“¡Guadalajara, Guadalajara!” is the opening line of one of Mexico’s most famous mariachi songs and is also the official hymn of my hometown. Affectionately called “La Perla de Occidente” (“The Pearl of the West”), this city is the birthplace of some of Mexico’s most legendary symbols.
Mariachi music can trace its origins back to my city: Across its plazas and within its restaurants, one can see elaborately dressed men and women singing songs of love, war, and fun times. The only thing more recognizable than mariachis in my hometown is tequila. Created over two centuries ago in the neighboring city of Tequila, this iconic drink is a part of townspeople’s everyday life and a pillar of the local economy. Guadalajara sits proudly between two of the few regions in the world authorized to produce tequila, a short train ride away from the old distilleries in the city of Tequila. One need not mention the variety of local dishes in Guadalajara that make great companions to both the music and the drink.
This is just the tip of the iceberg if I were to list reasons why Guadalajara holds a dear place in my heart. I left the city shortly after I was born due to my father’s work, and, ever since then, Guadalajara has held this special charm associated with my early memories, full of mystery stemming from my lack of familiarity with the city and my curiosity to explore it. It speaks volumes that even after living in Mexico City for more than 16 years, I still consider Guadalajara as my hometown. The feeling of walking down the streets of Tlaquepaque and hearing the mariachi bands playing on the terraces of the restaurants is one of a kind.
One of my fondest memories in Guadalajara was a gastronomical adventure. I had always remembered my dad talking about a small taco stand next to a roundabout in Guadalajara’s main avenue. After years of trying to convince him to take me on his next trip to Guadalajara, I finally got the chance. The place was not much of a looker; picture a cart just like the hot dog carts in New York, except for attended by a portly mustachioed man. We sat down, and my dad ordered food for all of us. Little did I know that this was not a carnitas or a barbacoa shop; a minute later we were greeted by a stack of tortillas, a bowl of salsa, and a cow tongue the size of a small baby!
I’m not a picky eater, but seeing a full tongue in my plate still weirded me out a bit. Regardless, I managed to turn my shock into appetite, and we starting telling stories at the table while enjoying the feast. We ended up getting back to our hotel at 8 a.m. Studying abroad, I haven’t had many opportunities to hang out with my family, and it felt only right that we would have such a great night to catch up in the city where I was born.
Another great memory in my hometown was from last summer, when I had two of my roommates from the University come over for a small tour of Mexico. A week into our tour, we arrived at Guadalajara to stay for three days, which proved to be too short. I introduced them to one of the greatest comfort foods that Guadalajara has to offer, the torta ahogada, roughly translated as “drowned sandwich.” This meal consists of a sandwich prepared in a special hoagie called a “bolillo.” The hoagie is usually stuffed with pork or beef, avocado, and other vegetables. After the hoagie is made, you proceed to “drown” it in a special hot sauce. You don’t want to eat this with your hands. Don't ask if we tried.
After taking care of our stomachs, we went to downtown Guadalajara to look at the cathedral and the town hall. We heard mariachi music everywhere as we walked across the town, while I showed my friends the “proper” way Mexicans dine and drink their tequila. It is always nice to spend time with people you care about at places like Guadalajara that are so full of vivacity and meaningful traditions. Every time I go back to Mexico, I make an effort to go visit home, and I urge you to give it a try next time you go south of the border.