Nothing says more about a place than its food. A culture and a people can all be reflected within the food that’s served in a specific city or state or country. This sort of reflection is also found within the soccer culture of a place, and often times these reflections can tell you about a place even if you’ve never been there.
With the world seeming so strange and different right now, I want to tell you the story of a place through the two things almost every place on the planet has — food and soccer.
Torreón, Coahuila, Mexico
Post-European colonization, Torreón is relatively young, being declared a city just over one hundred years ago. In its early days, a German-American architect by the name of Federico Wulff helped plan the city, including the Plaza de Armas, which was “created as a shady, welcome respite from the desert heat.”
“(Wulff) was from San Antonio, Texas” says Alberto Ruíz, Santos Laguna beat reporter for Marca Claro. “He lived (in Torreón) during the revolution,” but adds that Wulff and family “had to leave town because of the revolution. But the house remains, and there’s a book that his daughter wrote about it.” The book, Tulitas of Torreon details life in Torreón as seen through the eyes of Tulitas “Dalla” Wulff Jamieson. The book is out of print and a difficult find, but copies exist and is an interesting window into a lot of things of that time, both the good and the bad.
One thing Jamieson recounts in her book was the warmth of the people in Torreón. This hasn’t changed in the 120 years since she left. “I think that a lagunero hardly treats someone who comes from outside poorly,” says acclaimed writer Jaime Muñoz Vargas. “On the contrary, it quickly seeks to incorporate them, and help turn them into a lagunero.” Muñoz Vargas is among other things a professor and editorial coordinator at the Universidad Iberoamericana Torreón and has written numerous books and articles. He’s lived in the Lagunera region his entire life and in Torreón proper as long as I’ve been alive.
“There’s a saying that I think it represents us well,” says Ruíz. “We beat the desert.”
“We work hard in the desert, with 40-degree (104 degrees Fahrenheit) heat. It’s a lot. The sun, it burns a lot. It bites you. It is really, really hot weather. And we don’t have many resources, we are a dry area. So we have to work twice as (hard as) many other cities to get the basic stuff. That’s what I think people from my town can say, and can be proud of.”
Much like the city they represent, Santos Laguna also beat the desert. Estadio TSM Corona is an oasis in the desert, a modern stadium and campus on the northern outskirts of the city. While not a team with the financial resources of Liga MX giants such as Club América or Chivas, they’ve taken what they’ve had and won six titles. The club makes the most of its resources, preferring to develop talent from within as opposed to importing it from elsewhere. Santos is as much a part of Torreón as Torreón is of Santos.
Manye Castil, who writes for El Siglo de Torreón, says “The truth (is) Santos Laguna is a blessing for the region.” Santos is a business that stimulates the economy, but it also gives back through its charitable initiatives such as Guerreros de Corazón that help lift up the surrounding communities. In order to do that, they have to use what is available to them.
“They are going to win titles with a sustainable project” Castil says, emphasizing Santos’ eschewing the business model of spending their resources on players in the transfer market and embracing one that better utilizes the resources available to them, “where big stars are not brought (in). Where they (instead) produce players and sell (them) for a business model is completely innovative to the people here.”
“Santos has been working with juveniles since 2008,” Ruíz continues. “And they have just started appearing, (the) new players forming here we can see now. Lalo Aguirre, we can see (Edgar) Games, Adrián Lozano, many other players that (are coming up) now, but it’s been 12 years to get to this point.”
Working with what you have available and utilizing deft craftsmanship to make the most of it isn’t unique to soccer. Across the Autopista from TSM is a small stand with a few tables and plastic chairs cordoned off by a chain link fence. Gorditas Fanny is my kind of place — if you blink you’ll miss it, but if you make it, you’ll find yourself waking up in the middle of the night wanting it again. Gorditas are a specialty in La Lagunera. A thick tortilla is slit along the periphery to make a pocket not unlike a pita. This is then filled with a selection of ingredients before being slapped on a griddle for a couple of minutes to cook. It’s a little slice of breakfast heaven along the dusty highway.
The city is surrounded by farmland, and the proximity to the rancheros means Torreón is known throughout Mexico for its meats. “Their meat is very good, one of the best in the country,” says Muñoz, adding “I believe that nowhere in the world are there hamburgers like the ones designed here.” Nicanor is close to the airport near the city center, and is a great place for a hamburguesa or asada and a drink. It’s nice but not stodgy. They don’t coat everything in garlic aioli or try to follow the latest trends on fusion fashion; they cook meat right and are the kind of modern restaurant that will probably be a classic in 20 years time.
I’ve written about Patachueca already, but it’s worth mentioning again that this is a treasure near the foot of the Cristo de las Noas. “It is a Spanish food restaurant mostly, and Mexican. It is kind of mixed,” says Ruíz. And while the food is good, go for the history. Owner Jesús “Chuy” Aranzábal can tell you the history of La Laguna Comarca through the universal lenses of food and soccer. Torreón is as much a part of Santos as Santos is of Torreón.
A short drive from Patachueca is Casa del Cerro, the chalet where Wulff, his wife, and six children (including Jamieson) lived in until the outbreak of the Mexican Revolution in 1910. The Plaza de Armas and Casa del Cerro are still around, with the Casa still showing visible scars from the revolution. It’s a museum now, while the Plaza is still a park in the center of the city.
Muñoz admitted he is a booster, but says the talk is more than backed up with local specialties of food and fútbol.
“I insist: I am not a fairly impartial interviewee if we talk about this region and its people. For me, the Comarca Lagunera is a rather ugly place, with a difficult climate, even hostile, but it doesn’t matter: for me it is the best region in the world, that’s why I have it tattooed on my arm and heart.”
Places to eat:
- Patachueca - Blvd Independencia 126, Los Ángeles, 27140 Torreón - Come for the food, stay for the history lesson about fútbol in La Comarca Lagunera
- Nicanor - Blvd Independencia 2295, San Isidro, 27100 Torreón - In a region known for its meats, Nicanor was a standout.
- Gorditas Fanny - Off of Autopista 40 southbound just south of TSM Corona - Only open for breakfast and lunch. You may drive past it - turn around. It may be crowded - be patient and wait. Trust me on this.
- Gordi Ricas - Calle Prol. Javier Mina 274 norte, Primero de Cobián Centro, 27000 Torreón - Recommended by Jaime, this gorditaria has been around since 2002.
- Los Desgraciados - Calz Saltillo 400 SN-C-LOCALES COMERCIALES, Residencial Campestre la Rosita, 27200 Torreón - Recommended by Beto, it serves salchichas (hot dogs), Polish sausages, and Argentine sausages.
- Steak Palenque - Blvd Independencia 2557, San Isidro, 27100 Torreón - Recommended by Manye, their specialty is cabrito al pastor - suckling goat roasted over an open fire.
Places to check out:
- Cristo De Las Noas - Sin Nombre de Colonia 14, Torreón - Statue of Christ overlooking La Comarca Lagunera. For the religious, a powerful experience with several small chapels and a main church at the foot of the statue. For the non-religious, amazing views of the region. Take the cable car from the corner of Calle Trevino and Avenida Morelos.
- La Casa del Cerro - Industria S/N, Durangueña, 27000 Torreón - Recommended by Beto, the Wulff Chalet was built before the Mexican Revolution and is now a museum.
- Teatro Isauro Martínez- Recommended by Jaime, this theater on the eastern side of Torreón opened in 1930 and hosts live music and theatrical performances. Even if you’re not interested in what’s showing, take some time to check out the interior architecture and artwork.