mexico’s brilliant make-shift

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One of things I love about Mexico is the country’s embrace of the make-shift; people are great at rigging what they need with whatever they have access to. Inventive solutions to all kinds of problems and needs are everywhere, as I discovered on a recent vacation in Sayulita, Mexico, a fishing village-cum-surfer-paradise about 35 miles North of Puerto Vallarta on the Pacific coast. On a riverbank, away from the touristy bustle of Sayulita’s central plaza, I came upon a Mexican woman cooking on an inventive, multi-use wood-fired stove rigged out of loosely-placed bricks, stones, and metal parts repurposed from other appliances.

On a grill set over wood coals sizzled halved chickens and steak, an onion, some chiles. A sheet of iron served as a griddle to warm tortillas, cactus paddles and pots of menudo, a tripe stew traditionally served on Sunday for family gatherings. A pot of birria was kept warm on hot bricks in one corner of the stove: a perfect bain marie.

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This was the kitchen of a small restaurant — four or five tables under a palm frond roof. At a workstation made from a folding table, another cook fed fat kernels of dried corn, soaked overnight in water, into an ancient hand-crank meat grinder. It was attached to a rough motor that whined from the hard work of grinding the tough kernels into a fine dough for tortillas. This was then rolled into balls, flattened in a press and cooked on the griddle: handmade tortillas for each order.

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Some enterprising soul forged the multipurpose stove and grinder to found this charming restaurant by the river, with really good “homemade” food. It bore out my private theory: that make-shift is often a good guide to REAL local food.

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I’ve filed the stove photos in my “outdoor oven file”, an on-going reference for the the back yard cooker I will one day build. It’s a reminder of the possibilities inherent in ordinary materials.

3 Responses to mexico’s brilliant make-shift

  1. namemaria robledo 05.29.2009 at 7:08pm #

    Would love to see more of an urban scale fro my brownstone garden

  2. SS 05.30.2009 at 10:44pm #

    How do you manage to create something so original in a very crowded field?

  3. suzy lowinger 11.16.2011 at 4:46pm #

    total reason to go to mexico asap! suzy

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