It’s windy. It’s chilly. About every twenty minutes, it starts pouring like someone up there has a serious vendetta against south-central Bogotá. It is not exactly ideal conditions for a parade — or indeed, for any living creature to be outside, besides maybe amphibians.
But hark! Suddenly a glorious smell comes wafting down the street! I turn a corner, and there it is, shining in front of me like the Holy Grail: a mazorca cart! Technically, it’s smoking and steaming more than shining, but in this kind of weather, it’s really all the same.
So what, you ask, is mazorca? Some kind of mystical substance that provides shelter and warmth on the dampest of high-altitude afternoons? Not exactly, but something like that, and something that should be familiar to most of us. Hint: in Gringolandia, we call it corn-on-the-cob.
Okay, yes, corn on the cob is not exactly a new thing to those of us who grew up with summer in North America. Watching the sun go down from the comfort of a plastic chair at a barbeque while covering your chin with butter is practically a July rite of passage, after all. But for most of us, corn on the cob is a timely, seasonal food. It means grills, and lingering sunlight, and it’s only around for a few months, just long enough to remind us of what we’re missing the rest of the year.
So while mazorca is, technically, the same as corn on the cob, it doesn’t have nearly the same connotations. This is partly because Bogotá never feels like August in New England, but mostly because it’s readily — and cheaply — available in all kinds of places. No need to drag out the grill and lighter fluid when you can find someone else who’s doing your dirty, sweaty work for you. And don’t get me wrong — it is sweaty business, standing over hot coals, turning ears of mazorca over and over, waving smoke out of the eyes of your customers.
In addition to the lack of Memorial-Day-related-implications, mazorca also isn’t quite the same, taste- or texture-wise, as the corn we’re used to. Most of us in the U.S. eat primarily sweet corn — while mazorca is delicious, the kernels definitely don’t burst with flavor the same way sweet corn does. Mazorca kernels are larger and a bit tougher, almost starchy. The best description I can offer is that it feels like eating an ear of corn that’s halfway through the process of turning into popcorn. And when that concoction is slathered with butter and salt and handed to me in a napkin, steaming with heat, I can’t think of many things I’d rather be eating on a cold, windy, rainy afternoon.