Texas Plains Trail
Chile, chorizo, and other comidas and culinary treats in Laredo
La Carreta Carnes Asadas_ Laredo_ TX
Laredo's La Carreta Carnes Asadas is a great place to celebrate a birthday -- with a Las Maņanitas serenade, freshly made tortillas, and good company.

I'm writing this post from the snowbound Panhandle,
where temperatures are just about the inverse of where they stood a few weeks ago in Laredo. (It's 28 today. And that's the high.)

Chile con carne_ La India style
Chile con carne in Lubbock,
La India style
But the memories of a sojourn on the border are still fresh, and I figure today's the ideal timing for a steaming pot of chile con carne, Frontera Fusion style.

Of all the mouth-watering repasts our writers' group shared in Laredo, that's the dish I remember most vividly. The meals we participate in making, we recall best. And cooking with the locals is a terrific way to enrich the travel experience. Culinary tourism engages all the senses -- and broadens our knowledge at the same time. So when our explorations took us to a modest residential block east of Laredo's Zacate Creek where Mexican spices are blended and vended in a manner not so different from a century ago, I knew: it doesn't get much more local than this.

La India Packing Company had its origins across the border, when Antonio Rodriguez made and sold piruli, a Mexican confection, to soldiers during the Revolution. In 1924 Don Antonio and his wife, Antonia Villareal Rodriguez, emigrated to the United States and opened their store at 1520 Marcella Avenue in Laredo.

La India Packing Company. Laredo
Elsa Rodriquez
Elsa Rodriquez Arguindegui is the third generation in charge of the family-run La India Packing Company.
Doņa Antonia ground cacao in a metate to make her famous Mexican chocolate recipe while her husband made deliveries by bicycle. Over the years they grew their business to supply restaurants and grocery stores. Today, granddaughter
Elsa Rodriguez Arguindegui runs a café, retail spice store, and cooking classroom in this same original building.

The vintage photographs in the tea room all depict
la familia, explains Elsa, as she beckons us to the back, where tables are set up with utensils, freshly prepared ingredients, and aprons and hair coverings for each of us. We pair up in teams; I choose the chorizo chile table and figure I'm in good hands with a teammate named Stew.

Elsa and her daughter offer us delicious aguas frescas as we tie on our bandanas and get down to work. Her instruction is fun and friendly, setting the tone for beginner chefs as well as experienced cooks to master techniques for chorizo-and-egg tacos and other variations. We heat oil, mix meat and spice, brown, deglaze with vinegar; we sample as we go, adding a dash of salt or pepper, or a pinch of cilantro, to Elsa's spicy blends.

The end product of our efforts might just be the best chile I've ever tasted. Even without the garnish of diced onions and tomatoes, or the splash of Tabasco I usually add to my favorite Tex-Mex recipe, I could put away a bowl of this any day of the year. The tang of the red wine vinegar persists even after the cooked beans have been stirred in; the harmonious admixture of bean varieties (Elsa recommends a package of dried 15-bean soup) makes for a more delicate symphony than the one-note pintos I'm accustomed to.

Washington_ DC_based author Stew Magnuson turns up the heat in the Artsmith cooking competition.
Washington, DC-based author Stew Magnuson turns up the heat in the Artsmith cooking competition.
Seattle-based travel writer Tiffany Owens gets into South Texas cooking
Seattle-based travel writer Tiffany Owens gets into South Texas cooking

Frontera Fusion cooking class under way at La India
Frontera Fusion cooking class under way at La India

I'm ready to take on our Lubbock firefighters in the next cook-off with this one. Want to try it? Find the recipe at www.laindiaherbsandspices.com.

Spices_ La India
Spice display, La India
Teams taste one another's results in a round robin. And no sooner than the bowls are empty and the aprons set aside, not a soul leaves La India's front counter without multiple packages of seasonings and other goodies -- some bound for their own cocinas, some destined for gifts. I'm bringing home half a dozen chorizo spice packets and as many blocks of La India chocolate. I could easily have added cumin, chile arbol, Mexican oregano . . . but the though occurs to me that I plan to travel across the border in a couple of days, and I'm not entirely certain which substances won't raise the suspicions of Customs & Border Protection. More about that in another post.

For today, it's enough to be safely back home in the cold part of Texas, where everyone has unwrapped their gifts from the borderlands, the sleet and snow are coming down in white waves, and the chile is simmering on the stove. The aroma of La India is with us. And one more treat remains for this winter evening: a generous cup of Mexican hot chocolate, laced with cinnamon and cayenne and topped with beaten cream, just as Antonio y Antonia might have made it all those years ago. * * *

Poet and world traveler Jill McCabe Johnson introduces the group to the treasures of La India.
Frontera Fusion is an immersive culinary experience hosted at two different locations in Laredo, Texas: La India Tasting Room Café and Vega's Interiores Mexicanos. Vega's holds classes every first Saturday of the month for a fee at 3:00 p.m.; reservations may be made at (956) 645-2512. La India hosts classes every first Friday of the month for a fee at 3:00 p.m.; reservations may be made at (956) 723-3772.  

Barbara_s TrailBlazer Blog

Follow Barbara's TrailBlazer Blog throughout the next ten days of the Great US83 Whistle-Stop Tour. Looks like icy roads are expected to clear tomorrow, and I'll be heading out.

Barbara Brannon, PhD, Executive Director, Texas Plains Trail Region
Barbara@TexasPlainsTrail.com * Facebook * Twitter @TxPlainsTrail

Follow along on our Texas Fifty-Two-Step Tour
52 cards in a deck. The B-52 Bomber. The atomic number of tellurium. The number of white keys on a piano. The number of weeks in a year. The number of counties in the Texas Plains Trail Region. Travel our scenic highways and byways in 52 counties and 50,000 square miles of the Texas Plains and Panhandle in 2015 -- with our virtual tour guide. And see where it all happened.
Check out the counties we've visited so far in 2015
Traveling in the Lone Star State this winter? Be sure to check TxDOT's DriveTexas.org first!
Bird watching expedition along the Rio Grande
A visit with Viola in the Travel Info Center
Birding on the border
Art Walk, Laredo style
Debutantes and dresses: Laredo's unique George Washington's Birthday celebration
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