Wednesday, March 2, 2011

Spanish Lesson: The Royal Lemon

 In a country where basically anything can grow, there are some curious culinary absences. One is yeast. You can't simply find it in the grocery store like you can in the U.S. They only have baking powder and when you try to ask where the yeast is they just bring you back to the baking powder because the word for both items is levadura.

Mexicans love beans but unless you are willing to go to a huge market and find a place with dried beans you only have two options: black beans or brown beans. It took me eight months to finally find a small store near my house that sells garbanzo beans on a regular basis. It was a revelation. People here live in complete ignorance of the spectacular depth and variety of the world of beans. Once, early in my stay here, I was at the grocery with a Mexican friend and was getting frustrated by the endless rows of black and brown beans, whole and re-fried.

"Why do they never have any red beans?" I asked.

"What are red beans?" she said.

That's when I gave up asking people about beans.

But most mysterious of all is the complete lack of lemons. Here it is all limes, all the time. I have not once seen a lemon at a grocery store or a market, and I would wager that I have not even tasted real lemon a single time while in Mexico. Mexicans are unfazed about this. There even seems to be some confusion in Mexico about what a lemon is. This may arise from the fact that in Spain, the word for lemon is limón and the word for lime is lima. But in Mexico the word for lime is limón (so that when you ask people about "lemons" they think you are talking about limes) and the word for lemon is up for debate. Some contend that the correct word is limonero, while others insist on citron, and an American friend who lives here offers yet another option in limón real: "real" or "royal" lime.

One Mexican guy I met at a party had a different perspective: "Of course we have lemons here. There are some lemon trees growing in my grandmother's garden. We just don't use them. Why would you? Limes are better."

"Better in what way?" I said. "They're different."

"Better in every way!" he said.

Also they have about ten kinds of beers here that all taste like Corona and they don't have any other beers.

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