Corn Stalking

"Eloooootes, eloooootes," chanted Jaime, an awkward and petite man. As though in a trance he stood there, all five feet of him, dressed in his white cotton manta pants wrapped tightly around each leg, selling his young, white, tender and sweet corn on the cob.

In Mexico, you see them everywhere, street vendors selling their goods of all types. Jaime, a diminutive man with sharp, indigenous features, is one of those vendors. Every day he works his way to the same street corner at the intersection of Zaragosa and Avenida Agustín de Iturbide in the northern state of San Luis de Potosí. You can hear his voice above the busy street traffic and murmur of pedestrians pushing their way through the sidewalks of this capital city. He brushes his tender white corn on the cob with melted butter and mayonnaise, rolls it onto a plate of farmer cheese crumbles, and then adds a light dash of chile sauce and a slight squeeze of lime to finish the edible masterpiece.

Standing there with the treat in your hands, you forget about the juicy mess you'll have to deal with on your shirt and the lost kernels in your teeth. This is culinary art in its simplest form.

Oh, how I long for Jaime's sweet elotes.

But you can get some thing very close without traveling far. On the northeast corner of 16th Street and Broadway is an empty lot in an industrial Mexican neighborhood. This lot is thousands of miles away from the busy corner of Zaragosa and Avenida Agustín de Iturbide where Jaime daily sells his corn. But at this unpretentious intersection you can find Hector, a handsome ranchero with a striking resemblance to Mexico's president Vicente Fox. Just like Jaime, he is proud to sell his sweet corn -- and at the rock-bottom price of three dollars a dozen. Packed tightly with sweet corn from the Mexican state of Sinaloa, his cargo truck bears the words "Elote Blanco de Mexico" (white corn from Mexico) in large, poorly painted lettering.

Car after car pulls into this dusty piece of south Phoenix, creating a frenzy for the imported vegetable. Hector's truck is almost half empty on his first day. "Sales are good today, better tomorrow," he says with a wide, white smile. He'll soon be on the road again, making frequent trips to Mexico to refill his truck and visit his family in Sinaloa.

In Mexico, corn is everything. The symbolic giver of life and power is still giving her people comfort even if it's thousands of miles from home on an empty lot in south Phoenix.- By Silvana Salcido Esparza

The author is a local chef and restaurant owner.


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