James Beard Publication of the Year 2017

Chilaquiles Sandwiches Would be the Only Reason We’d Get Up in the Morning, Too

Chilaquiles Sandwiches Would be the Only Reason We’d Get Up in the Morning, Too

Lonches in Guadalajara

Doña Marta doesn’t know my name, but I know hers. People call her Doña Marta or Señora Marta or, if they’re on really close terms with her, Martita. Of course, I would never dream of calling her by her first name, but that might change in the next few months, because I eat her sandwiches every day.

Marta sells “lonches” out of her convenience store in the Americana neighborhood of Guadalajara for the reasonable price of 28 pesos (US$1.50). They’re sandwiches, on soft baguettes, filled with things like pierna (pulled pork leg), and chilaquiles (soggy tortilla chips covered with green salsa and melted cheese). If you saw Marta’s store from outside, or even went inside, you would never suspect she sold high-grade, culinary ecstasy. You would think she sold Coca Cola and toilet paper. This is because she does.

In Guadalajara, sandwiches of this kind (on baguettes) are called lonches. Elsewhere in Mexico, a lonche is more like the sandwiches commonly served in the U.S., on sliced white or wheat bread. Lonches are similar to the Mexican torta, but whereas tortas commonly drift into fast-food territory, lonches are a notch above. In Guadalajara it’s not uncommon to go into an upscale restaurant and see some kind of lonche, possibly cochinita, accompanied by salad—with the word “aioli” lamentably somewhere in the description—for close to 100 pesos. This doesn’t happen with tortas. Tortas are usually sold on the street.

But Marta, and the one employee she has in the kitchen, does not serve aioli (praise Jesus.) And the quality speaks for itself. The ingredients are fresh. The lonche de pierna is topped with slices of avocado, strips of jalapeños, tomato, and homemade red salsa. The lonche de chilaquiles, or, as I like to call it, my reason for getting up in the morning, is a more involved process and usually requires a fork. I like to try to let it sit there and let the salsa soak the bread, and eat it as if it were a bread salad or some kind of stew, but impatience usually results in salsa-covered hands.

Every day, the hardest decision is which lonche to order. This dilemma is solved by alternating between them, and also by going there every day, sometimes twice. She still doesn’t know my name, but by now Doña Marta asks me how I’m doing, and I’m always honest. “Work sucks,” I say, or, “I don’t know that many people here in Guadalajara.” One time I said, “Doña Marta, your sandwiches are the highlight of my day,” followed by, “Is that a little sad?”

“No,” she said. “No no. We must appreciate the everyday things.”

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