I Moved To Oaxaca

Monday, September 27, 2004

As far as Sunday Drives go, it was pretty tame – at first. I played with the kitten; G-man worked on his book. “Should we go somewhere?” “Sure, where?” “I don’t know...” and so on. By 2pm it was pretty clear we weren’t going up to the Mixteca or in search of a red triangle mystery.

As dinnertime rolled around – American dinner time, that is – we chose to let our stomachs do the deciding, and went off in search of Casa Blanca, supposedly the best Chinese restaurant in Oaxaca.

We didn’t have an address or a phone number, or a phone book, but G remembered seeing an ad for it on the way to Ceviarem. Yes, there was the ad, phone number only and “Servicio a Domicilio!” Okay. But G thought it was up near the fountain of the seven women (each one representing a region of Oaxaca; it’s cool). So off we went, and we spotted a sign, Casa Blanca, with an arrow. We zoomed up the street in the direction of the arrow. Another sign, another arrow. And another. And another. Good thing, too, because we were in a colonia we hadn’t been in before. I felt like we were driving through the twisty, narrow roads of the Berkeley Hills, and the streets were lined with houses, but we kept seeing signs so we kept going.

And there it was, tucked between houses on a clearly residential street (zoning? ha!). We parked and took a look. Two levels, the top full of people eating and the bottom full of kids playing on plastic jungle gyms in the patio. We went upstairs but were told it was full, “but downstairs is the same.”

Well if chatting over gleefully screaming kids versus chatting while looking out the windows at the cityscape is the same, yeah, it was. But this is Mexico, not France, and children are always included in family events, especially on Sundays. There’s a saying: Friday for friends, Saturday for sex, Sunday for family. If Friday and Saturday nights are the big nights for movie theatres in the States, here it’s Sunday, and the whole family comes.

But back to Casa Blanca. Our waiter came over and started setting the table. He looked to be a teenager, and shyly asked, “Do you speak English? French?” “Hablamos ingles y espanol!” He asked if he could speak English “to practice” and G said, Okay, you speak English and we’ll answer in Spanish – we need to practice too!

He asked us if we wanted the buffet, but we said no thanks. He handed us two menus and went off to bring us our drinks. We took a look and got pretty excited. Now, when G and our friend Dale tried the Chinese restaurant near Santo Domingo, it was so bad that G couldn’t eat any of it. And in Tehuacan, The Pagoda restaurant had more Mexican dishes than Chinese on its menu. Casa Blanca’s menu didn’t list a single Mexican food entree! The dishes were divided roughly into sauce types: oyster sauce, lobster sauce, frijol cantones – “Frijol Cantones?” “Black-bean sauce!” – sweet and sour sauce. Plus broccoli dishes, chop suey, chow mein, and chau fan. Chow fun?, I thought. Then I saw chau fan con cha siu, and thought, No way! Chinese-style bbq pork chow fun?! I picked that for my dish, and G chose black-bean sauce pork.

Our waiter came back, poured the beers, and took our order. Greg ordered frijol cantonés con cerdo, then I asked about the chow fan. He said that chau fan was a rice dish – bummer! – so I switched to chop suey cha siu. We also picked a California roll from the Maki Rollos section. I pointed out to G that, technically speaking, California rolls and chop suey are American food. Then we tried to order steamed rice, but the waiter said no! Too much food, he said, but if you decide later you want the rice, I’ll bring it. Okay. Chinese and Japanese food by way of California eaten in Oaxaca, who needs rice?

So how was the food? It was ... okay! I had specifically gotten a California roll instead of a Philadelphia roll to avoid cream cheese, but that’s not the way sushi works in this town. And we couldn’t distinguish between the black-bean sauce pork and the bbq beef chop suey. At all. But the vegetables were fresh, and cooked just right. If I hadn’t lived almost my entire life in major metropolitan coastal areas or married a guy who’s half Chinese*, I probably would’ve thought it was great. I’m sure it’s better than all those Chinese buffets I saw sprinkled across the U.S. And what better way to end the meal than by splitting an order of fried ice cream?

We weren’t ready to end the evening, so we hopped in Little Jumbo and took a joyride around the city. We ended up somewhere south of Sta. Lucia, the colonia where Oaxaca International’s Independence Day party was. It’s fun to explore the city, especially when we run across fun signs and pretty buildings, but Col. Ramona seemed to have none of these things. We followed a dirt road along the river – yeah, even the capital has lots of dirt roads and shanties. We crossed a bridge and headed uphill. The road dead-ended near a large crumbling ediface: an old school? a factory? a hacienda? No clue. We turned around and headed back vaguely in the direction we’d come.

I turned onto another dirt road and followed it downhill. It had rained that afternoon, so the roads were wet, and the large potholes were filled with water. We passed some goats. The potholes got larger and the mud deeper and I started worrying about getting stuck. Nothing like a little on-road off-roading as an after-dinner treat. I stepped on the gas, figuring a little speed would help us slide through any tricky spots. And slide we did! Little Jumbo started fish-tailing down the wide, muddy street as I howled with laughter. Where were we? That’s right! The capital of the poorest state in the country, swerving along looking for pavement.

We got through the mud, and I swung the car onto the asphalt and headed for home.

*Greg does not have a Chinese parent. But his first wife's parents were Chinese, and that's what he learned to cook. So now he says that he's half Chinese -- his stomach. The ladies at dim sum love it.


Post a Comment

<< Home