By New Times
By Robrt L. Pela
By Lauren Saria and Heather Hoch
By Deborah Sussman
By Robrt L. Pela and Amy Silverman
By Kathleen Vanesian
By Eric Schaefer
By Heather Hoch
Years ago I discovered a little hole-in-the-wall bakery on 16th Street. The bread is terrific. But what really got my attention was the lady standing in front of the building.
Maybe five feet tall, she had a solid and plump build. Her skin was very dark, partly from her genes, and partly from the grueling and unforgiving sun she endured for hours on end. She wore a simple dress covered by a homemade apron. On her feet were the cheap sandals one would find at the swap meet for a dollar. Rosa stood there for hours selling her mangos speared with a stick and then cut into the shape of a flower, drizzled with fresh lime juice, a touch of salt and as much chile powder as you could stand. A dilapidated red and yellow umbrella tied to the body of a stolen Food City shopping cart carried her goods.
For two dollars I bought one of her creations and stood there with mango juice dripping onto my chef's coat, talking to this sweet little lady from El Salvador who was trying to make a living by selling mangos. The problem was that Rosa had no permit to sell her treats, nor the approval of the Maricopa County Health Department. "I see them coming and I run like hell and hide," she shared. Like Rosa, there are dozens of street vendors who illegally sell their goods on the streets of Mesa and Phoenix.
I tried going back to buy Rosa's mangos a few times, but later found out that the police had kept coming and not only made her move, but destroyed her goods. After a while the routine just got too expensive for her and she moved on. Rosa's mangos lingered in my memory for years.
Last week I was watering my plants outside my cafe. As on any typical Saturday, the street was busy with foot traffic. I noticed that a crowd was gathered around the back of a beat-up station wagon in the parking lot next door. And there stood Rosa, selling not only mangos, but all kinds of fruit: papaya, pineapple, watermelon, cantaloupe, cucumbers, jicama and coconut all drizzled with fresh lime, a hint of salt and as much chile powder as you could stand.
Gone is the rusty Food City cart and falling-apart umbrella. The new-and-improved Rosa has a station wagon now to keep her mobile just in case the chota is around. As with all good sales people, she recognized me and asked if I was having my usual mango. Service like this surely is not available at those big-name chain restaurants.
I stood there in the parking lot, standing next to a beat-up multicolored station wagon, eating my flower-shaped mango-on-a-stick, mango juice dripping down my chef's coat. Only in Phoenix can you find this pure and unadulterated culinary bliss. – By Silvana Salcido Esparza
The author is a local chef and restaurant owner.