One Bite: the jicama stick | Bleader

One Bite: the jicama stick

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jicama stick
For this week's People Issue I interviewed Victor Mejia, a 31-year-old frutero who works a couple regular corners in Rogers Park half the year (he's off for the season now). You don't need me to tell you that, out of the hundreds of fruit cutters that work the city streets, he's in a class by himself. You can tell by the permanent line of customers he has at any given hour, all waiting patiently for his big chile-dusted cockteles de frutas, meticulously diced gaspachos (yes, with an s), and the gravity-defying jicama stick, a thick platform of crunchy tuber topped with a carefully balanced mound of diced fruit, cheese, cilantro, and chile.

Morelian-style gaspacho is not at all like the tomatoey, bread-thickened, cold Andalusian soup you might be thinking of, but rather a soupy fruit salad that's a specialty of Michoacan, where Mejia's from. The quality of his produce is exceptional, but his crew's knifework and attention to detail is mesmerizing. With honeybees droning above their heads, they're focused and silent as they rapidly cut jicama, pineapple, and mango (or melon, strawberry, kiwi, pears, peaches, and bananas if you're nasty) into quarter-inch dice, douse it with freshly squeezed orange juice and lime, season with chile powder, onions, cilantro, and cotija cheese, and offer a lagniappe before adjusting it to your taste. These guys can hold their own against any line cook in the city.

Victor Mejias gaspacho con todo

Just by way of comparison, here's a gaspacho from Taqueria El Primo, a 24-hour Albany Park taco and torta joint with an adjunct fruit truck in its parking lot. I think it's the city's second-best version, but as you can see by the unevenly minced fruit, they don't put nearly as much love into it as Mejia's crew does. There's not as much variety either.

Taqueria El Primos gaspacho con todo
  • Mike Sula
  • Taqueria El Primo's gaspacho con todo

Mejia used to have a permanent spot in the Clark Mega Mall, but when that shut down he went back on the streets. He's rigged up a fresh water source and electricity, and his whole operation is spotless. If there were any justice, he'd be given his own corner at Michigan and Chicago so the tourists could see what the real Chicago is like.

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