When it’s time to pay and leave, we ask for the bill. But there is no bill. Prices exist only in the duena’s head and nothing has been written down. There is, however, the greater and far more ephemeral matter of how much we owe. The idea rooted in the shaky calculus of how much food we consumed by a factor of just how much cash I might be carrying inside my brand new lululemon running pants. The duena speaks: $45. Not cheap, by any means, for what we’ve eaten, especially considering that with one well-placed phone call I could have the lights shut off in this joint. But I’m purchasing far, far more than just lunch, am I not? I’m paying for the experience itself, the element of risk, both hers and mine, the thrill of adventure. I’m buying (if not merely renting) the culinary love child of the Aztecs and conquistador Cortes, the product of a five hundred year old gastronomic miscegenation between European and indigenous American cuisines. All of it embodied in this tiny little woman. All of it housed in this crammed little apartment with its Telemundo and wall of Mexican beauty products. All of it delicious enough to make me bug out and lose my shit at a card table already thick with sock-headed hipsters. That this smiling little woman could be fined, jailed, or event deported for the act of illegally feeding paying strangers in her tiny home saddens me, deeply, and no doubt proves (in the starkest terms, I think) just how fucked up ideas regarding food cultivation and purveyance have gotten in North America. That Monsanto (el Diablo primero) can peddle herbicide glyphosate (that's Roundup, sports fans), genetically engineered (GE) seed, and bovine growth hormone, at mind-boggling profit AND still sleep like babies at night is a far, far greater evil than this sweet little old lady slinging tacos in her home kitchen. That McDonalds (el Diablo segundo) openly and freely puts ammonia-treated "beef product" (the now-infamous pink slime) infused with bovine fecal matter in its burgers is a far, far greater injustice than this immigrant family pouring me horchata from a decommissioned flower vase, no? Can we not agree, to the person, that the risks of becoming sick or developing food-borne disease are far, far greater from consuming the shit that Monsanto is pimping than what this sweet old lady is serving in her own home? Can we not agree that this so-called underground restaurant is emphatically NOT serving protein tainted with cow shit?
The good news in all of this, friends and fellow eaters, is that for every Monsanto, monolith of un-Godly food cultivation that it is, there is a duena like this, serving the freshest and best food she can possibly produce. And fresh and good the food at Taqueria X most certainly is. It’s more than just good. It’s an affirmation of the culinary possibilities that yet abound in this country and a testament to the culinary defiance of poor people feeding themselves through centuries of shared tradition and on their very own terms.
The only rub is that I can’t tell you where Taqueria X is. That would be a betrayal. A pinche gringo move. So here’s the deal: if I know you well enough, or if the degree of our separation is, say, less than two, contact me and I’ll give you the scoop. I can tell you that Taqueria X is open only on the weekends, from 7AM to 7PM. I can also tell you I will surely be there when you do visit. I’ll be eating crickets. And I’ll be walking Spanish down the hall.