Wednesday, April 11, 2012

Meals on wheels: tastes that take one back home

You arrive. Place your order. Eat, pay, and leave.
That is how fast and easy it is to eat at a mobile food stand, or as they are known in a sort of Spanglish term: loncheras. They are restaurants on wheels, loaded with flavors that remind one of his or her homeland. Such fare includes tacos, enchiladas, corn in a cup, fruit sprinkled with the sour and spicychamoy, and even a menudo soup on Saturday morning to cure a hangover.
Andrés Hernández, a native of Mexico, arriving at noon to a red-colored food stand in the parking lot at Plaza Santa Cecilia in Tulsa’s east side, and he gave three reasons for being there. “I am very hungry, I don’t have much money and I don’t have much time.” He ordered a “chilindrina,” a meal consisting of fried pork skin or chicharrón with sour cream, tomato, lettuce, pickled pig skin and avocado, and sprinkled with hot sauce. “Now I can go work, with enthusiasm,” he said as he left, sticking to his daily routine.

After Hernández was given his order, Juan Chavarria arrived and ordered a water-and-tamarind-drink, and three round, flour duros with lemon and “a lot of Valentina sauce.”
But what has made the provider of traditional Mexican snacks well known is the combination of fruit with hot sauce and salt. “It is refreshing and tasty,” said Eugenia Pedroza, who was waiting for a mango covered in viscouschamoy and sprinkled with a Tajín spice, or a mix of ground cayenne and lemon.
Just two blocks away are two other food stands. Each claims to provide the best tacos in Tulsa. “My tacos are express, very fast,” said José Duarte, one of three cooks. “We work as a team, so the orders come out quickly.”
His neighbor, Lupe Castañeda, said he offers “quality,” adding that “I’m not as fast as they are, but I’m not bad. But I have to say, my tacos have the flavor of (Mexican state) Sinaloa.”
Francisco González, owner of a food trailer near Eleventh Street and Lewis Avenue, says “the food at these loncheras is homemade; it is authentic food.” He said “we do not compete with any restaurant. That is very different. The menu is smaller and people come because it is something special. Imagine eating at a lonchera in the middle of Tulsa.”
Gonzalez says his “little truck” was not a mobile kitchen and everything was adapted until he converted it to a lonchera. He said people come to the business to have their picture taken and others rent it for parties at their homes. “It is very original, and it is like taking a piece of Mexico with them.”

But the main interest of his customers is speed. “They can call ahead and do not even have to wait,” he said. “The speed of service and the freshness of the products make this a good business.”
Not far from there, in the Kendall-Whittier neighborhood and near Third Street and Lewis Avenue, Fernando Mendoza, originally from Tamaulipas, Mexico, was at a mobile food outlet. He ordered five tostadas with ceviche – “four to go and one to eat on the road,” he said. “It is Easter, so I cannot eat meat. This site is famous for its hot-dogs, I always order them.” With him was his cousin, Manuel, who nodded in agreement and said “they are the best.”
Food served out of a trailer is a Hispanic tradition, which in a hectic society allows one to  briefly enjoy those curb-side taquitos, with a sweet and refreshing glass of horchata and the spiciness of a sauce that reminds one of home. Besides, these vendors add a special color to the city. Right?

Photos by Juan Miret

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