A visit to a favorite Los Angeles bakery sparks a series of memories about the writer’s family
When I walked into the bakery on Cesar Chavez Avenue in East Los Angeles, my lungs were instantly flooded with the sweet air of butter and sugar wafting from the kitchen while pots and pans clanked and banged loudly and voices called out in Spanish. My mouth watered as my eyes scanned the many kinds of pan dulce displayed in neat rows. The lights shone brightly on the sweet breads. I could feel the heat from the pot of homemade tamales, and I craved one of the Mexican sodas in the glass fridge. I clutched my $5 bill, knowing I could walk out with a large bag of pan dulce for my family and a soda for myself and still have change.
I ordered three kinds of pan dulce: elote, concha, and a large cuerno, named for their corn, shell, and horn shapes. I reached into the white paper bag of treats, the bottom stained with warm grease.
My papa always said, “If the bottom is greasy, you know it’s good.”
I bit into the concha, and the familiar sweet smell and ridged texture flooded my senses. The top of the bread crumbled and filled my mouth with its sugary flavor. The center of the bread was especially warm and soft. The smell reminded me of my Aunt Lulu’s kitchen. I wondered what it was like for my father to walk to this bakery at four years old, clinging to the hand of my great-grandfather, Agustín, and to taste the delicious concha for the first time.
As I walked to the car, I reflected on all of my family members who had once lived here, on the streets of East Los Angeles and nearby Boyle Heights: the Davilas, the Ramoses, the Ordoñezes, and the Villalobos. I could feel the presence of my ancestors who walked down these streets in the 1940s and 1950s enjoying the treats of this bakery. I could picture my grandfather’s little dog running down the sidewalk and my grandmother in her favorite orange dress.
Today, my family has grown even bigger and has spread across Southern California, but they still travel miles back to this bakery and wait in line to get pan dulce and tamales for Thanksgiving, Christmas, and Easter. The cuernos are still my papa’s favorite.
Remembering, I could not resist.
I reached into the warm bag and removed the large, freshly baked, yellow-and-gold, horn-shaped cuerno, ripped off the corner, and watched the steam slowly swirling as it spilled its sweet scent into the cool night air. I bit into it as it spilled its warmth onto my taste buds, and the crisp outer layer crunched satisfyingly.
I washed it down with bubbly Coke, instantly cooling the sugary warmth that filled my stomach. It is true what they say: the Coke from Mexico in the green glass bottle tastes better.
The faded, rusted sign out front symbolizes that the bakery remains unchanged and original in this vibrant neighborhood. The same Catholic church where my grandfather went to kindergarten is still across the street. I can tell he misses this place because he tells stories about it a lot. My fingers feel the paper bag to make sure there is an elote inside for him.