Ever since I moved to Maine, one of the things I’ve missed the most (from a cuisine perspective) was the abundance of great Mexican food places in Utah. Not just the Tex Mex stuff, but the actual, real Mexican restaurants. It didn’t make any sense to me that there wouldn’t be any in Maine. I mean, the best Mexican restaurant I ever ate at was in Nebraska of all places, so if Nebraska can have fantastic Mexican, why not Maine?
I asked around some, but no one really had any great suggestions. Chipotle is all fine and good, but it doesn’t cut it for me. There were some burrito places that have popped up in the area, and there have been some food trucks that did their own sort of Mexican food, but I never found anything that came close to the places I’d go in Utah. Great, cheap restaurants with fantastic food, huge portions . . . Mmmm . . . .
So imagine my surprise yesterday when I was in Bangor and asking around for ideas of places I should eat. The Bangor library director asked me if I liked Mexican.
“Yes, but they don’t have the good stuff here in Maine,” I said.
“Have you ever tried Las Palapas?”
Friends, I hadn’t even heard of Las Palapas. He told me it was great, authentic Mexican food. I was skeptical, but I tend to value the opinions of librarians more highly than the opinions of the general masses. We’re trained information professionals, for one thing. And we don’t mess around when it comes to good food.
I went off to give the place a shot. It’s not the easiest restaurant to find. It’s tucked back between a couple of hotels just off the freeway, over at the Bangor Mall. But when I walked in, the smell was just right, and when I sat down, they plopped a huge portion of fresh tortilla chips and salsa in front of me, and they were fantastic.
Needless to say, it was a wonderful meal. Rice, beans, and a burrito smothered in cheese. It makes me hungry just thinking about it again. So why in the world did I not know this place existed?
To explain, I need to tell another story. When I was on my mission in Germany, I was told early on that “Germans don’t have fresh milk.” This was something all the other missionaries I came in contact with took for granted. The only milk Germans ate came in a box that didn’t need to be refrigerated. It was nasty stuff, but if you cooled it down, it was quasi-edible.
Why did I believe this? In hindsight, it seems preposterous. An entire first world country that just doesn’t drink milk at all? And yet for the first half year of my mission, I believed it completely. Missionaries would go shopping with other missionaries, after all. And navigating a grocery store in a foreign language is tricky for an adult, let alone a 19 year old guy. So we all knew what other missionaries ate, and we stuck to that. (I shudder at the memory.)
Until my mastery of the language improved, and my sense of adventure increased. I started branching out into other areas of the grocery store when we went each week. And one week, I was looking for cheese, and I came across this strange box in the chilled food section. It said “Frische Milch.” “Fresh milk.”
I remember even bringing it over to my companion. “Check this out,” I said. “Do you think it’s real?”
“Germans don’t have fresh milk,” he assured me. “It’s probably a marketing gimmick.”
But my love of cereal and milk in the morning was great enough that I decided it was worth a 2 Mark investment. I bought the product. It turned out (surprise surprise) to be perfectly normal fresh milk. And from then on, I became an evangelist not just of the Gospel, but of the existence of fresh milk to my fellow missionaries.
Why hadn’t we known about fresh milk? A couple of reasons.
- The milk came in different containers than we were used to. Instead of jugs, it came in plastic bags or boxes. So the thing we identified as “milk” by sight didn’t match up with what we were seeing.
- We accepted the experience of missionaries who had come before us, and we weren’t exposed to many other missionaries at once. “What do you drink for milk” just wasn’t a common conversation topic, so for the first six months, I think I’d gone shopping with a total of 4 other Elders.
- We didn’t question the reality we lived in.
I’d like to think I put all of that behind me years ago, and yet there I was yesterday, believing Maine had no authentic Mexican food for 11.5 years, only to find out one day that I was wrong. All it took was asking the right person. Of continuing to question and wonder and be curious, and then be open to the answers I got back.
So what other areas am I limiting myself right now? Maybe I should just ask the public at large. I could really go for a great German restaurant in Maine. Anyone got any recommendations? (Or am I expecting too much?)
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