Bimbo vs. Ladrillo

7 August 2009

breadI am now in Puebla, and the Spanish acquisition is fast and furious.  More on my consequent exhaustion later.  For today, I just want to share the contrasts of the past two days. 

Yesterday afternoon I wandered through Barrio Alto with my fabulous local guide, arranged for by my equally fabulous school.  As we sauntered along, a bakery was revealed in three stages.  At the first doorway we passed, there was a bakeshop.  Somehow, I resisted stopping (Puebla is full of panaderias, so I figured I would have another chance).  The next doorway revealed workers organizing trays of baked goods for the bakeshop.  The third doorway opened onto a large room with a huge brick stove fired with wood and two bakers hard at work.  This I couldn´t resist.  The bakers invited us in and proudly showed off their horno (oven).  Very evocative of those described in turn-of-the-century bagel bakeries in NYC in The Bagel: The Surprising History of A Modest Bread.  All brick, wood-fired, with the baker deftly maneuvering his huge wooden pallet to deliver and retrieve loaves from the oven.  And of course, the smell…yeasty, sweet and comforting.

As luck would have it, the next day my school had arranged an excursion to the Bimbo bread factory in Puebla–one of more than seventy Bimbo factories in the world, if I understood their educational film correctly.  Bimbo is HUGE, and owns brands you have probably purchased like Entenman´s and Thomas´.  You may also have seen their name gracing soccer jerseys, since they sponsor lots of sports teams.  (Yes, that´s why that teenage boy is wearing a shirt that says Bimbo!)  At any rate, after watching a movie about the history of the Bimbo bear and having him educate us about the emerging Chinese market for ultra-white bread, we donned hairnets and toured the factory.  I must say, it´s fun to see these ingenious production lines operate.  Everything and everyone has a specific purpose, and no action is wasted.  Very clever!  And yet…I found myself wondering two things.  The first was a question along the lines of “Really?  This is how we humans have used our exceptional ingeniuty?  To slice, toast and package bread quickly?”  Second was the issue of intention.  I feel that it makes a difference to have your food made by a human being, preferably by a human being who cares for you.  In other words, maybe some ingredients can´t be added in a factory.


Save the elotes!

23 July 2009

Corn of the Americas--how many can you find at the market?

Corn of the Americas--how many can you find at the market?

Corn is corn, right?  Yellow, sweet, pops when you bite it?  Wrong!  I had reason to consider the wide variety of indigenous corn available in Oaxaca last night as I strolled around the zocalo savoring an elote.  For the unitiated, an elote is an ear of corn on a stick, spread with a little mayo (which I always get against all common sense) then sprinkled with grated cheese, chili powder and lime juice.  You can also order this combo off the cob and in a styrofoam cup–then they´re called esquites–but I prefer the more environmentally friendly and perhaps Freudian cob version.  This combo may sound gross in the abstract, so if you are in New York, get yourself to Jackson Heights (82nd Street on the 7, there´s a vendor just as you exit at the Northeast corner)  and just try it!  You can get some Indian sweets for dessert.

But to return to the point, the corn I had last night was more dense, less sweet, more starchy than typical U.S. corn on the cob.  The kernels were bigger and creamy white.  And here in Oaxaca each corn experience is different in terms of color, texture, density and sweetness.  Though I am no expert, I think this is because unlike in the U.S., Oaxaca has so far managed to avoid being completely overrun by one variety of genetically modified corn.  To be frank, I don´t want to write more about this publicly because I´m scared of “big agra” so I´ll just recommend you check out this article and if you can, rent King Corn, a documentary in which two young men discover they are mostly made of corn (thank you, American diet!), try to grow an acre of the stuff and do a lot of cool stop-frame animation with corn kernels.  Or if that seems like too much effort, just slow down and enjoy some corn on the cob…perhaps with a little lime juice.