Food Rx: The Mayan Corn God vs. Nopalito (SF)
"After September 6th, everything will make sense," a friend told me. She's referring to New Years Day of the Mayan calendar. It was supposed to be a comforting prediction, but I prodded her with questions. So, the Mayan calendar was developed thousands of years ago by a civilization known for their advanced math, writing and astronomy skills. They consider corn a gift from the gods and they nestle babies in between cobs for protection at night. In Chiapas, ghostly cobs bother travelers, urging them to plant corn instead of coffee. In this region, wasting food is an eternally damning sin, plaguing whole families when only one kernel is dropped and forgotten. The Mayan corn god has long silken hair, like the silks from the blessed stalks, and the "8th day" of the week is dedicated to him.
Alec Dempster; Maiz Moderno, 2006
The Mayan relationship to the earth is an attractive religious trend, and extremists are already selling stories to the media. Turns out, a lot of people believe that the Mayan Calendar predicts the end of the world to be in December of next year, 2012. But, according to this article:
"University of Florida anthropologist Susan Gillespie says the 2012 phenomenon comes from media and from other people making use of the Maya past to fulfill agendas that are really their own."
Basically, the media made it up to further current political agendas. The Mayan calendar does not predict the end of the world at all. But! The Mayan New Year is definitely a time of rebirth, cosmically speaking. And this year, we felt it for sure.
More specifically, two of my closest friends (along with a bunch of other folks in the community) are going through totally epic, long term relationship break-ups. Nothing puts a band-aid on the situation better than mani-pedis and tequila! So, we swooped up my recently singled bestie and went to the East Bay's favorite Mexican spot, Dona Thomas.
At first glance, this place is kick ass. The menu is killer. Its also entirely based on corn, and anything that has dairy in it is clearly stated in the descriptions. This is great because it means that my friend (who is deathly allergic to dairy) and I won't have to ask a million questions about all the food. Also, I can eat all but two things they serve. Jackpot.
But as I ate, I realized that these folks are not nailing the basics at all! Housemade tortillas, not amazing. Refried black beans, ok. Guac, ok. Ceviche, ok. I mean, B-A-S-I-C-S. To me, if you chef a restaurant under the slow food umbrella in Oakland, your basics should be the best ever. I've had better refried beans at crappy taco stands. What happened here?!
So, we tried again a couple nights later at the Haight's gem, Nopalito. Jesus, what a place. My bestie and I had yet another amazing not-having-to-ask-a-bunch-of-
I love mezcal. Its like drinking a tequila soaked leather boot, in a good way. It's like chipotle pepper on acid and somehow contained in a glass. Its Mexico's answer to a good whiskey. In fact, as food trends tend toward more soulful and heritage foods, mezcal might slip into the whisky spotlight for a bit.
We were corralled into this semi awkward area between the register and the really tiny dinning room for probably 45 minutes. But! Who cares when you are swigging Palomas (a fizzy, grapefruit and tequila cocktail that they make with mezcal) like it really is the end of the world. The bartender was total ham. He probably once had to display "flair" at work, but (as a former Starbucks-er) who am I to judge?
We sat down and promptly ordered almost everything on the menu. Our server said, "that's a lot of food." I know it is. I was hoping to have leftovers. Instead, I hurt myself eating it all. It was so good that I don't even remember what I ordered. I had a gordita, with beef. Something with squash blossoms, and... I ate it all.
They nail the basics. The house made tortillas are made from house made masa. That means, they start with an ear of corn. They cook it, dry it and grind it into flour. Then they make tortillas, chips, gorditas and everything else on the menu from something that grows out of the earth, not something that comes in a box or a bag.
I literally dream of eating at this place. And, even though I don't want to admit it, my neighborhood slow food Mexican place is nothing in comparison to Nopalito.
The Mayan corn gods would be pleased.