On Sunday September 14th my wife Gina and I visited the nearby town of Pueblo Nuevo (or Pueblonuevo as it is sometimes written with no space in between the "pueblo" and the "nuevo"). The town is located in the municipality of Pueblo Nuevo which is the smallest of the 46 municipalities in the Mexican State of Guanajuato and has a population of about 9000 people. Note that a municipality in Mexico is like a “county” in the United States and within the municipality there can be any number of small communities but the municipal government is headquartered in the main town or city which corresponds more or less to the U.S. "county seat". We went to Pueblo Nuevo to buy some cheese called "queso oreado" that my friend Alfredo told me about and I wanted to try some so I could tell Rachel Laudan about it. She lives in the City of Guanajuato and is my food historian guru. She and my friend Cristina from Morelia know an awful lot about food and that is a great thing for people like me who really like to eat. Although the day was overcast we couldn't have gone at a better time because the little town was all decked out in red, white, and green in anticipation of Independence Day celebrations. Pueblo Nuevo is a very old community that sits on the bank of the Rio Lerma near where it is joined by the Rio Guanajuato. The local people call the town “El Pueblito” which is closer to its original name. The town was founded by none other that Don Vasco de Quiroga in the year 1540. and "Tata Vasco" as he is lovingly known is one of my favorite Mexican heroes.
One of the things that we did while we were in Pueblo Nuevo is to stop for lunch at the "birrería" (bee-rehr-REE-uh) of Don Martín Bernal. The word "birrería" means "an establishment where they sell "birria" (BEE-rree-uh) or more formally “birria de cabrito” (kah-BREE-toh) which is the meat from a young goat that is steamed rather than rendered or broiled. They take a young goat and after killing and butchering it they put it in a big pot that has two or three gallons of water in the bottom. They don't put the meat in the water however. They put the meat on a grill that is suspended over the water so that the steam cooks the meat and the juices from the meat fall into the water to make a soup that is called “consomé de birria” (kohn-soh-MAY deh BEE-rree-uh). People go to a birrería as much to get the consomé as they do to get the birria. The consomé is a light clear yellowish and very tasty soup that it can vary somewhat in consistency and taste depending upon where it is made. Everyone seems to have a secret recipe. Sometimes they put cleaned goats feet in the water to thicken the consomé and sometimes they add chile or various herbs and spices. I can't really tell the difference very well because it is always good but my wife Gina can tell the difference and she has her favorite places.
As you will see in the dialog below there are various cuts of meat that you can request. There is “pierna” (or piernita) which is from the back legs. There is “costilla” (coh-STEE-yuh) which is from the ribs. There is “mano” (MAH-noh) which is from the front legs but the word “mano” actually means “hand”. Then there is “aldilla” (ahl-DEE-yuh) which is from the belly and lower sides and “pecho” (PAY-choh) which is from the chest. Finally we come to one of my favorites called “montalayo”(mohn-tah-LAY-oh). To make montalayo they remove the “panza” (PAHN-zah) which is the stomach and they scrub it very hard until it is perfectly clean and white. Then the chop up the heart, kidneys, liver, and other internal organs and put the chopped parts in the panza and tie it closed with a string. Then the stuffed panza goes in the pot with the other meat. They put the lid on the pot and they put it on the fire to steam for about four hours. When you tell the man what you want he takes it out of the pot and cuts it up on a wooden chopping block with a little meat cleaver and measures it out on a scale there you have it.
So, we sat down at a table in the plaza in front of Don Martín's establishment and he comes right over to take our order:
Buenas tardes. ¿Qué le sirvo?
Good afternoon. How may I serve you?
Buenas tardes. Un cuarto de birria y dos consomés por favor.
Good afternoon. A quarter kilo of birria and two consomés please.
No, deme solo piernita y montalayo.
No, give me only pierna and montalayo.
Bueno. ¿Gustan algo de tomar?
Okay, Do you want something to drink?
Si, dos refrescos, una Coca-Cola y una Esprite.
Yes, two sodas, a Coca-Cola and a Sprite.
Bueno. Ahorita se lo sirvo.
Okay. I'll be right back with your order. (In a little while I'll serve you.)
Aquí está su orden con tortillas, salsa Mexicana, y chiles jalapeño. Tambíen hay cebolla picada y limones para el consomé. ¿Algo más les haga falta?
Here is your order with tortillas, Mexican style salsa, and jalapeño chiles. There is also chopped onion and limes for the consomé. Is there anything else that is lacking?
No, gracias. Todo está bien.
No, thank you. Everything is fine.
(Después un poco rato)
(After a little while)
¡Oye Don Martín! ¿Me trae otro cuarto por favor y más servilletas?
Hey Don Martín! (dohn mahr-TEEN) Could you please bring me another quarter kilo and some more napkins?
Claro que si. Con mucho gusto. Aquí está.
Of course. With much pleasure. Here you are.
(Después un otro poco rato más)
(After another little while)
Don Martín, ¿me trae la cuenta por favor?
Don Martín, could you bring me the check please.
Si, permíteme. Son ciento veinticinco pesos.
Yes, just a minute. That will be one hundred twenty pesos please.
Aquí tiene ciento cuarenta. Quédese con el cambio.
Here is one hundred forty. Keep the change.
Muy agradecido Señor. Que le vaya bien.
Much appreciated, Sir. May you go well.
Note: I have some additional comments.
In the last photo below you will see my new friend Juan Carlos Ramírez carrying several “vaporeras” on the front of his three wheeled bicycle. A “vaporera” (vah-poh-REHR-uh) is a pot used for steaming.You can see a “necked down” portion at the bottom of the pot. Above this section sits the grill upon which the meat is placed and the area below is what holds the water and makes the consomé.
The tortillas are served hot in a little container with a lid. Even so, they soon start to cool off after a bit and eventually the tortilla on top will be cool. Instead of taking the tortilla off the top people will often grab part of the stack and turn it over which puts the top tortilla back down in the middle of the stack to warm it up again. The guys I work with jokingly call this cold tortilla on top the “tortilla de la suegra” or “mother-in-law's tortilla” because this is the tortilla that you offer to your mother-in-law”.
una Coca-Cola y una Esprite. - Note that I spelled Sprite with an “E” in front. This is because many words that we use in English that start with the letter “S” are similar in Spanish with the exception that they start with an “E” in front of the “S”. The Mexican people tend to pronounce English words that begin with an “S” as if they actually begin with an “E” and so “Sprite” gets pronounced “ehs-PRAIT”.
Si, permíteme. - Notice that I translated this phrase as “Yes, just a minute.”. It really says “Yes, allow me” but in English we would say, “Yeah, just a minute”, or “Yeah, be right with you”. That is why it is important to understand the meaning as a whole phrase and not just word for word. Sometimes when I call my wife she says to me, “Mande Usted” which is a very normal off hand response but it sounds very formal if you translate it directly as “Command me sir”. Ha, ha, ha. I wish!
When in Rome do as the Romans do so if you are served birria, for goodness sake don't wrinkle your nose at the monatalaya until you have tried it, and don't forget to add the chopped onion and a squirt of lime to your consomé like everyone else does. ¡Buen provecho!
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