Cinco de Mayo is the perfect holiday for we book smugglers.
We celebrate Cinco de Mayo by eating Binh Mai Sandwiches at our favorite Librotraficante hole-in-the-wall-Vietnamese-Taco-Shop.
But to enjoy the full impact of this exquisite Vietnamese sandwich, you have to eat it just the right way, in just the right place.
I recommend the 2 a.m./2 p.m. parallel universe.
I’m here indulging in Quantum Demographics at Cali Café in Downtown Houston, in a little strip mall from whose parking lot the valet attendant retrieved my car at 2:15 am after I enjoyed the Cinco de Mayo festivities at the Über chic club Fifth Amendment across the street. Right now at 2:15 p.m., visitors to the yoga, or a tax joint next door have to park their own cars.
Of course Cali Café would vehemently deny that it’s a Taco Shop. But this shop looks really familiar, and not just because we were dancing to tribál music across the street earlier. The shop is non descript. So I’ll describe it: one foot by one foot, large, plain square tiles, all scuffed; basic tables, with hard edges, thin legs, easy to wipe plastic coated tops; thin steel framed chairs with a thick padding covered in red plastic; those not quite ceramic or plastic plates; those multi beveled clear plastic cups that get scratched easy and quick or those red, clear plastic glasses with a coating of raised red dots for easy gripping.
It’s set up like a Taco Shop.
The waiters have thick, dark, beautiful straight hair like we do. They’re as tall as we are. They work hard, fast, and well . . . speak English with accents. And the Binh Mai sandwhiches cost $2.25-Taco Shop prices.
The bread used to make the Binh Mai sandwhich looks like the bolillos that you buy at Mexican bakeries inspired by the baguette which the Court of Carlota made famous in Mexico during her brief rule. The Vietnamese version of the bread is fluffy, but still has a crunchy crust, not mushy like a subway sandwich.
I love the oven roasted pork, but the first time I had one of these fineries I was blown away to find jalepeños, cilantro, and pickled sliced carrots. They even had hot sauce at the table, in ketchup bottle dispensers no less.
Of course, it was a bit tangier, and the meat was leaner than anything we would have made in a Mexican restaurant.
This delicious turn of events take us back to Cinco de Mayo.
Here’s a mind blowing fact. Cinco de Mayo is not celebrated in Mexico.
I’ll spare you from Googling this quick info, but also give you some context, you won’t find anywhere else-a Librotraficante bonus.
Cinco de Mayo commemorates the May 5, 1862, Battle of Puebla, when the rag tag army of Mexican President Benito Juarez, led by General Zaragoza defeated the French Imperial Army.
America must like the legend because of our “Bad New Bears Syndrome” that we see in all the movies where the under dog defeats the seemingly unbeatable force of nature.
This would be like your softball team beating the New York Yankees, in your backyard, before the Yankees over ran your entire house.
Mexico must not celebrate the battle because the French do wind up occupying the country.
But we in the U.S. should be grateful because this battle takes place while the American Civil War is raging. And if the French Imperial Army were to have too easy a time in Mexico, well, they would have ran right up to the border, which is really hard to see when you get there, and would have, like we’ve done, just up and crossed it.
Of course, unlike we who would then tend to your children and build your fences, teach your children, the French would probably join the Confederacy and take back all the lands they sold during the Louisiana Purchase. (Sci-fi script writers, feel free to run with that scenario and write about that parallel Universe where the French-Dixie South fights the North.)
The French, being very clever occupationists were also test-driving colonies in other parts of the word, including Vietnam. The French eventually leave Mexico and occupy Vietnam for about the next 100 years, up to America’s Vietnam War.
Which brings us back to the Binh Mai Sandwich.
Here is my theory: The French take the baguette to Mexico, they take back to France and Vietnam jalepeños, cilantro. The Vietnamese add their genius for succulent meats to create the Binh Mai Sandwich which is eventually brought back to the U.S., then Houston, Texas, then to me. Of course, if you want to get an advanced degree in Librotraficante Studies, you should enjoy your Cinco de Mayo Binh Mai Sandwich, with some Carménère wine made from French grapes smuggled into Chile, and by reading Walt Whitman, the often banned American poet whose worked shaped the discourse of the Civil War.
Isn’t Quantum Demographics, delicious?
Happy Cinco de Mayo, America.