15 weird and wonderful things Mexico has taught me

mexico_flagMexico is brilliant. We wouldn’t have stayed here for 10 months if we didn’t like it. Initially I was going to write a post about the top things I love here. Then I read a similar post by another blogger and was so bored by number three on the list that I wanted to scratch my eyes out with a spoon.

Yes Mexico is wonderful, the people friendly, the beaches spectacular, the food delicious blah blah blah. All essential ingredients for fun and excitement when exploring a new land, but so generic you could apply it to many other countries on this fine planet.

It’s the unusual that interests me and sticks with me long after I have left. I love the amusing, bemusing and sometimes annoying things you encounter when living in another culture.

So without further a do here are 15 weird, wonderful and embarrassing things Mexico has taught me:

1.Do you have any testicles?

For many months I entered the local grocery shop and asked the frail old lady behind the counter “Do you have any balls?

It wasn’t deliberate. I wasn’t being rude. It’s a case of lost in translation.

The word for egg is ‘huevo’, so I assumed the plural would be ‘huevos’. Not so. I discovered far too late in the day from my Spanish teacher that you don’t pluralise it.

For some reason ‘Tiene heuvos?’ is actually a testosterone filled challenge to another male, where you question their masculinity. Oops!

2. Dogs belong on roof tops.

This one makes me a little sad. As you walk down the streets in Mexico you get barked at. Not from down below like you’d normally expect. The dogs are up high on the roof top peering down at you. They are always there; they never leave their roof top spot. I guess at least they aren’t homeless and get fed. Which leads onto the next point…

mexico-roof-dog

3. There are thousands of homeless dogs here. I have named and made friends with them all.

I love dogs! That is all…

mexico-i-love-dogs

4. Mexicans are immune to noise.

Ever been sat in a restaurant enjoying a nice quiet meal when two fellas rock up next to your table with a giant xylophone and amplifier? Probably not… They then proceed to shatter the peace with their lovely but loud tune and ask you for a tip at the end as if you had requested the impromptu performance. For me this was bizarre and put me right off my fajita. Nobody else batted an eyelid, like it’s a normal everyday occurrence in Mexico. Here’s the video…

[embedplusvideo height=”400″ width=”600″ editlink=”http://bit.ly/1s3UywV” standard=”http://www.youtube.com/v/acOkaBe1KW4?fs=1″ vars=”ytid=acOkaBe1KW4&width=600&height=400&start=&stop=&rs=w&hd=0&autoplay=0&react=1&chapters=&notes=” id=”ep6803″ /]

There’s more! Firecrackers, dogs barking, church bells, eighteen different stereos in one street simultaneously blasting out anything from Venga Boys to traditional mariachi bands, karaoke at four in the morning on a Wednesday, trucks delivering gas with their repetitive musical melody (a bit like an ice cream van), marching bands (Mexico is obsessed with marching and bands!), street sellers, hammering, drilling, … I could go on, but will spare you.

If you don’t like noise, bring some earmuffs or stay at home. It’s deafening and in Britain you would be classed as a neighbour from hell, but this is not polite old Blighty, and LOUD NOISES are part and parcel of life in this vibrant country.

5. Trees shouldn’t be cut down.

In Mexico they make holes in walls for them, or build roads around them. But never ever cut down a tree! Brilliant!

tree-road-mexico

6. Casio Keyboards are cutting edge music technology.

For me a Casio keyboard takes me back to school music lessons, where I used to press the demo button and pretend to be playing the piano. My teacher wasn’t fooled, but seemed to have lost all enthusiasm for teaching and probably life in general, so I stayed musically illiterate for many years.

In Mexico though I could have been employed as a talented Musician. Or at least plied my trade in restaurants and town squares across the country where Casio keyboard melodies ring out as backing tracks to distinctly average singers.

Here’s the keyboard video evidence. I blame my dancing on the strong margaritas.
[embedplusvideo height=”400″ width=”600″ editlink=”http://bit.ly/1s3SG7t” standard=”http://www.youtube.com/v/9BaQ1M-RRM4?fs=1″ vars=”ytid=9BaQ1M-RRM4&width=600&height=400&start=&stop=&rs=w&hd=0&autoplay=0&react=1&chapters=&notes=” id=”ep3138″ /]

7. It’s ok to bring your baby or small child to the cinema no matter what rating the movie is.

Aren’t babies and kids great at sitting quiet and still for over 2 hours? NO! Crying and tantrums all add to the entertainment of the show.

