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Sal, limón y chile

“I’m starving,” my granddaughter declared as she jumped into the car when I picked her up from summer camp at Tobolandía one day last week.

pg13aIt’s pretty much her standard greeting every time grandma is assigned to shuttle service.

Never mind that she had already chowed down a packed lunch box in the course of the morning. As a growing and ever active 10-year-old, the kid has turned into a bottomless pit that requires constant refills.

Though I might have guessed, I was pleased by her response to the question, “So, what do you feel like eating?” The immediate and emphatic answer was “FRUIT! No surprise from a gal who tends to choose healthy munchies over junk foods.

We sped right off to a nearby roadside stand to satisfy her craving. The snack of choice was a mix of sliced up mango and jícama. On other occasions she may go for sandía (watermelon), pepino (cucumber), naranja (orange), tuna (cactus fruit) or fresh coco (coconut). But per usual, the cup of vitamin-packed natural goodies was topped off with a sprinkling of sal de grano (coarse sea salt), several spoonfuls of chile powder and the juice of a lime.

The condiment combo of sal, limón y chile is practically de rigueur for the Mexican palate and might even qualify as a unique food group. Folks use the culinary triumvirate to enhance the flavor of all sorts of foods. It is doused on corn-on-the-cob and other cooked veggies, on meat, poultry and seafood, on tacos, tostadas, pozole, popcorn and potato chips.

The addition of salt, lime and chile can pick up the wow factor of a cocktail – think margarita, vampiro or michelada. A popular cooler sold around here is called a diablito (little devil). It’s a cup of icy lime or mango sherbet garnished with guess what?

Sal de grano is readily available at all local grocery outlets, but people who use it as a basic kitchen ingredient prefer to buy it in bulk. Travelers en route to the Pacific coast will find top product from Cuyutlán, Colima sold in white gunny sacks at stalls set up along the highway.

Your best choice of lime is the limón criollo, smaller than the seedless limón persa, but generally packed with a lot more juice.

As for chile, it´s a topic far too extensive to cover in full.  There are different types of dried chiles that come pulverized for sprinkling on snacks. Chile de arbol is one of the most potent varieties. A commercial product marketed under the label Tajín is a mixture of fairly mild chiles already combined with salt and lime flavoring.

Liquid chile sauces are sold under numerous brand names that come in diverse intensities to suit all but the wimpiest taste buds. The Chapala brand line, produced by the local company Sane, includes a least a half-dozen different kinds of hot sauce that will definitely spice up your life.

Take the plunge to enjoy the true flavors of Mexico.