On Zarela’s Mind: Mexican Hospitality (and A Versatile Salsa de Chile)

I thought of titling this article Mi casa es su casa. The phrase has become as trite as Cielito Lindo and bothers me when I see it on ashtrays, plaques and refrigerator magnets (though needlework pillows are passable). Yet it succinctly captures the essence of Mexican hospitality.

If you visit someone, they will tell you to come in and do everything to please you. Even the poorest of the poorest will kill their only chicken to serve you a meal. And don’t you dare compliment their belt, hat or shirt, because they will literally give the shirt off their backs to you and will not take it back under any circumstances.

I have a moment etched in my mind and in my heart that best illustrates my sense of Mexican hospitality:

My sisters, cousins, friends and I spent summers at our ranch in Chihuahua, Mexico. Mornings we rode horses. I usually determined our destination and led the way singing my favorite songs.

One day, I decided to visit my comadre Lupe in La Agua Sarca, one of the outposts of the ranch, set strategically far away to stop cattle wrangling and otherwise protect that part of the property. This was the time before telephones and cell phones, and we only had use of a short wave radio for 8 minutes to announce our rainfall and check on others.

So we descended on Lupe and Nayo, her husband unannounced. They were mortified. They immediately sent one of their daughters out with a blue enamelware bowl of water and she sprinkled the whole dirt front yard with water to make the dust settle. Someone then swept the yard with a big broom made of twigs while others put out brightly-painted chairs and dusted them for us, despite our protestations.

I know she was thinking to herself, ‘What am I going to make?’ To me, she said, “I know! Te hecho unas tortillas a mano y te hago unas enchiladas con salsa molida a mano.”

What she meant was: I’ll make you some tortillas by hand, then soak the red chiles and remove the pulp and seeds by rubbing them between my hands to make salsa de chile colorado. That way my essence will be in the sauce and that will be my gift to you.

They were the best enchiladas I’ve ever tasted.

For my own recipe for Salsa de Chile Colorado (Red Chile Sauce), which you can use to make everything from enchiladas to a quick midweek taco meal, go here.