Here’s another blog post from Riverside, California. It’s from Rey.
My mom has two favorite restaurants. The first is fifteen minutes away from my brother’s school which is a half-hour away. The second is twenty minutes down a boulevard that used to be swimming in popularity years before my mom came to America. Both restaurants are Guatemalan and are two of the three Guatemalan restaurants that exist within a reasonable distance from my mom. The third one isn’t as good as the first two because their masa is too mushy; It tastes like they put too much water in cheap instant masa, my mom noted once after the doors of the restaurant closed behind us and we walked to the car. We only eat at these restaurants if my mom is too tired to cook or if it’s been a good, long day. Stepping into the restaurants, the first two things to notice is the heat in the air and the smell of puerco. After that, there’s the loud laughs of the old men sitting at the counter and the waitresses shouting out orders to the cooks with hairnets over their mustaches. The waitresses always smile tiredly at us and then talk to my mom about everything and anything while leading us to a table, while taking our orders, while bringing the food, and even when my mom is paying the bill. My mom’s laugh soon joins the mesh of noise in the restaurant.
My mom rarely cooks Guatemalan dishes at home because my father is Mexican and he brings home the money. The money he earns for food should be put to the food he likes, he’ll argue as he lays in bed and flips through the channels on the T.V. The only dishes she can get past my dad are Hilacha and Pepian and they also happen to be my favorite. Yet, every now and then, we get our hands on Guatemalan tamales from my great-aunt who lives five blocks away. Handmade over the course of a week, my visa-tia makes enough to feed her family and mine for weeks, three meals a day, and still have enough to give to people at church. Tamales aren’t enough though because when you eat tamales you have to eat it with pan y café. To eat tamales any other way is ridiculous, unless you’re in a hurry, aka late to church and just pulled the tamales out of the pan.
My mom came from Guatemala when she was my age. Her family stayed in Guatemala and so did their food. She knew how to cook it but she worked as a nanny and, consequently, couldn’t cook it for the kids she cared for and she didn’t have her own kitchen. When she married my dad, and moved into an apartment with him, he worked late and couldn’t enjoy dinner with her as often. Guatemalan food became food she ate by herself in a one-bedroom apartment with cracked windows instead of a warm house with all her sisters and her parents. I’ve always enjoyed her food since I was a baby but when times became hard, it became a choice of quantity over quality. In a poor home, quantity always won. Nowadays, thankfully, she has more freedom to eat Guatemalan food. Every now and then, however, she still calls me before dinner to beg my dad to go pick up some take-out from her favorite restaurant before it closes.