8. Too much about my girlfriend’s bowel movements.

I’ll spare you a photo for this one. It’s old news that Kellie has been sick for much of the time we have been here in Mexico. In fact it’s eight of the ten months. Her gut just isn’t built to cope with the bacteria in the food.

Her constant ill health meant the daily question of “Did you have a good poo today?” A bit like a parent potty training their small child. I could usually tell by her ghost like face when the answer was no.

What can I say? Travel breaks down all barriers between couples and you get to know each other a little more intimately than you’d like.

9. All public transport needs to be claustrophobically full.

Usual a firm handshake is as close as I get to a person on the first meeting. Forget this stuffy attitude in Mexico. I am not ashamed to admit I have had many an armpit in my face on over crowded buses in the last ten months. Let’s share body fluids (sweat obviously).

10. God loves bling.

I was surprised too! But he obviously does, going by the gold plated churches on every other street here in Mexico. Apparently The Big G and JC love a bit of ‘Pimp My Church’. They come complete with bells that ring every 15-30 minutes and a Priest that likes to set off fireworks at 5am on a Sunday to wake the congregation.

The last bit amuses me the most. In my head I imagine the kind hearted and quiet Priest, from my Catholic school days, waking up at the crack of dawn just to set off bangers. Very bizarre.

bling-church-mexico

11. 90% of the time you are never more than 50 yards from a corner shop.

Like 60% of all statistics I’ve made up the numbers, but every third house in Mexico seems to be a corner shop. It must be some kind of world record. At least you never run out of milk.

12. I am sexually excited to see my parents.

Yet another embarrassing moment from my Spanish class. For homework I had to prepare a paragraph of what I was doing in the coming week. My parents were visiting. I was excited. I hadn’t seen them in 6 months!

I told my teacher this. After she stopped laughing she told me that I had announced that I was aroused that my parents were visiting. Yup, in my haste to complete my homework I had chosen the wrong form of excited from good old Google translate.

13. It’s ok for a man to poke your chicken.

This happened to me twice. I ordered chicken and was brought something that had been quickly shown to the grill, but was definitely nearer alive than cooked. I showed the waiter the raw chicken, which he then poked with his finger. He quickly whisked it away before I had time to look in my phrase book for, “I say old chap, please don’t poke my chicken.” He returned with it minutes later fully cooked, and I ate the poked chicken.

The exact same thing happened a second time, but this time as he fingered my cold chicken I said ‘no gracias’ and left the establishment.

mexico-poked-chicken

14. It’s impossible to get the bill at the end of a meal.

In Mexico eating in a restaurant is seen as the same as eating someone’s home. They never want to make you feel uncomfortable or pushed out, so they only bring the bill when requested.

The problem is they seem so reluctant to force you out that they stop looking at you when you have finished your meal, no amount of gesticulating seems to attract the waiter’s attention. Often I just end up bellowing ‘LA CUENTA POR FAVOR’ to a startled waiter.

15. The west coast sunsets are the best!

Ok I know I wasn’t going for the predictable, but my gosh the sunsets are amazing! Plus the rainy season brings huge black clouds, dramatic lightening storms and thunder crackles straight from the soundtrack of a horror film. Unforgettable!

sunset-mexico-west-coast

We have been in this crazy land for ten months and it’s all the welcoming people, self imposed embarrassments, discoveries, noise and quirks that make Mexico such a memorable experience. I shall miss it very much. We leave two weeks today for the USA!!

Chicken and leek pie with parmesan pastry

A big fat pie!!

Make-pie-eat-pie-love-pie

God I missed pie.

Like I actually felt a little inner sadness after not consuming one for many months… Mexicans make some tasty dishes, but I have to say delicious pie doesn’t spring to mind when I think of Mexico.

I’m a Yorkshire lad, and in that part of England pie is an essential part of life, right up there with oxygen and a strong cup of tea (In my book, tea has to be the same colour as David Dickinson’s face).

Now that we are settled into our latest house sit in Patzcuaro, it is time to stop the sadness and satisfy my craving.

