Moving to Patagonia for the winters 25 years ago was a considerable revelation. I had visited Tucson a number of times but didn’t catch on to the cuisine. I had been to Mexico City on the way home from Cozumel but had settled for French food in a hotel that was pointlessly expensive.
When I was at Michigan State University, our late night college hangout was a Mexican place with what I later recognized as Tex-Mex food. I had eaten the wonderful roast cabrito at Mi Tierra in San Antonio. It took a while to recognize my limitations. A flash point was eating grilled baby octopus in Zihuatanejo on a fishing trip. This is Mexican food? Of course. We northerners are perversely misinformed. Without question, Mexicans cook seafood much better than we do in the states. I don’t mean border food, far from it. I have been in the Veracruz area several times where you can get wonderful whole roasted robalo (common snook). The same is true on the west coast in terms of roasted fish. We ate a nine-pounder one evening in Tulum with many bottles of good Mexican white wine.
Closer to home, we’re within 20 miles of Nogales. I’ve eaten at Las Vigas perhaps a hundred times, most for the superlative machaca sonorense. I had them organize a banquet when I paid off the mortgage, and it included a wild pig shipped from Florida, and also a large snapper, some enormous wild shrimp, and a Mariachi band, of course. I’m hoping in the future to travel around Mexico and hire housewives to cook me their favorite bean dishes.
The other half of the year we live in Montana where food choices are distinctly limited. You can’t even buy an edible tortilla in Montana and my past experiences trying to make them were a disaster. You can’t buy a calf’s foot in Montana to make menudo, an obsession of my taste. Millions of calves and no feet for sale. This was also true in northern Michigan where I began making my own menudo. It’s clearly against the law to wander into a pasture and cut your own.
So here we are happily for half the year. I’ve been given both javelina and mountain lion sausage but didn’t care for either. We eat lots of doves and quail roasted over wood fire and my ace urologist, Dr. Alfredo Guevara, cooked a wonderful cabrito last year. Down here much of my taste for American food wanes. Eat where you live is a far better practice. ✜
Jim Harrison is an author of numerous works of fiction, nonfiction, poetry, and screenplays. He has published several collections of novellas, two of which were eventually turned into films: Revenge (1990) and Legends of the Fall (1994). Harrison wrote a food column, “The Raw and the Cooked,” for Esquire magazine; his essays and articles have appeared in The New Yorker, Rolling Stone, and The New York Times Book Review. He lives in Patagonia and Livingston, Montana.