Pigging out in Quiroga

I suppose I brought it upon myself. It was on a trip to Mexico, one of five, specifically to Morelia, where I was invited to a major chess event. Our hosts were extremely generous, put us up in fine hotels, showed us around and seemed to anticipate our every desire — they were quick to fulfill any wish that might pop into your mind, and if you are not quick they would pay all expenses you might incur in your quest for happiness.

During the first two days in Morelia I was taken to a very fine restaurant with very great food and excellent Argentinian wine. So far so good. On the second evening, again with the very fine food and exquisite wine, I sighed to my host Jorge that I still had not yet had a genuine, indigenous Mexican meal, one like on our trip to the volcano in the previous year (that will be described in a separate report). Jorge, who is going for the Guinness record of nicest person on the planet, immediately volunteered to remedy the situation. He told me to stand by the next morning, at 10 a.m., after partaking of nothing more than a cup of coffee for breakfast. “You will not be needing lunch, either, “ he said. “Or dinner, or breakfast the next day.”

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The next morning at ten a big SUV arrived at the hotel and our trip to a culinary adventure in the Mexican countryside could begin.

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Jorge (pronounced “Hor-he”, the two H’s spoken with the Spanish fricative), was the organiser and main sponsor behind the 2007 World Chess Championship in Mexico City. He has an engineering company that builds houses, thousands of them, and he loves chess very dearly. He is full of fun, ready to enjoy anything unusual that he encounters.

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We drove for a little over an hour before reaching the city of Quiroga. When you enter there is a sign (which I did not catch with my camera) saying “Quiroga Capital Mundial de los Carnitos” — the World Capital of Carnitos. We will explain in a second. But first a few words about the city. It is located on the northern side of a very fashionable lake, approximately 25 km from Pátzcuaro and 8 km from the archaeologically very interesting town of Tzintzuntzan. All of these places lie about two kilometres above sea level. Quiroga has a population of 25,000.

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The bazaar or central square — let us simply call it the focus of social activity — has all kinds of merchandise to offer. And food, prepared by families running little stalls.

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Mangos, oranges, apples, pears and a myriad other fruit or vegetables, some quite indefinable, are offered for sale — and fill the air with an aroma that makes your head spin.

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Above are two varieties of unknown fruit or vegetables. I asked Jorge and a number of Mexican friends, but nobody could reliably identify them (“datil peppers” and “granada china”, accompanied by an embarrassed smile, was the best they could come up with).

The Carnitas of Quiroga

We now turn to subject of today’s discourse. I would like to warn my readers that people of certain denominations may find the following pictures disturbing. Continue at your own risk. Note that you can click on them to get larger versions — and wait for a second or two for them to sharpen.

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Carnitas is the Spanish diminutive for meat (“little meats”). In Mexico it refers to pork, prepared in 5–10 kg sections, heavily seasoned and slowly braised or roasted. The entire process takes 8 to 12 hours. In the end the meat is so tender that it can be easily separated with a fork, or, if you are not a finicky gringo, with your fingers.

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The carnitas of Quiroga are famous throughout the Michoacán region. They are served in brown or white paper. You can ask the vendor for different parts of the meat: aldilla, nana, crop (buche), rib (costilla), cuerito (little skin leather), maciza (solid part), kidney, etc. A little tip: the grizzle is delicious.

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The carnitas are accompanied by small bags of onion and cilantro, chili salsa, sliced chilis (some extremely hot), lemon, cactus flesh and other spicy ingredients. All of this is served with fresh tortillas, in which you wrap the meat and the add-ons of your choice.

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Above are Jorge’s wonderfully charming daughters, Sarah and Sofia, teaching me to eat. They advised me on what to put on my tortillas and how to quench the unbearable burning sensation when you unwittingly include a slice of habanero chili, the deadliest of them all.

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The mariachis are not to be missed, accompanying the meal with lively guitar music and song. Such dedication, such virtuosity, such a sonorous voice!

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Above is a spicy meat soup called “birrias” which tastes much better than it looks. Yes, that’s a jawbone with teeth. Add limon to it and you have a feast fit for a king.

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Another spicy meat soup that fills the air with a different aroma.

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And finally something for advanced carnitas eaters — the works.

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Jorge with our carnitas chef — thank you for this unforgettable experience. The carnitas were delicious, far beyond my expectations, and the atmosphere something you must experience, at least once in a lifetime. Of course if I lived in Quiroga I would probably be dead in six months…

A version of this article (with smaller pictures) was published in 2007 as part of our extensive reports on the chess tournament in Morelia.

Written by

Frederic Alois Friedel, born in 1945, science journalist, co-founder of ChessBase, studied Philosophy and Linguistics at the University of Hamburg and Oxford.

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