Editor’s Note: Barbacoa will be the carne du jour at the Fifth Annual Barbacoa and Big Red Festival, May 3 at the R&J Music Pavilion in Thelma. Gates open from 11 a.m. to 7 p.m. and the $5 admission allows you to sample barbacoa and other treats from more than a dozen area restaurants. Beer and Big Red will be flowing and Ernie Garibay & The Cats Don’t Sleep, Felix Truvere, and Los Aguilares will be performing. Visit here for a map to the event. In the meantime, enjoy a taste of “Sunday Barbacoa” by Susana Nevarez-Marquez. It will get your mouth watering.
Waking up to a quick Mass at Mission San José feels like Sunday to me. Running on empty, my stomach always slept through the homily. Communion went unnoticed, physically speaking. What did get noticed was the cute guy at the end of our pew. I was a teenager, and soul-saving lived in another country like my Durango relatives who laughed when I spoke Spanish.
After Mass, my family always raced to Nogalitos Street. Uncle Sam’s old white station wagon rattled as it rolled. Aunt Bea rode shotgun clutching her patent leather purse in her lap. I sat in the back dreaming of cute boys and fun times, and the new dress that Aunt Bea and Uncle Sam had bought for me. That was my family – just the three of us.
Soon Uncle Sam pulled the station wagon into the drive-through of Esquina Molino. The molino had once been a filling station but had long ago run out of gas. We all hopped out of the station wagon and walked into an olfactory orgy. The deep aroma of steaming meat and fat and spices and corn filled every corner of the molino. Wall shelves were stacked deep with cans and bottles of serranos, jalapeños, salsas, picantes. I rifled through a display of Sabritas and placed a bag of Turbo Flamas on the counter.
“Coming through,” said Uncle Sam as he carried out a bushel basket of fresh corn tortillas. Aunt Bea had already placed her purse on the counter, one hand still clutching it, to transact her business. Uncle Sam returned and about-faced with a commercial-sized food warmer filled with hot barbacoa. The meaty aroma trailed after him like perfume. Aunt Bea opened her purse and counted out four $20 bills, one by one. She placed them on the counter and waited for the cashier to count them into the register, one by one.
We raced back down Nogalitos Street to Division, cut across to Flores Street and down to Mission Road. At the corner, Uncle Sam turned into another drive-through – another converted gas station long out of gas – Bertha’s Grocery, my family’s tiny neighborhood store. Aunt Bea fumed and cursed when she saw the cluster of people at the door. “Ándale, que nos come la gente!” “Hurry, before the people eat us alive!” Customers stood lined up at the door waiting for us to open for business.
Despite the anxious customers, I was instructed to take first pick of the meatiest chunks of barbacoa, and to sit down in the adjoining kitchen to eat first. Good old Big Red resuscitated my mouth from the fiery onslaught of pickled serranos to which I succumbed time and time again while savoring my barbacoa tacos on corn. With my stomach now replete, I began my morning shift at Bertha’s Grocery. Only then did Aunt Bea and Uncle Sam finally sit down to savor the fruits of their labor.
By then, the morning barbacoa rush had abated. I sat behind the counter, dabbing at my lips, smoothing down my hair – No telling when a cute boy might walk in. From the kitchen, Aunt Bea grumbled, “Gente desgraciada, que ni nos dan tiempo para mear.” “Wretched, miserable people, don’t give a person a chance to pee.” But sales were good. Success was sweet. Aunt Bea would have it no other way. Kching. Kching. Kching.
*Featured/top image: Chicken is grilled over hot coals during NIOSA 2015 at La Villita. Photo by Scott Ball.
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