A simple dish in a complicated place is a beautiful thing.
What could be simpler than chilaquiles? Fried tortillas simmered in green salsa, served under queso fresco and next to refried beans. Breakfast.
What could be more complicated than Juarez? The day I ordered these chilaquiles was my second in town. The day before, by some inexplicable astrology, there had not been a single murder in the murder capital of the Americas. The papers immediately named it Martes Blanco, White Tuesday: something so unexpected as to be sacred.
I spent my time in Juarez with a crime photographer whom I believe has the most extensive portfolio of clowns-with-their-brains-blown-out-on-street-corners pictures in the northern hemisphere. One way Juarez is complicated: it was safe to travel with the photographer except when it was not. The Wednesday after White Tuesday started early with a prison guard gunned down outside CERESO prison in a successful escape attempt. When we sped to the scene, we were nearly shot by soldier who ran toward us in a panic and raised his automatic rifle at our windshield (“I almost shot you,” he noted later). Turns out the killers had driven the same model car, a white Volkswagen Fox, as the photographer. Earlier in the year, the photographer’s family had been threatened in the most vile ways as part of a extortion attempt. Men with guns rode by his house, they called him on his cell phone to tell him that his son looked happy playing in a red shirt during recess at school. He had fled with his family to El Paso for six months and only recently returned, but with no real idea what had happened to his tormentors and no sense that the threat was really over. When we picked up a halcón, a narcospy, who tailed our car through the bombed-out tourist district, it occurred to me that we may well get shot at not because of me, but because of my friend.
Even as a journalist, though, I was just a tourist to all this violence. Women like the blogger Judith Torrea, photographers like my friend, civilians like every other person stuck in Juarez in this era of blood: they live here. And they find their comforts where they can. And so, chilaquiles. In Chihuahua, they are cooked perfectly between the crispness of the chilaquiles I always ate in Michoacan, and the thick sog of the Guadalajara version. Tortilla, salsa, cheese, beans. Simple. —NT