, sad whistle.  At last we found him and I was keen on trying something new.  His cart was blue and had a ford emblem on the front.  


I smelled the smoking wood as soon as we stepped down from the car.  I was caught up in Boris' excitement as we rushed over to the little cart.  We ordered a Camote (sweet potato) to share.  It was doused in Sweetened Condensed Milk and dusted with Cinnamon.  


I had to try my first bite right there at the cart.  The potato was soooo soft and creamy, with an intense smokey taste, that played with the milk and cinnamon in your mouth.  It was warm, but that kind of warm that is not hot in your mouth but reaches your bones like a hug from Grandma.... and no I am not exaggerating.


Now, whenever I hear the long, slow, sad whistle Boris has to chase after ME as I rush for a Camote and a Plantain which is my favorite!  Same thing as the camote but this time you get SPRINKLES instead of cinnamon.  OH YEAH!!!


These guys are a dying breed, a lost art if you will.  It is extremely difficult as you can imagine to schlep these little metal carts loaded with smoldering wood and delicious potatoes and plantains around town.  So please, when you hear the whistle, remember chasing the ice cream truck and then maybe, run a little faster to enjoy this special treat while it still lasts!

Check out this video from Youtube to hear that Magical Whistle!
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