As I write this, I’m sitting in my favorite coffee shop in the world, Hotshots in Lake Arrowhead, CA. And believe me, I’ve been to my share around the world and all pale to this gem in the mountains of Southern California.
When my dish came I was reminded of another time I ordered chicken. I had been riding a 2nd Class bus for days after crossing the Guatemalan border into Mexico. I knew this was going to be an adventure when I saw the sign on the bus driver’s visor that read, “Jesucristo Mi Copiloto—Jesus Christ is my Copilot.” Above the inscription hung a collection of crucifixes and crosses and a picture of Christ ascending into the heavens.
As we wound through the first mountains that evening, I noticed the bus driver was turning his headlights off when passing on blind curves. He explained to me that this allowed him to see the lights of oncoming vehicles. He laughed when I suggested that another vehicle could be doing the same thing and pointed to the sign. I retired to the back of the bus with some Campesinos and shared my flask.
As the trip progressed, I contracted dysentery requiring the bus driver to make frequent stops. Ultimately, the patience of the driver and the passengers was at an end and I found myself in Vera Cruz recuperating. A kind lady hotelier and a local pharmacist eventually put me right, which is a story I shared previously, The Fear of Giving.
I knew I was on the mend when I had the overwhelming craving for fresh chicken enchiladas, Vera Cruz style. My hostess told me of a local restaurant in her neighborhood that made the best in the city. She laughed and assured me they would be really fresh.
I decided I was strong enough to walk and could use the evening air. As I made my way through the narrow streets it began to rain, slowing my progress. Finally, I saw the little place down an alley and quickened my pace to get out of the weather.
I was about halfway when a young man sprinted past me chased by a rotund policeman; huffing and puffing with his pistol drawn. I had just enough time to dodge into an alcove as he began firing. After several shots, he bent over trying to catch his breath. The young man disappeared into the mist. The policeman and I went to dinner.
Inside was so steamy that you couldn’t see out the windows. My newfound friend and I were the only customers, so took seats near the kitchen. The policeman validated that the enchiladas were the best in town. The waitress was a short, little firebrand that stood tapping her foot impatiently as she waited for our orders.
I asked her if the chicken was fresh before I ordered. She laughed, as though to a private joke and assured me I wouldn’t find fresher. Right after she entered the kitchen with our orders, a small boy darted through its swinging doors, passed us, disappearing outside. I quizzically looked at the policeman but he just shrugged assuring me all was normal. Of course, I took that with a grain-of-salt as this was the same man who minutes before had been shooting at someone out front.
Now, in Mexico, you wait for your meal. It takes time and nothing happens very quickly. But usually, it’s worth it. A dinner is a social event that should be savored. But this dinner was really taking a long time, longer than usual. Just as I was about to call the waitress over, the boy returned with a chicken under each arm and disappeared into the kitchen. Seconds later, we heard squawking and the chopping of a cleaver followed by silence; except for subdued laughter and the rattling of pots.
After about half-and-hour, we had the freshest and most savory chicken enchiladas I’ve ever tasted to this day. And I made a few lifelong friends that have enriched my world ever since, but, as I said before, that’s another story.
The road to the freshest chicken enchiladas you’ve ever tasted can be a long and unpredictable one, but, as in life, the rewards can be great.