By Lindsay Steele
The Catholic Messenger
DAVENPORT — Each November, Mexican-American women from St. Mary Parish wake up before sunrise to begin preparing fresh, authentic Mexican dishes for the parish’s annual Christmas bazaar.
The compliments they receive from diners enjoying the cultural cuisine make the 2 a.m. call time worth it, said cook Isabel González. “When you see the people like it, you feel happiness that they like what you like to eat,” she said.
The “Authentic Mexican Breakfast” has been a parish tradition since Davenport Mexican-Americans made St. Mary Parish their home in the early 1990s. The breakfast consistently brings in more money than any other bazaar activity, said bazaar organizer Loree Hansen.
The breakfast does more than raise money for the parish’s Altar & Rosary Society, though. “Eating is a time of coming together of the two cultures at St. Mary,” explained the pastor, Father Ed O’Melia.
González said the breakfast feels like throwing “a party for God,” and that language is not a barrier to enjoying a meal together.
González admitted that the idea of calling the meal an “Authentic Mexican Breakfast” is a bit amusing, since Mexican families generally don’t eat a heavy breakfast. Generally, they would eat such a meal closer to the noon hour for lunch. The women cater to both cultures by serving food from morning until early afternoon, with a variety of dishes.
For this year’s breakfast Nov. 9, six “chefs” planned for about 200 guests, creating dishes ranging from tacos, eggs, chorizo and potatoes to dishes less familiar to non-Mexicans. One such dish is the pambazo, which is made by dipping round bread in a red guajillo pepper sauce and stuffing it with potatoes, chorizo, white cheese and lettuce. Bilingual religious education students served as waiters, supplying guests with Mexican hot chocolate — which is thicker than its American counterpart — and trays of Mexican sweet bread.
As the years have passed, non Mexican-Americans have gotten more adventurous with their food choices; this year, the pambazo sandwiches sold out before the predominately Mexican-American rush around noon. González said it is gratifying when non-Mexican Americans are receptive to trying unfamiliar dishes. It is as if they are saying “If you like it, then let me try it,” she explained.
Diners commented that they prefer the authentic cuisine to that which is typically served at Mexican chain restaurants. Parishioner Patty Schuch said, “I personally feel this is the best, freshest Mexican food you’re going to get anywhere in the Quad Cities. It is made with heart and soul and love.”
Fr. O’Melia, Hansen and Schuch expressed their gratitude for the women who prepare the meal each year, with proceeds going to the parish’s Altar & Rosary Society for parish expenses. The success of the breakfast, Hansen said, is due to “a very dedicated and committed group of ladies who share their incredibly gifted talents for a united cause of helping our parish.”