The aroma of charcoal-grilled pork wafts along the street and draws you towards the open front of the little restaurant long before you see it. The evening crowd has spilled out onto the sidewalk, families and couples crowded around white, plastic tables and wedged so close the waitress has difficulty taking our order.
The cook stands behind a brick enclosure, laboring over an iron grill where he turns chopped pork, green onions, peppers and white cheese with a steel spatula, chopping and frying the mix into a savory “alambre” served with palm-sized corn tortillas and avocado salsa.
How something so simple can be so delicious is beyond me.
While we’re eating, the little restaurant is abuzz with rapid-fire Spanish, the sizzle of the hot grill and the low whine of cars wending their way down the city street. Tacos are night food in Mexico and these are some of the best tacos anywhere. If you ever get to Tlacolula, Oaxaca, you have to try Taco Brown.
The “tl” is a common consonant in Aztec words. It’s like the “cl” sound in “clock,” but you touch the tip of your tongue against the roof of your mouth first to make the “t” sound. “Nahuatl” is the indigenous name for Aztec. “Tlaxiaco” and “Tlalpan” are names of cities. “Popocatepetl” is the name of the active volcano near Mexico City. Lots of “tl’s” in this part of the world.
Spanish is a second language to many Oaxacans. The indigenous people groups of Mexico are large and thriving. They speak tone languages, such as Chinantec or Mixtec. They speak Zapotec or Tlapanec or Mazatec. And lots of Nahuatl.
Ride the buses, walk the street markets and you’ll hear these ancient languages. They’re the languages used in the home, the languages used among friends and co-workers, the languages every child grows up learning first, before Spanish.
Mexico is a beautiful and ancient land full of generous and joyful people. Great food, rich cultural heritage, full of history at every turn.
And, Taco Brown.