Surprisingly few people know about Morelia, the beautiful city in the center of Mexico. I admit that, even if it is a UNESCO World Heritage Site and the capital of Michoacán, I had never heard of it when my husband won a fellowship to come here. I have lived in Morelia for ten months now, peeking into old colonial buildings and wandering through the vast covered markets with my toddler. I have sipped micheladas in cafes, gobbled more than a few tacos al pastor in simple brasseries frequented by cruising musicians, and, when we’re out for a red-meat treat, (delicately!) devoured many succulent arracheras. (I won’t even begin to confess to the damage my son and I have done with Morelia’s dulces de leche–that is another story.) Yet it all pales in comparison to the exquisite gaspacho moreliano.
If the word “gaspacho” has you thinking chilled tomato soup (“gazpacho”), stop it.
If you are thinking of something you might sit down to in a restaurant, wrong again.
Gaspachos morelianos are salads of finely chopped fresh tropical fruit dressed to taste that are sold—like ice cream—from windows and stands wherever people go to stroll and sit on park benches. They were once touted as “resucita muertos” or “vuelve a la vida”—able to bring back the dead—but while the health in eating enormous helpings of fresh fruit is incontrovertible, health is hardly the reason everyone in Morelia is addicted to gaspachos.
The original gaspacho was concocted by a man named Alfredo Ferrer, who ran a little stand in Bosque Cuauhtémoc, Morelia’s Central Park. It was 1976, and Ferrer served diced fresh jicama with grated onion and cheese, vinegar, and lime juice, all sprinkled salt with slivers of jalapeño. The students from the nearby universities got hooked on the mix of sour-sweetness and heat and Ferrer kept chopping.
By 1990, there were gaspacho stands all around Morelia. And the recipe had evolved. Customers preferred fresh-squeezed orange juice to vinegar, and they wanted more fruits as well. Now, Gaspachos del Bosque, the stand where gaspachos morelianos were born, prepares two bases of diced fruit to choose from, with some seasonal variation. Tradicional consists of jicama, mango, and pineapple, and todas frutas contains the above as well as watermelon, cantaloupe, and cucumber. From this point, servers will ask customers about condiments. Onions? Salt? Cheese? Vinegar? Chile? A squeeze of lime?
Fortunately, the servers are rocket fast because gaspachos are still popular with the university students, and each prefers hers her own way. And when one does have to wait, the prep team chopping mountains of fruit with very large knives makes for a good show.
Mexicans love chile on fruit. Orange halves dusted with chile are served at children’s parties, even fruit candy comes coated in chile. And an American friend of mine who lives here in Morelia complains that her daughter can’t even look at a slice of watermelon if it doesn’t have chile on it.
But I’m a simple girl (and I share my gaspachos with my small son whose taste for chile, while impressive, is still nascent)—so I usually order todas frutas straight up with orange juice and a tiny pinch—¡poquit-it-ito!—of salt (even fruit popsicles are salty in Mexico). But when I don’t have to share, I go in for the tradicional, with orange juice, lime, and smoky, dark chile que no pica—chile that doesn’t bite.
In a few months, we will leave Morelia, and I don’t want my son to forget this beautiful place where he spent his early childhood, even though I know he will. In many ways. But memory is trainable. Doors can close leaving entire events sealed away from our consciousness, and events that are accessible can be overwritten, altered. But there are ways to travel back, ways to lay bread crumbs along the trail so as not to lose what is precious. The smell of a ripe mango might be guide enough. But it is my hope that the taste of gaspacho will be enought to safekeep a city, even a whole country, in my child’s mind.
 Every café has its signature michelada recipe, and these are secret. If you order one you are served a half a salt-rimmed stein of anything from straight lemon juice to clamato—a tomato and clam broth, often served with a spear of cucumber and, of course, chile. (Some bars advertise mango or papaya micheladas, but I have to confess I haven’t gone there.) Thi smixer is served with a bottle of beer, which you pour into the stein and drink.
 Small corn tortillas topped with thin slices of spit-roasted chicken and pineapple, topped with chopped onions and cilantro which you then dress to taste with fresh lime juice, spicy avocado sauce, pico de gallo (heavy on the jalapeños), or roasted chile sauce.