The Best Bolillos in Mexico?
Although I have been living in Ciudad Guzmán for over three years, I only recently discovered a small bakery near the end of one of the main streets in the city that sells the most delicious white bread – perfectly textured (crisp on the outside and wonderfully soft inside), tasty rolls in different sizes that are known in Mexico as bolillos and teleras. In one way, it is not surprising that I had missed the bakery, as there are no obvious external signs that it is a bakery. It looks like a normal house in the street, and in many ways it is also a normal, typically Mexican house.
For the last few weeks, I have got into the custom of going to the bakery nearly every day to buy fresh bread. There is something about the taste that is really special (and habit-forming). For those of you who may have seen the comedy series “The League of Gentlemen” on English TV, it reminded me of the butchers shop in the imaginary village of Royston Vasey , which was always busy because of the extraordinary and addictive flavour of its meat. As, over time, I got talking more to Señora Marta, who sells the bread, and her brother Mario, who makes the bread, I asked them if I could visit the bakery, take some photos, and talk more with them about why the bread is so good, and how they make it, in order to write this post.
So, today, I turned up at the bakery at the time we had agreed, 9.30am, which was meant to be after the busy morning period. I sat with Marta, talking to her and asking her about the bakery, in the intervals in which she was not serving and chatting to her customers, in the front room of the house where the bread is sold.
As we talked, customers came in, with whom she chatted, and, later, her brother Epifanio arrived, who took me towards the back of the house to show me the one oven where all the bread is baked. Although I buy mainly what is called pan salado (i.e. salted or savoury bread), the bakery also bakes many types of pan dulce (sweet, sugared bread), which can be seen in the photo above. The oven is a traditional clay brick oven, powered by diesel.
Epifanio told me that he and his brother Mario are the principal bakers. They start work at 3am every night, and, after the bread is baked and cooled, it is taken to some of the small local shops that are on nearly every street corner called abarrotes. Mario also sells the bread directly in the street from his pick up van. Epifanio showed me the work room next to the oven, where the dough is made and rolled on a wonderful old wooden table, and where the bread is taken from the oven to cool.
I asked if I could take some more pictures at the back of the house, and as I walked down the corridor away from the area where the bread is baked, I met another sister, Marielena, planting flowers in a small patio. She was kind enough to talk to me about the history of the bakery and her family.
She told me that the bakery was set up by her father at least 60 years ago. No-one I talked to knew the exact date nor did it seem important. They all said that the bakery had always been there since they were babies, so for them it had always existed. As was common for Mexican families in this era, their mother and father had had 13 children, of which four had died when they were young. Of the nine brothers and sisters still living, three lived in the house where the bakery was, one of whom Mario, had a family of six children. Two of the brothers who did not live in the house worked as bakers in other businesses. The oldest brother, Jesus, lives in the house opposite the bakery, where his wife, Gloria, runs probably the best cenaduria (evening restaurants specialising in traditional regional Mexican food) in Ciudad Guzmán.
Their father had died in 1982, and their mother, who is now 93, also lives in the house, and the sisters who live outside the house take turns in coming to the house on a daily basis to help care for her. Additionally Yolanda, a niece, and two children of Carlos, Jesus’ son, live permanently in the house. It took me a while to work all this out, especially as different people seemed to have different ideas about how many people actually lived in the house.
Marielena said that her main role was to cook for the family. Typically about 20 people would gather to eat for the evening meal, including the brothers and sisters and their families who did not live there, although this could rise to as many as 40 people. Marielena said that people liked to come to the house and eat, especially children. I could understand why. The atmosphere was warm and very welcoming – the family seemed happy to let me wander around taking photos – and I liked the way that extended family life and the family business were intertwined.
When I asked each of the brothers and sisters who I met why the bread was so delicious their response was always the same. It was because it was made by hand and not by machine. Their father had taught them that this was the way to make bread, and they have continued to bake bread following his methods. I could not help imagining too, as in the book (and film), “Like Water for Chocolate”, that something of the essence and flavour of this family and their culture permeated the bread, and helped give it its unique taste.
As I was about to leave, Marta said to me that I had not taken a photo of the picture of her mother and father which was in the living room, adjacent to the room where the bread was sold. Here they are.