27 January 2014

Going Native

Unheated Houses

In December and January, our winter, the cinderblock houses here in Monterrey become refrigerators--so cold that residents often have to step outside to get warm. We experienced a real Monterrey winter last Friday. At 4:30 a.m. our little mini-split wall heater quit working. It was a very unkind thing to do since Friday temperatures began to fall at the same time, dropping that night to near freezing. The inside temperature in our house is usually is about 8-10 degrees warmer than outside--that means our cozy little cottage was hovering at about 45 degrees when we awoke the next morning. Though this was a bit of a shock to us, it is what our neighbors and most people here experience every day throughout the winter.

We tried to prepare ourselves for the cold since we knew a repair was not possible until the next Monday. Linda put on her pajamas and then pulled a flannel nightgown over that. Her feet were covered in heavy socks and extra covers were put on the bed. John topped his PJs with a hooded sweatshirt. That proved to be too cumbersome, so he traded it out for a knit cap and neck scarf. We closed the bedroom door to keep body heat in and cold drafts out. We discovered quickly why "kerchiefs" and "caps" are important for sleeping on cold winter nights--noses and ears chill through very quickly. We were wishing for the luxuries of the olden days when our parents would tuck us into bed with hot water bottles at our feet!

We had only a couple of days in our refrigerator house, but the vast majority of the population in Monterrey has never lived any differently. One of our shift coordinators said that her new little granddaughter is never taken out of the bedroom--the warmest room in the house--which is still nothing like warm in North America. Another sister in the temple was late for work one day. When asked why she was late, she dropped her eyes and quietly replied that it was just too cold to shower so early in the morning without heat in the house. Our landlords (he works for Microsoft) have a lovely big home with many wonderful amenities; but have admitted to only turning on the gas wall heaters when the temperature falls to freezing. Their children were visiting at Christmas time and never stopped complaining about how cold they were--she just told them to go put on more clothes!
The costs for gas and electricity here are just too high in comparison to the wages--many must choose to eat or be warm.

Though we have not even come close to experiencing the cold that the pioneers lived through, we now understand clearly what it means to live "like the locals"--they are very hardy people!

Romeritos with Shrimp and Mole

Our dear friends, Jaime and Gloria Meneses are trying to teach us all of the local food traditions. They want us to leave here knowing EVERYTHING about Monterrey. Romeritos with Shrimp and Mole is a traditional dish served on Christmas--we tasted it during the celebration of Three King's Day. 
Romeritos (the herb)
The dish is called Romeritos after a wild herb that looks like Rosemary leaves. It includes the herb, onions, potatoes, chopped cactus leaves (quite delicious), a local vegetable called cambray, and dried shrimp. The dried shrimp is sold in shops and on the highways all over town. It is ground and rehydrated, and then made into small patties (shell and all). It is all mixed into a red mole (mole-ay) to stew until tender. It is much better tasting than it looks!

Romeritos con Camarones Secos y Mole Poblano
For those of you not familiar with "mole," it may well be the best dish to ever come out of Mexico. It is a secret combination of peppers, herbs and chocolate and traditionally comes in red, black and green--though there are literally hundreds of different types of moles sold throughout Mexico. It's birthplace is Puebla, but our personal favorite is the black mole from Oaxaca. 


Bacalao is a salted, dried cod also used in a traditional Christmas dish. Its origins hail from Portugal in the 1500s. Before it can be used in cooking, it must be rehydrated and desalinated by soaking in cold water for several days. The water must be changed two to three times a day. Here in Monterrey, they use the European style which includes cooking with potatoes and onions in a casserole. It is then eaten on tortillas, on a bolillo (large sandwich bun), or with rice. Gloria and Jaime also add green olives and mild chiles to their recipe. So many recipes--so little time!


1 comment:

  1. I shouldn't complain...it has never been that cold here but we spend a lot of time in front of the space heater. I am glad we can afford the electricity. I think it gets about 50 at times but it feels much colder because of the humidity. We live against a hill with some trees on the shady side of the street and I know what you mean about going outside to get warm. We drive the 15 minutes to Santa Cruz and it warmer there. I wish the food were better here. Canary food is boiled potatoes with mojo and fish...nothing as interesting as your food looks.