The Real Don Quixote
En un lugar de la Hidalgo, de cuyo nombre no quiero acordarme, no ha mucho tiempo que vivía un hidalgo de los de lanza en astillero, adarga antigua, rocín flaco y Xoloitzcuintle corredor.
El verdadero Don Quixote
A plate of mole de frijol ayocote, consisting of somewhat more chorizo than beans, the leftovers served up cold on corn tortillas most nights, escamoles with quelites on Saturdays, lamb mixiotes on Fridays, and a small portion of adobo de conejo enriched with a savory hint of cumin by way of addition on Sundays. This consumed three-quarters of his income. The rest went to traditionally woven garments died black, a shade if which would have him resemble his own shadow.
The real Don Quixote
What if it were the fact that Don Quixote was born in Pechuca de Soto in the state of Hidalgo, Mexico. Born to a former metizo minero who won the lottery when he won the heart of a beautiful soft-skinned Spaniard whose family arrived to Real del Monte after inheriting the rights to a gold-mining operation in the late 16th century. The family helped to fund the construction of the Templo y exconvento de San Francisco which was completed in 1604. With his later inheritance, Don Quixote would help construct the capilla which would be finished shortly after his death in 1666.
In his younger years, Quixote was well known in Pechuca for his frugality. Many thought he was poor. He worked menial jobs, though he needn’t, and he dressed poorly; however, as he aged his extravagance grew, likely due to his increasingly erratic and eccentric behavior after the passing of his parents. In the years before his psychological break from this world, he began consuming extravagant and expensive meals. Rumor had it, that he had an eating disorder and he would vomit up every meal that he would partake in. This rumor began due to the fact that he ate so much, yet remained thin and almost frail looking. The truth of it, though the chismosas wouldn’t want you to know, is that he digested every single one of those rich meals with pulque and a long rest. The year leading to his psychosis he began to only consume pomegranate and pulque de curada de avena. This new diet, it is thought, was likely the result of the gossip about his former diet of extravagance. But it would not derail his love for food,
Miguel de Cervantes was never secretive about where he had heard the tale of Don Quixote, but it is well known that he was lying through his teeth and kept the true origin to himself. The truth of the matter was that he was caught stealing taxes as a would-be tax collector and landed himself in prison. It turns out his cellmate was a wealthy landowner who had sold his mine in Hidalgo, Mexico to the Quixote family. After returning to Spain he was arrested for the murder of his indigenous wife, who he thought was an embarrassment to his status as a Spanish aristocrat. It was he who relayed the story of Don Quixote and his psychosis to Cervantes who took the facts and transplanted them into a Spanish setting.
The true history of Quixote is far less interesting than the tale Cervantes portrayed. For it wasn’t the errant knight that Don Quixote believed he was, it was the errant chef. It was a passion for food, not damsels in distress he would pursue. He did not joust with windmills somewhere in Spain; instead, he butchered a family of nopal with his fathers sword which he would later mix lovingly into a goat barbacoa spiced lightly with cumin and black pepper. He began to leave Pechuca and come back with all sorts of strange things to cook with. The people of Pechuca knew he had gone mad when he began serving what he called guajalotes, a deep fried bread sandwich with stewed pork and tamale filling it, from his kitchen window often drunk on pulque. Don Quixote traveled all of Mexico sourcing the best ingredients and discovering new recipes to cook for the people of his beloved town. It seems he had lost his mind somewhere among the growing stockpiles of potatoes, tomatoes, chilies, and corn stockpiled in his larder.
“He believes he is some sort of a chef,” wrote a doctor who came to visit Don Quixote from the San Hipólito Hospital in Mexico City at the behest of the people of Pechuca. “I wonder, does he believe he is Jesus too?” After an evaluation, it was determined that he was no threat to the public and fit for civil life so he was never institutionalized. For several years Don Quixote cooked for the people of Pechuca and even the miners and workers of Real del Monte who took particular interest in his warming stews during the winter months. The question of why a wealthy man would waste his days feeding poor people from his house began to slowly move from the minds of those who he had fed. It was only the Aristocrats and politicians who still questioned his sanity. He would, of course, talk to himself and sing strange ballads of in the kitchen as he prepared his meals. He was a solitary man, and all solitary men are thought to be strange, and to remain unmarried, a man at his age and of his wealth, even stranger. But all of the rumors and gossip was washed away with one sip of his caldo de pollo. He might have been a madman, but his food was delicious.
Now, if you can tell me how Cervantes came up with the errant knight psychosis story, Ii would love to know. Perhaps it was the exaggerating nature of the wealthy landowner and murderer he was housed with in prison, or perhaps Cervantes thought the story of an errant chef would be boring. Either way, one ought to know Don Quixote was not a Spaniard, he was Mexican, and in the eyes of Mexican food lovers, he ought to be recognized as a hero. He might have been thought of as a madman until the break of his psychotic episode when he retired from cooking a year before he passed, but he might now well be recognized as Mexico’s first true and errant chef. A foolish but brave man who brought the ingredients and people of Mexico together at one table.
If I had the time to give you the full history I would. It is a long and funny one, trust me. If ever I land in prison, like Cervantes, and find the free time, as he did, to write it down I will. Until then we must say:
Saluda a Don Quixote, un valiente y amado Mexicano.