The Localist

Con chile y limon? (with chilli and lime?)


Last Sunday I was driving home after a long day at work when I noticed my stomach was growling. For some reason I was immediately transported to an alternative reality, back to my life in Mexico, and I said to myself: “It’s a Sunday night – I’ll just stop by the nearest church and grab a barbecued corn on the cob smothered in creme fraiche, fresh crumbled cheese, chilli and a drizzle of lime”.

It’s simple combinations of addictive flavours that go so well together that always make me think of Mexico. Like chilli and lime, with a bit of salt.

I remained in that alternative reality for the next few minutes. I was in heaven imagining the charcoal taste of the flame-grilled corn as I went in for a bite, the creme and lime combo sliding down the back of my throat and the chilli setting off sparks of magic as it spread its personality around my tongue and gums.

All of a sudden, whilst driving through the streets of Newtown in Sydney, the big bright logo of one of the most popular Tex-Mex restaurants in town materialised before my eyes and anchored me back in reality. This brutal reminder of where I was actually caused me to curse out loud. Then laugh at myself. Then contemplate whether or not I might actually be losing my mind.

Don’t get me wrong, I have been living in Sydney, Australia for 5 years now and only on occasion have I missed Mexican food. That’s not because i don’t rate Mexican food highly; there’s just such an amazing range of exquisite, international edible treats in Sydney. We’re talking Afghani, Pakistani, Nepali, Vietnamese, Korean, Japanese, and of course Australia’s national cuisine… Thai. Anywhere you go you’ll be sure to find some tasty distraction, and with so many new food discoveries to be made there‘s very little time to look back and reminisce about the flavours and textures of home.

On this particular day, however, my cravings for Mexican street food and that distinct taste of lime, chili and salt were consuming me.

I was overwhelmed by a mish-mash of memories of those simple, yet totally addictive flavours. One minute I’m 8 years old holding onto my mum’s hand while my dad buys corn from a street vendor and hands it to me, then, as I go for that first bite, I’m suddenly 15, with a spiky mohawk and wearing a leather jacket, eating corn surrounded by my friends…

I also remembered the time I took my fiancé to Mexico to meet the family. I was upset to find that Chichén Itzá, a Mayan sacred site, had become more like a Disneyland attraction, and the only consolation was a lovely man outside in the parking lot who was selling coconuts with lime and chilli, perched atop his yellow bike.

Imagine the intense heat of the jungle, so humid that your sweat feels more like oil than water as it coats your skin. The thirst that follows an intense walk through a huge Mayan ruin complex is overwhelming. For me, it was compounded by the disappointment when I arrived at a sacred site of my people only to find busloads of gringos in their dorky sandals and Hawaiian shirts, with their camcorders etc., etc. You get the picture.

Now imagine this: In the middle of a vast concrete parking lot that is worthy of a walmart, a Mayan guy offers you some fresh coconut water for only a few pesos.

You drink it and it’s the best thing you have ever drunk. When you finish drinking he is still there waiting for the next busload of tourists to come out of the complex, so he offers to cut the coconut in half so you can enjoy the flesh. He quickly strikes the coconut and cracks it open, professionally scrapes the flesh out of the shell, and with a gentle, friendly look in his eyes, asks: With chilli and lime?

Tender is the flesh, simple are the flavours, but together they combine to represent the flavours of my Mexico, ranging from the most complex sauces and dishes to a simple coconut or corn on the cob drizzled with lime and chilli.


Image. Photo by Sally Langford.

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Take me to....Australia….Canada….Chile....Indonesia....Iran....Mexico….Myanmar….Nepal….Pakistan....Sri LankaThailand.USA

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