The Real Don Quixote

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.