By Leo Rios
Growing up in Selma we had quite a few little family markets, the kind that made hot meals like rotisserie chicken. Our favorite places were Grumbles, G’s, Freeway, Estrella and way more. (Don’t get me started on panaderias on the barrio side of the freeway.) Grumbles, though – that was our go-to. The floors were old and made of wood. They made noise when you walked on them, every here and there, you could feel where it was so old the wood was weak.
Lots of selection of produce the average, lower middle class Mexican family would use. Chayote, onions, cilantro, jalapeño. The meat department had tripas, lengua, cachetes, buches. So thankful for the day mom introduced me to buches – so damn good. I can still remember that aroma of old wood and meat and produce and dust. Earthy, wholesome, and somehow still connected to old ways, for as much as it was still a convenience to buy prepared cooked meat.
Mom had a routine: Grab onion, cilantro, tomato, garlic. Pick the meat. Don’t forget corn tortillas! Grumbles had it all, already made or for you to take and make at home. Mom liked the not-having-to-cook part. When we were small, you didn’t see the chickens like you do these days, five pounds or more. They were smaller, like three pounds, mayyybe four. And Grumbles had this way of making them, I can almost still taste them. So moist, and had a roasty flavor and the rub they used, man! You go to the heat table and pick from the meat ready to go. The chicken was brown all over, in a foil tub wrapped in heat-proof Saran wrap. If the chicken was there long enough, it’d continue to cook and the juices would build a big puddle in the foil tub. That puddle held the chicken juice, rendered fat, and all those concentrated flavors of the spice rub. You know which one mom picked!
Chop onion, cilantro, tomato, jalapeño. Heat corn tortillas. Remove the wrap from the chicken at the table. Why at the table? Cause you take your tortilla, pick some meat off the chicken, dress with the salsa, form your taco roll up, and – this part is what mom really lived for – proceed to dip your roll up in chicken juice from the foil tub and bite, dip, bite. Mom really relished and enjoyed those meals. Man, that was so good!
I miss her all the time. I feel her presence very strong in my life, her teachings run deep, her culture in my blood. I feel so connected, at times I forget she’s gone from earth.
Another one of her favorite meals was prime rib with “horsey sauce” and au jus. I didn’t know what au jus was until she taught me. I thank her for introducing me to horsey sauce as well. She loved taking her time to eat this meal.
So when I see a chef on TV soft-whip heavy cream and add fresh, grated horseradish to go with the standing rib roast he just made, I think to myself, Hey! That’s so easy! I’m going to make that for mom… Sigh. I was so caught up in doing something for her that she’d love to have, the reality of her being gone escapes me, then hits like a train again. So sad and so happy at the same time.