every now and then, my grandmother and i would make a mid-morning stop here: el mercado morelos. i remember holding my breath and hurrying past the raw fish stand as well as the many drainage holes piled with trash along the floor. in exchange,  i would run to the fruit stands – the sweet smell of fresh mangoes, papayas, pineapples filling up my nose. i would stand there motionless because any sudden movement and the salty stench of dried shrimp or rotting peels would ruin my happy moment.   

my grandmother would go to the chicken stand and tell the vendor how many thighs, legs and breasts she needed for the day. while she questioned and re-questioned his assurance of freshness, his assistant would instinctively know my one true desire for a pair of these:

chicken feet. best toy ever created. it doesn’t get much better than pretending these chicken feet are actually your own hands – can they pick up a lime? how about a watermelon? can you tell the difference between these vs. your own fingers scratching your head? your inner nose?  ah, so many games so little time (they start turning grey after a while and that’s just gross).

on our way out we would usually reward ourselves with what i consider the pinnacle of traditional mexican cuisine – las gorditas.

these – by the way – are not the kind of gordita made at your local “taco bell” – i don’t even know what those are. the ones i’m talking about are my definition of true comfort food the like of which i have yet to find here in texas. they are handmade corn “cakes” stuffed with anything and everything you can dream of – refried beans, cheese, beef, chicken, haba beans, etc. and, of course, topped with fresh mexican sour cream, “queso blanco” and salsita roja o verde – your choice. they are heated to perfection on a comal – like the one shown. my grandmother would buy one for each of us (de haba, of course) even if it was just before lunchtime. we would sit side by side on these tiny metal stools in front of the gordita stand – enjoying every single bite. once we finished, it was time to hurry off again – my grandmother needed to get home and start making “la comida” for the day.

*** i was there – in toluca – the day my grandmother was buried. it was one of those days that i will always remember as heavy and overcast. i walked out of the cemetary in a daze and was startled when a vendor lady tapped me on the shoulder and handed me a gordita – de haba, of course. for an instant, i felt the sun shine down; her warmth envelop me – just long enough for me to smile up at the sky, tears streaming from my eyes.