James Beard Publication of the Year 2017

All Fruit Salads Should Come with Cheese, Salt, and Hot Sauce

All Fruit Salads Should Come with Cheese, Salt, and Hot Sauce

Fruit gaspacho in Morelia

I was on my own for the day in Morelia, the Spanish-style colonial capital of the Mexican state of Michoacan. I’d tagged along with my husband on a business trip, and spent the one full day we’d had together sick in the hotel, with that feeling of a cat clawing its way around my stomach.

Traveling, for me, is about experiencing flavors you can’t get at home, so few feelings are worse than not being able to eat. I’d experienced it before while backpacking through Southeast Asia, when a salad I’d had on Thanksgiving in Ho Chi Minh caught up to me, and I spent two days unable to stomach even a sip of the pho I’d dreamed about.

I woke up in Morelia with the kind of powerful hunger that only comes after such nights. I knew the right move would be to ease my way back into real food with something plain and simple, but I only had half a day to make up for what I’d missed. On my way to check out the city’s candy museum housed in a 19th-century mansion, I passed a stand proffering fruit gaspachos—more fruit salad than savory soup—that I’d heard were a signature Morelian street food.

I watched as one man prepared his mise en place: deftly diced jicama, mango, and pineapple piled onto a reassuringly clean stainless steel slab. His partner readied his station, lining up plastic cups and shakers full of salt and chili. A line began to form to my right, and other fruits appeared from below the counter at the request of the customer. For an older woman, a heaping cupful of diced cucumber with lime and salt. A little boy wanted watermelon and papaya with nothing added. And then, an older man ordered his gazpacho “tradicional, con todo”—the fruit trinity carefully layered with salt, chili powder, and cotija cheese. Three layers of fruit and toppings, and then a generous glug of fresh orange juice went in, followed by more fruit, a squeeze of lime, and a final sprinkling of cheese, salt, chili, and drizzle of hot sauce.

I moved into the line, mouth now watering, and ordered a small—tradicional, con todo. I paid 30 pesos for a huge cup piled high with fruit, served with a plastic bag to catch the extra juices, and ate it next to the stand on a cobblestone street in the bright sun. Each bite hit the four major tenets of Mexican street food—sweet, salty, sour, and spicy—without heaviness or grease. The bag was an insufficient barrier for the pieces of perfectly ripe, evenly diced fruit that escaped my spoon. Faster and faster, I filled the hole in my stomach as spice gave way to sweet, then to salty, sour and back to sweet again.

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