Monday, June 21, 2021

Almuerzo Azteca Style

We were taking ourselves to Tampa in the van for a doctor's appointment for my wife who needed. follow up for her shoulder surgery. I took it upon myself to map the route as I wanted to cruise old roads that we haven't used in a while as we generally follow the dreary freeway paths across Florida.
Krome Avenue from Homestead north has been turned into a four lane highway, the way the 18 mile stretch should have been had politics not intervened which makes for an easy drive direct to Alligator Alley avoiding Miami entirely. On this trip I turned left at the Miccosukee gambling resort and took Tamiami Trail south of I-75. Built as the only route across south Florida in the early 20th century its exotic name comes from the amalgamation of its destinations: Tampa and Miami. It's properly known as Highway 41, nowadays a scenic two lane backroad.
As we droned through the Everglades I suggested Layne look for a lunch stop. We were too close to Immokalee but Arcadia might do and even LaBelle could be a worthy early lunch stop, though I wondered what we might find of interest in tiny LaBelle. My wife is full of surprises. We found a Mexican truck stop.
We blundered in out of the heat and found a vast warehouse of stuff, a buffet lunch counter to the right and an all purpose supermarket to the left. My wife the retired adult ed teacher started asking questions in quick fire Spanish, like any good Mexican housewife on the hunt for lunch (almuerzo). We stood aside for the customer behind us who made a beeline for what he wanted. I had seen the characteristic rubbery skin with check marks all over it. We're too gringo for tripe I told the customer and he laughed. She responded by piling on the menudo for him, a stew of stomach tomatoes and peppers. Yum; I think not.
I like to travel but I am not an adventurous eater. I took a friend to Italy in 2017 (before the virus!) and he had us hunt down a restaurant in Rome famous for its tripe. I admire Michael for his dedication to food but I have lived this long without tasting cow stomach and now the finish line is in sight I intend to stick to my record. Layne wanted the carnitas on the left and I liked the looked of chorizo and potatoes to the right. Severely normal.
The trick was to get a blue square of paper as a receipt. So we took off through the maze of shelves toward a mythical cash desk lurking out of sight.
Dump your trash, please! I hate how the obvious needs to be stated in every culture and every language. Trash in the trash can seems obvious and in a buffet bussing your own plates seems equally obvious.
This was a working man's store and I say that advisedly as they did not seem to carry women's sizes unless they breed Amazons in LaBelle. The shoe sizes seemed enormous.
Layne was having a little flutter in the spice aisle muttering about how she was transported back to Mexico and its been too long. One of these and one of those please. When a Mexican condiment is labeled in English there is room to wonder how autentico it might be but I guess the locals are in the know. We shall see how it tastes.
In Latin America Diet Coke is called "Coca Light" but when you are burning ten thousand calories a day in the fields and you have a sweet tooth you are the kind of customer who pops for the real thing every time. We did manage to scrounge two cans of Diet stuck almost out of sight. I love the neon colored Mexican sodas to look at, but they are so sweet they make your teeth curl, says a man with a sweet tooth already.
Water jugs by the dozen. You'd think employers would provide water but apparently not.
No idea what this stuff is but I am very fond of custard apples so how bad can this concoction be? It's really nice traveling with a fridge. And a trash can should the need arise. 
I am not fond of iPhone photography and here's a case in point. For some reason it went black and white on me at this moment, a detail I missed in the bright sunlight. Rusty was snoring under the cabin air conditioner and when I let him out he turned around and hopped right back in. 95 degrees? No thanks. Lucky he's not baking in the south west these days. I heard of 116 in Las Vegas.
The former stray dog would much rather be inside on his bed looking out than trying to find relief in the shade of a bush at the mercy of passing predators.
My lunch. The refried beans were surprisingly spicy.
Layne's lunch. Two meals from each box made this pretty economical. I can't remember how much everything cost but field hands can afford it, therefore so can we. I hope. May the power of our credit card never grow less.
The tortillas were enough to make you point the van toward the Rio Bravo del Norte. Thick and grilled just enough to taste the sear.  
And for pudding we had paletas de Michocan which you can see for sale everywhere in Mexico under pink and white striped awnings. We got the rice milk flavored ones (horchata) which taste of rice pudding with cinnamon.  I was ready for a nap but we had miles to cover and three hours more driving far from I-75.
El lonche para llevar. A touch of Spanglish to help you navigate your next stop in LaBelle, Florida.