Memoir of a moment of Otherness


Sometimes something as simple as a way of preparing what everyone eats can lead to a moment of otherness.  Surely this can happen to most everyone: but it specifically happened to me in Emeryville (near Berkeley, CA) while working at a Trader Joe’s.

I followed a lovely woman to live in Berkeley with her in 2005.  I got a job. I slowly got a foothold on the culture(s) of Berkeley. It’s social stratification and subgroups. I was a Chicano (term used for brevity) from Los Angeles, born & raised. Did I feel out of place? Of course. Was it absolute? Of course not. But Berkeley really is another world.

Now to the story: I was in the breakroom of a Trader Joe’s where I was working and was peeling an orange. Having peeled the orange I sprinkled it with cayenne pepper (didn’t have any Pico De Gallo brand powdered chile). I ate a few of the slivers when I realized everyone was looking at me.  Looking at me as though I was eating a baby chicken, alive. One person finally spoke up and asked me: what are you doing???

They had never seen anyone, ever put chile on fruit and then eat it. Salt they knew, and sugar is what one Southern coworker told me was the norm to him. Here I was, a Chicano in a room of people that made me feel other. I’m sure they didn’t mean to but they did.

Having lived in Los Angeles my whole life I was accustomed to the ubiquity of the influence of Mexican tastes all across the city. A sentiment that I recently found echoed in a fellow classmate who said that while in Santa Cruz she finally noticed the un-ubiquitousness of Mexican culture in a place lacking it greatly.

Fruit is something that is a huge part of Mexican culture. Something that I thoroughly enjoy in México because there are fruit stands everywhere; and often with fruit you’d never find in the USA. A definite cultural influence we should all take in (and maybe leave off the macho aspirations of eating 10 tacos at a time). And here in Los Angeles we have morphed this love of fruit and chile to make something so culinarily curious: the mangoneada (mango ice cream in a cup of chamoy, lemon, chile and salt).

I will continue to eat chile-powdered fruit, here and elsewhere. Bringing on maybe another moment of otherness.

13 thoughts on “Memoir of a moment of Otherness

  1. more like culinary HEAVEN! I get my mangoneada fix at Fruitland in Montebello or El Mercadito.
    Sugar + fruit = bewilderment.

  2. A few months ago I had a mangoneada: I think all my years of not subsisting on fast/junk food has lowered my tolerance for high sodium/sugar because I really couldn’t eat it.

    I got mine in Lincoln Heights @ Tejuino Los Reyes.

    Fellow writer El Chavo! did a write up here:

    I’m sad that I’m in El Sereno now and not mere blocks away from Tejuino Los Reyes.

  3. *drool* oh man, I’m really craving that now haha! Does anyone know of a place that serves this tejuino/mangoneada/fruit sheer goodness late night? Some tejuino would pleasantly accompany this 80 degree night.

  4. Awesome post Julio, thank you!
    I felt the same way when I worked at Peet’s Coffee in Pasadena with a staff of NorCal translplants and a Chicana co-worker and I were daydreaming of eating street cart elotes with mayonesa, queso, chile y limon. They all thought we were crazy. It can happen here too depending on the neighborhood.

  5. I’ve never had such an experience, but do think it’s funny when white classmates or co-workers act like fruit with chile y limón is the next big thing and about to take over the frozen yogurt/cupcake trend. I think to myself, this is how we’ve always eaten this (well maybe not when I was a kid and scared of chile).

    Did you ever squeeze a saladito into the middle of the orange? That was my favorite way to eat oranges as a kid. I’m not sure I could stomach it with all the salt now.

    One last thing, I buy fruit from the vendors on the westside occasionally. They go light on the lime and chile. I wonder if the average westside client prefers it that way?

    Oh! This is really the last thing. I love the mix of lime, fruit juice and chile that’s leftover after I’ve devoured my fruit. Oh man…

  6. I hate eating any food that doesn’t have any chili or lemon in it. I remember once I was in South Korea & went to eat at a random restaurant. The menue was all in korean script & the waitress asked me what I wanted. I said “anything with chili in it”. She took a short pause then pointed with her pen & said “ohhh, mexican!” haha.

  7. I absolutely ate my saladitos in an orange! But I always preferred the savory/spicy ones over the straight salted ones. Those were too much salt for me. So I guess the spicy ones really should be called “chiliditos” and not saladitos. Ha!

  8. A perfect example of “the more we are different the more we r the same” phenomenon. Humanity is very similar once the ever present hyphenating, “us” vs “them”, I am this and she’s a that, is removed. Eating fruit is universal, the adding of spice is universal — only the flavor is different. Not better or worse, just different. If this generality could be transfered to more and more situation the world would be a better place overall. Simple yet not easy for many people to follow. Judgement is a powerful ego builder. Feeling bigger, stronger, smarter, hipper, etc, etc, etc, is the true megalomaniac syndrome. Happy fruiting.

  9. lucas with mango it the shit!! i cant believe that im in the eastside all of the time and i never buy fruit from the street vendors, shame on me!!!

  10. At the mercadito, there’s a cup of strawberries in a sweet white or pink cream —those are f’in addictive—and probably 2 million calories per cup. Across from SHG the fruit cart sells red & green cactus pears with chile y limon–yum! You won’t see these on the westside.

  11. Victoria- that calorie bomb is a bionico.

    My co-workers over in the Westside look at me completely perplexed that I would ever put limon on my pepinos or in my sopas or on anything!

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *