A LIGHT LOOK AT MAYONNAISE IN MEXICO
Alvin Starkman, M.A., LL.B. (Article archive)
I Say Miracle Whip, You Say Mayonnaise
The fixation with mayonnaise in Oaxaca, Mexico, is subtle, as one would imagine with any condiment, yet manifests in an extraordinary supermarket phenomenon unrivaled elsewhere in North America. Venture through one of the Soriana chain of grocery stores and you’ll find no less than 39 different sizes, types and brands occupying 6 shelves, each 32½ feet long: original, lime, chipotle and other chili flavors; squeezable and not; Soriana brand, economy manufacturer, national brands and no less than three familiar American producers; and, regular, light and 0% fat (rather stunning since Mexico tops even Florida in the obesity sweeps). To put the marvel into perspective, this singular, highly versatile dressing garners pretty well the same respect from marketing mavens as does the whole range of breakfast cereals and soft drinks.
Oaxaca will simply not let mayonnaise take a back seat to its deep red cousin or to mustard, and not for a lack of sophistication of the Mexican palate. You’ll find your Dijon, Maille, provencale, deli and the rest at one end of the mayo mantels, and your catsups and ketchups at the other; but that’s just the point…they envelope and draw your attention to the aisle’s star attraction, just as bookends provide functionality and little more.
Much in the same way as liberals, progressives and others of a reasonable bent decline to appear on Fox News’ Bill O’Reilly show, the Soriana executives declined to grant an interview to assist in unraveling the mystery, leaving this writer to glean an understanding from elsewhere, using a background in sociological fieldwork, a keen eye for observation, on-the-street interviews, and a death wish to rapidly put on weight (otherwise known as, amongst anthropologists, “going native”).
If you think it’s hard to find the beef in a Big Mac, it’s even more of a treasure hunt in Oaxaca when eating a hamburger on the street, loaded with our dreamy white wonder. Be it burger or dog, when your merchant of the finest meat you’ll find on the corner is finished grilling your fare, he’ll likely ask “con todo” (with everything), the local retort invariably being a simple nod in the affirmative. Mustard relish and onions are virtually unheard of requests. The twin temptations of elotes (boiled corn on the cob) and esquites (the same, but off the cob and in a styrofoam cup) are similarly finished off with the works, in this case juice squeezed from a lime, crumbled Oaxacan cheese, chili, and a healthy dollop of mayo. For this Oaxaca-street-corner-food junkie, as well as his family, life doesn’t get much better than stirring up a steaming cup of fully garnished cooked kernels.
Now your industrial size jar of mayonnaise finds greater application in more stationary eateries, but who would have thought in the snootiest of fine restaurants? “Oui monsieur, boot of coors I’ll brling you mor.”
And in high end marisquerías
(seafood restaurants), even before your appetizer of crab bisque, shrimp cocktail or mixed seafood salad is brought to your mesa
, a mountain of mayonesa
alongside freshly fried tostadas and cellophane swathed saltines arrives. The middle-of-the-road restaurants have not yet progressed beyond the sixties, and so in bistros and buffets alike one finds every imaginable side and salad smoothed over: pea and carrot; Waldorf; boiled broccoli; and virtually every other fruit and vegetable combination, all whipped up with a miracle.
For linguistically challenged travelers transfixed on sandwiches, alongside musts for remembering from your Spanish phrasebook such as “donde está el baño,” (where’s the washroom) and “la cuenta, por favor,”
(the check please) you must never forget “sin mayonesa, por favor”
(hold the mayo, please). Otherwise, be it chicken, pork, beef or cheese, and regardless of whether or not it’s already been greased from the grill, as automatic as corned beef on rye with mustard, that additional layer will be levied.
An then there’s the home, where in many respects one encounters a similarity with commercial use, particularly in the kitchen. However venturing into dining and living rooms reveals even a greater dedication to daubing than hereinbefore noted, where devotees ranging from toddler to teen, and adult to aged, are frequently found indulging in buns and breads spread with nothing more. But we dare not venture down the corridors to the bedrooms, leaving that
to the imagination. Alvin Starkman together with wife Arlene operate Casa Machaya Oaxaca Bed & Breakfast ( http://www.oaxacadream.com ). Alvin received his masters in social anthropology in 1978, and his law degree in 1984. Thereafter he was a litigator in Toronto until taking early retirement. He and his family were frequent visitors to Oaxaca between 1991 and when they became permanent residents in 2004.