Lifestyle

Everyday Life Hacks

What is for dinner? Pan Dulce.

Mexican Bakeries

by Graciela Lozano

What time do you leave for Pan? This is an old very Mexican expression, that is still used nowadays and refers to the time when a pretty girl went to the bakery during the afternoon; this was the only opportunity her suitor had to see her, when they sent her to buy bread.

I met my great-grandfather when I was little. I was lucky enough to have my grandfather well into  my 30s, and my father has now become an elderly wise man, but what does that has to do with anything? Well, for the last 3 generations, every night sweet bread and a tall glass of milk has been on the dinner menu - not only in my household but in thousands of other Mexican families as well. 

This is a tradition we inherited when the Spanish settled in Mexico, since the Spanish introduced wheat to New Spain. It was not until the seventeenth and eighteenth centuries when the French and Italian immigrants brought more variety and new techniques that the bakeries stopped producing only Spanish style bread and “pan dulce'' sweet bread or pastries became more and more popular. With the mixture of cultures, classic and timeless delicacies were made, which to this day, we can find in bakeries from all over the country. When we go to the bakery, we do not only buy “pan dulce” but we also buy memories and longings.

But why having dessert as dinner? You and many others have asked, and  the answer is simple: it is a tradition, and it is a delicious one. The only way you could do this every night is by forgetting the amount of carbs and sugar you are feeding your body right before bed, It is  like it does not count. With this mindset, eating “pan dulce” has also made its way to breakfast, where everywhere you go,  it is served as a side with a coffee or hot chocolate. If you meet a Mexican, ask which is their  favorite “pan dulce,” and I assure you all the fingers on their hands would not be enough to count them. 

Entering a neighborhood bakery is like crossing the threshold into another dimension.  Everything begins with the shopping window that overlooks the street -a  large window that separates you from temptation. Once inside, you are  suddenly hit by the smell of fresh bread, sweet smells that are mixed with heat from the ovens. You walk in, look around you and see hundreds of pastries artfully arranged in rectangular aluminum trays, on three-story shelves, wall to wall, on 3 of the 4 walls of the bakery. The first thing you have to do is locate where the trays and the clamps are;  once located, it is time to take a look at each one of the shelves to pick up and savor in your mind each of the pieces you are putting on your tray.  This is when your sweet journey begins …….

Puerquitos de piloncillo, chilindrinas, donas, empanadas de piña, de cajeta, de guayaba,  de leche, de fresa, de manzana, de membrillo, conchas de vainilla o de chocolate, roles de canela, ojos de buey, polvorones, picones, cemitas, moños, cuernitos rellenos de cajeta o de crema, orejones, pan de elote, turrones de colores con bolitas arriba, torrejas, bísquets, mantecados, niño envuelto, galletas de grajeas, besos, bigotes,   piedras, cuernos,  garibaldis, coyotas, rehiletes, cocoles and much more - but a quick tip, be there before the rush hour or you will not  have many options left. 

But how to choose? Tongs and tray in hand, you have two options: you choose with your heart or with your stomach. You buy the one you like, the one your mother liked, the one your children like, but what you also like, the one that your partner likes, the one you crave, the one that is just out, and you also buy for tomorrow to have breakfast with your morning coffee. So, when you get to the checkout, you find yourself with a big sweet mountain of pastries. It is all worth it. 

Loyalty to the bakery is not always due to proximity.  Most of the time, people will travel out of their way to find the finest taste and quality of the pastries. There is the bragging part of it, who knows the best bakery in town? If you go on a trip to Jalisco, or any part of Mexico, you will find many bakeries, but it is highly recommended to ask for the best one. “Hey, amigo where can I find the best bakery in town?”

Trust me, people will give you more than one option. But if you go to Guadalajara, in the Santa Teresita neighborhood there is a bakery in front of the market that is popular for making the best pan de elote (corn bread) in the area.  People will make a line three blocks long. A few blocks down  on Ramos Millan street, there is  another bakery that x makes really incredible pastries.  In the Analco neighborhood, behind the Cabañas Orphanage in downtown Guadalajara, they  make exquisite pieces that people wait for hours to get their hands on. There are also more modern and experimental bakeries around the city that are worth trying. The thing is, life can be at times sour, why not make it sweet with a few pastries, a glass of milk, and the company of your loved ones? 

And you, what time do you go out for bread?