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I Say Miracle Whip, You Say Mayonnaise

by author Alvin Starkman of Casa Machaya
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The Oaxacan fixation with mayonnaise is subtle, as one would imagine with any condiment, yet manifests in an extraordinary supermarket phenomenon unrivalled elsewhere in North America. Venture through one of the Gigante chain of grocery stores and you’ll find no less than 39 different sizes, types and brands occupying 6 shelves, each 32½ feet long: original, lime, chipotle and other chili flavors; squeezable and not; Gigante brand, economy manufacturer, national brands, and no less than three familiar American producers; and, regular, light and 0% fat (rather stunning since Mexico tops even Florida in the obesity sweeps). To put the marvel into perspective, this singular versatile dressing garners pretty well the same respect from marketing mavens as does the whole range of breakfast cereals and soft drinks.
Oaxaca will simply not let mayonnaise take a back seat to its deep red cousin or to mustard, and not for a lack of sophistication of the Mexican palate. You’ll find your Dijon, Maille, provencale, deli and the rest, at one end of the mayo mantels, and your catsups and ketchups at the other, but that’s just the point…they envelope and draw your attention to the aisle’s star attraction, just as bookends provide functionality and little more.
Much in the same way as liberals, progressives and others of a reasonable bent decline to appear on Fox News’ Bill O’Reilly show, the Gigante executives declined to grant an interview to assist in unraveling the mystery, leaving this writer to glean an understanding from elsewhere, using: a background in sociological fieldwork, a keen eye for observation, on-the-street interviews, and a death wish to rapidly put on weight (otherwise known as, amongst anthropologists, “going native”).
If you think it’s hard to find the beef in a Big Mac, it’s even more of a treasure hunt in Oaxaca when eating a hamburger on the street loaded with, you guessed it, our dreamy white wonder. Be it burger or dog, when your merchant of the finest meat you’ll find on the corner is finished grilling your fare, he’ll likely ask “con todo” (with everything), the local retort invariably being a simple nod in the affirmative. Mustard, relish and onions is a virtually unheard of request. The twin temptations of elotes (boiled corn on the cob) and esquites (the same, but off the cob and in a styrofoam cup) are similarly finished off with the works, in this case juice squeezed on the spot from a lime, crumbled Oaxacan cheese, chili, and a healthy dollop of mayo. For this Oaxaca-street-corner-food junkie, as well as his family, life doesn’t get much better than stirring up a steaming cup of fully garnished cooked kernels.
Now your industrial size jar of mayonnaise finds greater application in more stationary eateries, but who would have thought in the snootiest of fine restaurants? “Oui monsieur, boot of coors I’ll brling you mor.” And in high end marisquerías, even before your appetizer of crab bisque, shrimp cocktail or mixed seafood salad is brought to your mesa, a mountain of mayonesa alongside freshly fried tostadas and cellophane swathed saltines arrives. Middle-of-the-road restaurants never progressed beyond the sixties, and so in bistros and buffets alike one finds every imaginable side and salad smoothed over: pea and carrot; waldorf; boiled broccoli; and virtually every other fruit and vegetable combination, all whipped up with miracle.
For linguistically challenged travelers transfixed on sandwiches and tortas, alongside musts for remembering from your Spanish phrasebook such as “donde está el baño,” and “la cuenta, por favor,” mark in “sin mayonesa, por favor.” Otherwise, be it chicken, pork, beef or cheese, and regardless of whether or not it’s already been greased from the grill, as automatic as corned beef on rye with mustard, that additional layer will be levied.
Finally there’s the home, where in many respects one encounters a similarity with commercial use, particularly in the kitchen. However, venturing into dining and living rooms reveals even a greater dedication to daubing than hereinbefore noted, where devotees ranging from toddler to teen and adult to aged are frequently found indulging in buns and breads spread with nothing more. But we dare not venture down the corridors to the bedrooms, leaving that to the imagination.

Alvin Starkman is a resident of Oaxaca, and together with wife Arlene operates Casa Machaya Oaxaca Bed & Breakfast.

This page has been visited times since June 17, 2006.

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