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Don Churrero

by Maggie Van Ostrand
Maggie Van Ostrand
People say there is a heaven and, if we are very good, we will go there after life ends.

Not so.

Heaven is right here on earth and it lives in the accomplishments of inspired humans called churreros, or, the ones who make the divine churro.

People say if you have flour, water, sugar, eggs, a deep-fat fryer, and a churrera, (the instrument through which ingredients pass), you can make a churro.

Again, not so.

The churro cannot be "made," it can only be created. Further, the churro's creator must be touched by the hand of God himself, for to partake of the delights of a churro is to know heaven on earth.

While ordinary churros can be delicious and delectable, in order to be deemed divine and given a title of respect and admiration, as deserving humans are given the title Don or Doņa, the finest churro must be created by a true artist.

If Pablo Picasso had been given a churrera instead of a paint brush, he would have been gifted as a churrero instead of a mere painter whose work can only be seen displayed in museums, instead of being savored, revered, and enjoyed by all. Picasso's art is beautiful, but you cannot eat his paintings. They are food for the eyes only. And the churro has been around longer.

Had Hernando Cortez been wiser when he came to Mexico in the 16th Century, by using the sweet churro as la mordida, perhaps there would have been far less bloodshed and loss of life, not to mention hard feelings. After all, if everyone was happily munching away on the churros Cortez brought with him, who would have had the time or inclination to fight?

Even before Cortez, nomadic shepherds tended their flocks of Churro Sheep in the high mountain grasslands of Spain, moving from pasture to pasture. Since the microwave had not yet been invented, they could only prepare their bread by frying it. Legend has it that one day, an enterprising shepherd with a sweet tooth, rolled some dough into a cylindrical shape, about the size of a breadstick, then rolled it in sugar. This shepherd was touched by God.

Over time, the shape of the churro acquired deep ridges, made by a star-shaped tube through which the special dough was pushed, prior to frying in deep fat. These diet-conscious days, you might prefer vegetable oil, olive oil, or, if you're a handyman, linseed oil. Secretly, everybody knows there's nothing like lard for deep frying.

While the U.S.A. has given other countries such fast food restaurants as Burger King, McDonald's, and Pizza Hut, perhaps gentler nations in less of a hurry, are gifting the world with churros. The churro may well be eaten fast, especially by those addicted to crunchy-on-the-outside-soft-on-the-inside desserts, but the making of a great churro, a divine one, takes time. It is well worth the wait.

Much as exceptional country western singers can sometimes cross over into the pop music market, efforts are under way to take the churro mainstream; perhaps it can even replace the doughnut. A transnational franchise, Churromania, which began in the 90s as a family business in Venezuela and is now based in Miami, has over 50 outlets, offering various sizes and textures of churro, some stuffed with dulce de leche, caramel, or chocolaté. A franchise has a start-up fee of $20,000, and investors must pay between $80,000 and $300,000 to build the shops, and pay Churromania an eight per cent monthly royalty on gross sales.

"We have rescued the churro; we have reinvented it to compete with any other kind of fast food," says Ariel Acosta Rubio, president of Churromania.

"The road is not easy," he says. "But we have broken the rules: We have been bold."

Ordinary churros, if any churro can be called "ordinary," can now be enjoyed in many U.S. cities, like Austin, El Paso, San Antonio, Chicago, Orlando, Tampa, St. Petersburg, Los Angeles, New York, and Atlanta. Never mind. While these cities do serve a mean churro, they're simply not divine.

The best churro in the world is found in Queretaro, Mexico, about two hours north of Mexico City. It cost very little to buy one, if you don't count the airline ticket, which costs about $300.00 from most major U.S. cities.

After you sell everything you own on eBay to earn the money for your flight, take a taxi from the airport to Queretero, and tell the driver to head for La Churreria at Avenida 5 de Mayo, near Doņa Urraca Hotel. There, you can watch a churrero maestro at work. He is a simple man who does not give his name but humbly says, "I am just a churrero." Sure, and Michelangelo was just a painter.

Separated from onlookers by a sheet of glass, this tiny man, eyes the color of coffee beans, as slender as a piece of copper wire, firm of hand and sure of eye, does not require implements to measure ingredients, but measures perfectly by eye, backed by decades of experience as churrero. He will fill the churro, if that is your desire, or serve it "plain," meaning warm, and rolled in just the right amount of sugar by his assistant.

We may not know this man's given or surnames, but he has surely earned the title of Don Churrero, Maestro Extraordinario.

If what science warns of actually happens, earth is smashed by a hurtling meteorite one unsuspecting day, and you are smitten with a churro in your hand, you will probably be propelled directly into heaven.

You won't even have to pass Go.

Copyright Maggie Van Ostrand
"A Balloon In Cactus"

February 2, 2006 column

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