The pot bubbled with an endearingly crimson brew of salsa and a blend of exotic spices. The aroma could only be described as heavenly, with ribbons of steamed heat creating obscure shapes in the air. No Mexican table has a right to exist without me. I’m Chilaquiles.
Fried tortillas make up my base, with delicate sprinkles of cheese, beans, and scrambled eggs engulfing me in a warm hug. For breakfast, I’m usually nothing short of first place. In my land of Mexico, I ruled for hundreds of years. In every home I was welcomed and cherished; families sat at tables to catch sight of me. Sleepy students recited their exams to me as they grabbed their plates, parents grumbling their frustration if I wasn’t eaten quickly, fearing they were disrespecting me, I suspect.
Not even Hugo Sanchez could claim his name bigger than my own; Frida Kahlo, I don’t think so. “Chilaquiles!” The crowds would roar, every street lined with confetti as I went along—I was considered royalty. Tacos and Tequila I’ve heard whispered about— ridiculous. I’m breakfast, the start of the day. Without me, there are simply no smiles and empty bellies. I can’t be replaced. I’m the pride of my country, always.
Then that dreadful day came. It was 1898, I was promised the world. His name was Encarnación Pinedo “The Spanish Cook” and he sold me on a scheme to make me famous worldwide. A brand new world, expanding and everlasting. Status, riches, and foreign bellies. I would have them all, as long as I left my beautiful Mexico. My friends tried to stop me but I was arrogant and young. I thought the world was my oyster so I agreed. I was shoved into a shabby cookbook and left for America.
Alas, my ignorance and pride had taken over and engulfed me. America was indeed a beauty, but compared to my homeland Mexico it felt quite pitiful. Settling down in this country was a hassle, as I would get scandalizing stares from prying locals.
Remarks such as “What is that thing?” were common digressions against me. How dare these Americans insult me so deprecatingly? In Mexico, my name itself would be enough to bring about waves of praise and admiration. Yet in America, I was treated no less than a piece of stale bread.
Encarnación Pinedo had promised me a world of delights where I would single-handedly be the star of all American cuisine. However, soon came the day where I was given my first American gig at The Taco Place, a shabby shack in the middle of nowhere. Simply abhorrent, isn’t it? I, Chilaquiles, a household meal for all of Mexico, was sentenced to share the stage with that snob Taco at this tacky Americanized shop. Disgusting.
Nevertheless, I swallowed my pride and worked. I worked and worked until the edges of my tortilla started peeling off. I gave it my all, mixing myself with any recipe I could. From processed cheese to BBQ sauce, I saw it all. Decades upon decades passed and I reassured myself by remembering that even the mighty Pizza had to dress in pineapples to be accepted. Perhaps if I assimilate myself into their culture, I can become a dish of worth once again.
I moved all over the country like a vagabond searching for adventure, although I simply wanted to find a home in the palettes of the mighty American dream.
How foolish was it for me to believe for even one second that I could become loved in this land, the infamous cultural melting pot? The likes of Hamburgers, Pasta, and Sushi had made the effortless switch as the decades rolled around. I saw them pass by me on menus nationwide, hand-picked by customers while I sat relegated to the ‘specials’ menu. I was becoming a hollow shell, I lost my salsa for life.
Customers cast disgusted glances at my pathetic state, weighing on me through the reflection of the front glass window that no one ever looked at. I was ignored, invisible.
This low point in my life was terrible indeed, yet it signaled the opening of another road: Amigos de la Comida, a group that was dedicated to Mexican dishes living in America. It was an authentic Mexican food truck with a Western twist. I met some of my best ingredients in this group from Señor Avocado to Señora Pollo. We would discuss our struggles as foreign dishes living in America as we traveled in the rumbling, rocky food truck from Dallas to New York. Periodically we would even sing songs of our beloved Mexico together as the night sky glistened at us unamused.
Then one night, an idea hit us like a strong glass of Pulque. We should mix and combine together. If it worked for mac and cheese why couldn’t it be the big launch for us?
And so almost inevitably, our plan of merging together became a big hit. Suddenly, Chilaquiles became the name on the lips of the American people. Accompanied by an array of fresh new flavors and recipes, I became part of popular dining again. I was reborn.
Being part of the Amigos de la Comida gave me the realization that I could be a Mexican dish in America and still be as incredible as I was in the streets of Mexico. My culture, my heritage, and my background will always be a part of me. My roots are my own, that’ll never change,. I can exist in Mexico and the rest of the world all the same. This is what makes me remarkable, not abnormal or dirty. I’ll always be me, no matter the recipe.
Whether I’m leftovers hurriedly put together by Abuelita in the early hours in Cuernavaca or cooked to perfection in a restaurant in London, I’ll be remembered.
For I am Chilaquiles.