Buillon (caldo de gallina) for the soul…
I believe the word “bouillon” is french. The literal translation points out at something like chicken broth cooked with hen instead of chicken. I couldn’t find a valid english translation, but in spanish there is one that perfectly fits: caldo de gallina.
I happen to know many places in different ciudad de mexico areas that sell bouillon. Depending on where you might be at, you can have little variations of the same recipe. The way it’s served differs very little from place to place, just few elements for garnish, and some others to eat with. That’s it, quite simple.
Caldo de gallina is made with hen (that’s obvious), celery, white rice, chickpeas, lots of water, onion, garlic, dried herb bouquet and salt. Depending on the cook’s taste, perhaps epazote herb, jalapeño chiles, maybe roasted garlic, or even hen could be lightly fried in lard. Almost all the previous ingredients (give or take some at your taste) goes into one big pot to open fire and brought to a boil for a long time until hen is tender and removed from the broth when it reaches a point just before it breaks appart, then the broth remains on low fire and simmers for even more time. For garnish you can have fresh and finely chopped onion, some finely minced garlic, really hot chilli powder, red hot chile salsa, fresh and finely choped jalapeño chile, lightly toasted dried chile de árbol, freshly made tortillas or fresh loafs of white bread. Not all the venues offer all the mentioned before, must likely 3 or 4, and either tortilla or bread.
Mostly every place in which caldo de gallina is served follow the same pattern: a piece of the hen is choosed to go along with the broth. A very big bowl is filled with the broth, chikpeas and rice and the picked piece that is placed on the bowl to be warmed with the super hot broth. Then, the option to fix the bowl at each one’s personal taste with whatever garnish is picked is given, and at the same time, as many tortillas or bread as liked. Meat can be torn and eaten along with a spoon of broth, chickpeas and rice, or it can left the for the end. As a tradition, if broth is eaten first, another portion, just the same size as the first one is given without any extra charge, and more tortillas or bread. In the end, that’s more than enough for a meal.
Normally every venue selling caldo de galina is of a street food kind. There are restaurants selling it too, but they are outnumbered by the street venues. Many of those street venues sell caldo de gallina since really early in the morning and throughout the day, many more only at night and some others a full 24/7 round. These venues are normally found in popular areas, and close to heavy traffic avenues, markets and even hospitals. Every place where people from low-class income to mid-class income are found, a caldo de gallina place is to be found in the nearby’s too. If looking for a very nice place, then shoot for the restaurant, tough you won’t get the real taste. Not that I like to eat in nasty places, but if looking for good looking venues, since it’s street food, then you’ll get none. The real taste come from really basic non good looking venues, with an area dedicated for the massive pot, another for the dry stocked dry ingredients, another with a home refrigerator packed with hens and fresh stocked ingredients, a bar long enough to hold up to 10 packed men, lots of bowls, hand knitted baskets to hold tortillas or bread, heavy duty benches, heavy duty spoons, and another refrigerator packed with sodas. The venue might be staffed with 2 or 3 employees, and that’s it. No colorful neon signs, no other adornment. And the best is that you know the place, as any other person eating there, and, eventually, the staff come to know you and your taste.
The mere act of sitting to eat something simple, done with so much care and so little ingredients makes you remember that the best things in life does not need to be complex at all, and that they can be trenmendously better than those offered in fancy restaurants and cooked with what-the-hell ingredients are and imported from where-the-hell-they-come-from.
There’s the belief that when you’re sick, chicken soup or chicken broth is prescripted as a way to nourish you and give you strength, while feeling that someone is taking care of you, making you feel cozy and warm, like when you were with mom. For us, all grown up men, feeling the same while eating caldo de gallina is the closest you can get to seeing a man cry for the memories coming to his mind. We, old school men, were raised in 3 directives: not to cry, not to show off emotions, not to complain about feeling tired or hurt. Been at any of this venues, seeing all those men sitting, eating their caldo de gallina in silence, basically feastig on the food and even slurping the broth from the spoon, and giving it as the only sound to be heard, gives you a reminder of what is to have a zen state at eating, finding your zone, releasing yourself and chillingout.
I do not normally go to eat caldo de gallina that often, though I definetly love it. I only do it when I’m feeling depressed, sad or even when I almost getting to break down to cry. Yes, man do cry. But when I’m in that mood, I go, have a bowl or two of caldo de gallina, eat alone, though I might be sorrounded by 10 or more men, and start remembering the cozyness I felt when I was 4 or 5 years old, when mom was there for me, when everything was immediately and magically fixed with a kiss. And then I feel that the world is not as shitty as it seems.
Try it, caldo de gallina is not for the belly, but for the soul.