photos by Derrik Chinn
by Cristina González Madín
What do you call a calafia bus full of gringos who visit the most surreal parts of Tijuana and who take part in our most ordinary activities? Turista libre.
If the mental picture of this seems a little odd, we still have to mention that the fellow who organizes these day-trips is from the United States and lives in Tijuana by choice. Derrik Chinn is twenty-eight years old. Three years ago, he left his apartment in San Diego in order to move to Tijuana. And this journalist has enjoyed living here so much that, like so many who are fed up with the city’s bad press, he decided to do something about it.
“I couldn’t stand to hear all the nasty things that were being said about Tijuana. The place is actually very cool, life here is like nowhere else in the world. A lot of people in the U.S. tell me they’d like to visit but they’re afraid to or they don’t want to put up with the wait at the border or they don’t speak Spanish or, well, you get the idea. Sadly, they don’t care that pretty much everyone here speaks at least some English. There’s no reason to use the culture or the language as an excuse.” he says.
The oldest published recipe for quesadillas, from 1831, is found in El cocinero mexicano. These are remarkably similar to the ones we still make today.
Quick quesadillas Either make or buy small, soft tortillas. In the middle of each tortilla place some cheese, which can be fresh or aged cow’s milk cheese or even goat’s milk cheese if you add a bit of salt, then fold the tortilla in half and sew it together with cornbrush or maguey fiber, or pin the halves together with three blades of sacaton [Sporobolus wrightii]. Cook the quesadillas without delay, on a grill over live coals or on a griddle, until the cheese just starts to melt. Remove the threading and serve at once because they’re no good cold. Some people fry their quesadillas in deep fat or sprinkle them with salt and sauté them in black butter.
This recipe is unusual for a couple of reasons. It’s the only antojito to appear in Mexico’s first printed cookbook, which distinguishes it from things like tacos, memelas, and sopes. The gente de razón (as the upper class referred to itself), for whom cookbooks were published in those days, felt that indigenous cuisine was beneath their dignity. Even now restaurants that would never consider offering tacos, memelas, or sopes proudly offer some sort of quesadilla as an antojito, entremés, tentempié, or appetizer.
Further on we present several examples from our own Baja California restaurateurs.
When Hernán Cortés dined with Moctezuma, they ate what later became known as tacos. By using a corn tortilla the way that Ethiopians use njira bread, one can pick up bits of almost anything and eat it wrapper and all. But Cortés and Moctezuma did not eat quesadillas – there simply was no cheese among the hundreds of dishes at Moctezuma’s table. The quesadilla had to wait until Mexico developed a dairy industry. And that brings us to another unusual thing about quesadillas: Mexico is the only lactose-intolerant part of the world where cheese plays an important part in the local cuisine.