Doña Marta’s Lonches

Doña Marta doesn’t know my name, but I know hers. People call her “Doña Marta” or “Señora Marta” or, if they’re on really close terms with her, “Martita.” Of course, I would never dream of calling her by her first name, but that might change in the next few months because I eat her sandwiches everyday. Marta sells “lonches” out of her little convenience store in the Americana neighborhood of Guadalajara for the reasonable price of 28 pesos ($1.50).  They’re essentially sandwiches on soft baguettes filled with things like pierna (basically pulled pork), and chilaquiles (soggy tortilla chips covered with green salsa and melted cheese). If you saw Marta’s store from outside, or even went inside, you would never suspect she sold high-grade, culinary ecstasy. You would think she sold Coca Cola and toilet paper. This is because she does.

In Guadalajara and only Guadalajara, sandwiches of this kind (on baguettes) are called lonches. Everywhere else in Mexico a lonche is more like the sandwiches commonly served in the US on sliced white or wheat bread. Lonches, then, are similar to the Mexican torta, but whereas tortas commonly drift into fast-food territory, lonches are a class above. In Guadalajara it’s not uncommon to go into an upscale restaurant and see some kind of lonche, possibly cochinita (another kind of pork), accompanied by salad — and with the word “aioli” lamentably somewhere in the description — for close to 100 pesos. This doesn’t happen with tortas. Tortas are usually sold on the street.

But Marta, and the one employee she has in the kitchen, does not know what aioli sauce is (praise Jesus). She doesn’t say things like “balscamic reduction” or “I need to julienne these vegetables.” This is not to say for a minute the quality suffers. The ingredients are fresh. The lonche de pierna is topped with slices of avocado, strips of jalapeños, tomato, and homemade red salsa. The lonche de chilaquiles, or, as I like to call it, my reason for getting up in the morning, is a more involved process and usually necessitates a fork. I like to try to let it sit there and let the salsa soak the bread and essentially eat it as if it were a bread salad or some kind of stew, but impatience usually results in salsa-covered hands.

Everyday the hardest decision is which lonche to order. This dilemma is solved by alternating, and also by going there every day, sometimes twice. She still doesn’t know my name, but by now Doña Marta asks me how I’m doing, and I’m always honest. “Work sucks,” I say, or, “I don’t know that many people here in Guadalajara.” One time I said, “Doña Marta, your sandwiches are the highlight of my day,” followed by, “Is that a little sad?”

“No,” she said. “No no. We must appreciated the everyday things.”

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