Zapotecs have a late lunch in America

Spring 2000

Selection from a Hopi lunch menu to please a Zapotec palate seemed to be a formidable task...

This tale from the visit of the Zapotec potters from Oaxaca with the Hopi potters in Arizona (see Hopi Visit Part I) took place in Mishongnovi up on Second Mesa in the Hopi reservation. The Hopi Cultural Center is in that little town and it has a restaurant, the only one for a long, long ways. The sun was near down and lunchtime was turning into dinnertime. We pulled in and got a table. As my job as translator and cultural interpreter I began checking the menu and looking for meals the potters might enjoy.

This proved to be a more difficult task than I had imagined. There were no tamales, tlayudas, mole, empanadas, tejate, tasajo or coloradito or any other Oaxacan standards on the menus of the places we'd been eating. Everything had to be explained: "A hamburger is ground beef that's been grilled and placed between two pieces of bread. It usually has ketchup on it." "Ketchup? Well, uh, it's made from tomatoes with some spices and it's kind of sweet. Has sugar in it." That didn't go over too well.

The right side of the Hopi Cultural Center menu had the standard bread and butter dishes: hamburgers, spaghetti, ham sandwiches, potato salad and grilled cheese. The left side of the menu was dedicated to traditional Hopi dishes with names as easy for me to pronounce as the name of the town we were currently in. They also had complete descriptions in English for those unfamiliar with Hopi cooking. I guessed that one of these dishes might be of interest to the potters.

I began translating the nine different dishes. They were based around mutton, hominy, beans and squash. I did my best to explain what mutton stew was, how northern chili was made and how hominy was prepared in America. I was trying to second-guess what they might enjoy most and make suggestions based on their previous selections at other restaurants.

The potters listened politely, nodded at my suggestions. When I was all through, had caught my breath and folded the menu, Alberta asked, "Is there fried chicken?"

There was.

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