King of all comfort foods

This chicken and leek pie, with parmesan pastry, is the king of all comfort foods, especially when served with a dollop of buttery mash.

Recently I have been supporting Kellie in her healthy eating (almost) vegan lifestyle . This was inflicted on her by persistent stomach bug infestations, which have blighted much of her time in Mexico.

The good news is she is fixing up nicely and seems a little more spritely every moment. She even ate a chocolate bar the other day! But still no meat or dairy has passed her lips.

Seeing as though she is on the road to recovery I decided it was a good time to make and consume a big fat pie in front of her face without feeling too much guilt.

I admire folks who chose to be vegan for ethical reasons, but it’s not within me to do this. Mainly I can’t imagine a life without cheese. I know there are plenty of substitutes which you can use nowadays, but these haven’t as yet reached Mexico. I also know that people’s reasons and beliefs go way beyond a lack of cheese, so I am clearly not cut out to be vegan if this is a major stumbling block for me.

So, on with the pie…

It started so well. Then this happened…

sliced-thumb-pie

Those sharp kitchen knives that I had joyously talked about in my last post, came back to haunt me. Whilst chopping the sage I sliced off the top of my thumb. I shall spare you the gory photo, but it’s safe to say my thumb was leaking profusely with claret.

I was now left in pie limbo. There is no way I could complete the pie on my own. The pastry dough made and the pie filling cooked up, but sadly not assembled.

Please dear reader do not despair! This is when I discovered the true meaning of love.

Kellie stepped forth and offered to complete the pie for me, despite not being able to eat it herself. To see and touch a pie, but not be allowed to taste it’s flaky pastry and succulent filling, for me is the worst form of torture. I’m sure this method has been used to break an undercover spy at some point in time.

And here it is in all its glory, the symbolic pie of love…

Chicken and leek pie with parmesan pastry

mixing-piepie-doughrolling-pieopen-pieunbaked-pieWhole-piesliced-pieServes 4-5

Pie Filling

  • 1 tablespoon olive oil
  • 40g butter
  • 4 skinless chicken breasts, chopped
  • 2  leeks, sliced (I used a large onion due to a lack of leeks in Mexico)
  • 2 cloves garlic, chopped
  • 2 tablespoons fresh chopped sage
  • ¼ cup (35g) plain (all-purpose) flour
  • 2 cups (500ml) whole milk
  • Chicken stock cube or powder
  • salt and black pepper

Shortcrust parmesan pastry

  • 2 cups (300g) plain (all-purpose) flour
  • 1 cup (80g) finely grated parmesan
  • 150g cold butter, chopped
  • 1 tablespoon cold milk
  • 1 egg
  • 1 teaspoon sea salt flakes

To make the shortcrust parmesan pastry.

– Sift the flour into a bowl then add the parmesan cheese, butter and salt. Using a mixer blend for 1–2 minutes or until the mixture resembles fine breadcrumbs. You can do this by hand but it takes a bit longer.
– Add the egg and milk and mix for 2 minutes or until a smooth dough forms.
– Wrap in plastic wrap and refrigerate for 30 minutes.

To make the pie filling

– Heat the oil in a large non-stick frying pan over medium heat. Add the chicken and cook, in batches, for 4–5 minutes or until golden. Remove from pan, set aside and keep warm. (I cheated slightly by buying a delicious pre cooked chicken from the local Mexican market and skipped this first step).
– Add the butter, leeks, garlic and thyme to the pan and cook for 7–8 minutes or until softened.
– Add the flour and cook for 2 minutes.
– Add the milk and cook for a further 3 minutes or until thickened. I added a teaspoon of stock peder here, but you can add more or less depending on your taste buds.
– Add a pinch of salt an pepper to taste.
– Return the chicken to the sauce and refrigerate until cooled completely.

Assembling the pie

– Roll half the pastry out between 2 sheets of non-stick baking paper to 3mm-thick.
– Line a 31cm-round lightly greased pie tin with the pastry. Fill with the chicken mixture.
– Roll the remaining pastry out between 2 sheets of non-stick baking paper to 3mm-thick.
– Place on top of the pie and trim the excess pastry. Brush with milk and bake in a preheated oven at 180ºC (350ºF) for 35–40 minutes or until the pastry is golden.

P.S. Kellie makes GOOD pie!