It was a fiesta-free Cinco de MayoHolidays are always good, even if they’re for no good reason, as we saw this week with Children’s Day. Actually, if you wanted a real reason to celebrate Wednesday, you could have used the Mexican holiday Cinco de Mayo.
May 5 was the date in 1867 when Mexican forces defeated the French in the central Mexican city of Puebla. A month later, the Mexicans executed Archduke Maximillian, whom the French had installed as Mexico’s ruler three years earlier, after Napoleon III bypassed the United Nations and unilaterally invaded Mexico to steal its oil. The whole thing mirrored what’s happening now in Iraq, except that the French weren’t going to hand over sovereignty to the Mexicans on June 30.
Mexicans have it tough when it comes to finding their native food here in Seoul. The only big Mexican restaurant in Itaewon is Pancho’s, across the street from Hollywood Grill. Sadly, Pancho’s is always empty. But on Wednesday, because of Cinco de Mayo, or Children’s Day, or both, all the tables were occupied ― by Americans. At one table were six teacher-types with a pitcher of margaritas, clinking glasses and shouting, “Happy Cinco de Mayo! Happy Children's Cinco de Mayo! To the children of the Mexicans!”
It was nice to see a little life at Pancho’s, but one thing was missing: Mexicans. So I called up my friend Armando Hernandez. Armando hails from Queretaro, the city where Maximillian was eventually offed after he fled the capital.
Armando, 25, is a student at Dankook University in Cheonnan, where he’s been studying for three years to become a taekwondo specialist. He spent most of Wednesday with a few other Mexican taekwondo experts, one of whom will be competing in this year’s Olympics. Armando agreed to come to Pancho’s, even though he's not a big fan of the place.
“Because I’m Mexican everybody tells me to come here, but the atmosphere isn’t really Mexican,” he said. He added that the real problem with Pancho’s is the beans.
We decided Armando should get his tequila shots on the house. Our bartender, Lisa from Vietnam, disagreed. Armando explained that international law entitled him to free tequila on important Mexican holidays. A compelling argument, but it fell on deaf ears.
We decided to try another Latino joint, Caliente, which is part of the Nashville complex down the road. Shockingly, it was closed. On Cinco de Mayo? Closed? Not too hot, Nashville.
Then we tried Spy Club. Why? Maybe because that movie “Spy Kids” stars Antonio Banderas. Or maybe not. Armando, who looks like an Antonio Banderas with a little Aztec thrown in, positioned himself before a Korean bartender, Julie, and turned on the Latin charm. In due course, he, his big brown eyes and his Don Juan accent had won us a round of tequila shots, gratis. Maybe Julie, who’s from Jeju island, has a soft spot for revolutionaries. Or maybe not.
by Mike Ferrin