There is a man screaming “goooooal” on the television, which is accurate. Ever since that kid came in for a slide tackle and knocked the first-string goalie out, it’s been open season on Trinidad-Tobago’s net.
“They scored another one?” The waitress says, leaning on the table that I’m all twisted around at.
“Yep.” I offer, cramming down another chunk of fried Yucca that just will not fit in my belly. Way too good to leave it cooling on my plate though, so I puzzle piece it in and gulp it down with horchata.
“Two?” She says.
“Yeah, two in 2 minutes!” Crunch, slurp, swallow.
The ladies at the table beside us are speaking Spanish, fast and low like a ribbon unfurling and the sound of it in this quiet restaurant is crickets in the woods. Just right.
“Where’s the other goalie?” She asks.
“Knocked out.” I say and her eyebrows knit together so I give myself a tap on the back of the head, roll my eyes back. She laughs.
“They just put in-” and I’m supposed to say his name next, but I have absolutely no idea what it is. I don’t know the names of the teams, or where they’re playing or what the rules are. I don’t watch futbol. I fill my mouth with Salvadoran magic and we watch Honduras dominate Trinidad on oddly arranged televisions to the tune of gossip en Español and goodness sizzling through the kitchen window and I am immersed.
From the road, Mi Chalateca doesn’t look like the kind of place you could disappear into. It’s spot welded to the side of an Enterprise Rent-a- Car, toeing the line on the busy 99. Even from the parking lot, one might not know exactly what they were in for, what with the simple exterior, the muted colors. But if you walk into that place and smell those smells and see all of those smiling faces and don’t start to palpitate and salivate, you might want to reevaluate your life. If you crack that menu and read through your Salvadoran options and don’t get sweaty, start reaching for that life alert button. And if, God forbid, you read the word ‘pupusas’ and still feel nothing, then try ordering one, see if that doesn’t fix whatever is broken inside of you.
Pupusas, or Hot Salty Yes, as I’ve come to call them, are a maiz flatbread filled with meats and-or cheeses. Until 1950, they were a well kept small village secret, and in the 80’s they found their way to the US in the dust cloud of a mass exodus from El Salvador, prompted by a bloody civil war. In the time since, pupusarias have sprouted up all over the U.S. and as soon as you get one of those warm, perfectly seasoned, nirvana discs between your teeth you’ll understand why. Mi Chalateca’s are no exception. The revuelta pupusa that my waitress and new soccer buddy twirled out of the kitchen with was soft and warm and perfect for a rainy day.
The pork, frijoles and cheese inside swirled together into a sharp, but not cloying, flavor that was perfectly kept in check by the earthy maiz wrapped around them. The hot sauce I splashed it with was no joke, but the sour cream I slathered overtop kept it from burning the house down.
Balanced. Everything balanced. Further rounding out the meal was the curitdo, a Salvadoran coleslaw, which was light, tangy and verycomplimentary to the flavors in the Pupusa, and Yucca fries, which are so delicious that I suddenly understood why squirrels hide while they eat things that are really special.
“Honduras is good right now.” The waitress says. She’s wiping the table beside me, eyes scanning back and forth as the ball jumps across the screen.
“Yeah, they’re killing it.” I say.
“You like futbol?” She asks, and it is barely audible over the frantic commentary on the television and the soft gurgle of spanish floating off the tables and bubbling out of the kitchen.
“I love it.” I say, and today, I do. In here I do.
Kellen Burden is a local novelist and lunch enthusiast. More of his work can be found at www.goatfederation.com.