In July of 2009 I went to Mexico to attend the first international conference on vanilla, Veracruz a la Vanilla. The conference was held at the World Trade Center in Boca del Rio. I arrived a few days early. While I wandered around the city so great they had to name it twice, Veracruz, Veracruz, I went to museums, I walked along El Malecon, the busy port waterfront, and I went to lunch at Sanborns in the historic district. Sanborns is an institution in Mexico. It is a pharmacy, bookstore, and restaurant/coffee shop where the weary traveler can go and get a perfectly prepared meal every time. In 1898 Walter Sanborn, a 22 year-old recent pharmacy school graduate from Los Angeles, went to Mexico City and opened the first bicycle delivery pharmacy. His brother followed soon after and they went into partnership and expanded the business. First, to discourage their employees from going home for their siesta, they started to make them sandwiches. They started to sell sandwiches to their customers, then they opened a lunch counter, then they installed a soda fountain, then they started making ice cream. To ensure a steady supply of safe milk for their ice cream, they imported milk cows from the United States and introduced large-scale dairy farming to Mexico. Mexicans are inveterate restaurant-goers and it soon became THE place at which to be seen. They bought an historic house, La Casa de los Azulejos, all the while, expanding their pharmacy business. They are known for their quality, luxury goods and service. The waitresses all wear severely starched and colorful "China Poblana" uniforms, the service is always prompt and there is a consistency in all the locations. For the traveler, it can be a home away from home. Sanborns is now owned by Lebanese magnate, Carlos Slim Helú, the richest man in the world.
I was ushered into a bustling, jostling, noisy restaurant filled with businessmen and families having their mid-day meal. I ordered glass of Paternina Banda Azul Rioja, a creamy bean soup and this plate of pork and purslane.As I cut into the tender pieces of pork bathed in the bright and tangy purslane, I was grateful for the chance to have a beautiful meal, and I considered the dark side of Mr. Sanborn.
Jack Johnson, the boxer, arrived in Mexico City on August 26, 1918 to a throng of 2,000 fans shouting !Viva Johnson! A couple of weeks later he went to Sanborns for lunch. He was refused service on orders of Walter Sanborn. Johnson went to another restaurant where he ran into a Mexican general who was an acquaintance. The general became incensed at his treatment at Sanborns and vowed to make Sanborn apologize. Three hours later the general and Johnson returned to Sanborns accompanied by two more generals, two colonels, and several other officers. They ordered ice cream. All were served except Johnson. Three officers found Sanborn and demanded service for Johnson, but he did not budge. A large, rowdy crowd formed in the store. One of the colonels called for police support and a group of 25 gendarmes and their captain positioned themselves in the alley outside. One of the officers threatened to close the establishment and another told Sanborn he was going to take him out into the street and beat him up. A lawyer prepared to strike Sanborn with his cane. Sanborn conceded, shook Johnson's hand, and ordered ice cream served to the entire party. Just imagine, Johnson, three generals and two colonels, coming down from a tense skirmish with little bowls of ice cream! (Journal of Sport History)
Recently, I adapted the pork and purslane recipe from Marge Poore's 1,000 Mexican Recipes in my slow cooker.
6 tbs. Olive oil
1 Medium onion, chopped
3 lb. Kurobuta pork shoulder, cut into large chunks
5-6 Garlic cloves, chopped
1 tsp. Dried epazote
1/2 lb. Tomatillos, husked
1 Jalapeño chile, minced
3 cups Purslane, washed and roughly chopped
1/4 c. Cilantro, chopped
Salt & pepper to taste
Heat olive oil, onion & garlic in slow cooker on high. Put seasoned meat, epazote and tomatillos in and cook for 5 hours on low. Add purslane and jalapeño in for one hour more. Taste for seasoning and add the cilantro.