Early ‘lunch’ is a New Mexico thing

By Helena Rodriguez

When Mom says to Dad, “Ven a almorzar!” that means it’s time to come and eat breakfast. The only problem is “almorzar” means lunch, and to make it more confusing, Mom and Dad are usually eating their breakfast at noon.

Just like green chile, referring to breakfast as “almorzar” is a New Mexico thing, according to my Spanish professor, Dr. Vitelio Contreras, who teaches at Eastern New Mexico University. “Desayuno” is the real word for breakfast.

Contreras was so intrigued as to why many New Mexicans refer to breakfast as “almorzar” that he did a little research and came up with his own conclusion.

It seems that traditionally, many Hispanic families in New Mexico worked in the fields in the earlier days, and some still do. People would rise before dawn and have a burrito or something before heading out to work. By 8 or 9 a.m., they had already put in a morning of hard work and were ready for another break. This second break became lunch, or “almorzar.”

Now, if it was the French, they probably would have called it something like “brunch.” But somehow “brunch,” which is a combination of a late breakfast and an early lunch, doesn’t describe it since “almorzar” is usually a hearty meal in itself at the beginning of the day. And even if, as in the case of Mom and Dad, “almorzar” is eaten at noon on weekends, it’s still breakfast to them.

I can understand how breakfast could easily become lunch, especially when you’re working in the hot outdoors. As I’ve mentioned in a previous column, I’ve only worked in the fields two days in my entire short life (I was fired both times) and these days dragged by painfully slow. We were out hoeing in the cotton fields by 6 a.m. and when they called us for a break around 9 a.m., I thought it was already noon. I was devastated to learn that I hadn’t even endured half a day under the hot sun yet.

So, as it turns out, Mom is correct in referring to breakfast as “almorzar.” As for the part of them not having breakfast until lunchtime, which is more of a weekend tradition, I have no explanation. That’s just how they’ve done things since I was a little girl. Breakfast is on the table on Saturday about noon. Sometimes at 10 a.m. Sometimes at 11 a.m. But most of the time, closer to noon, and I think Dad likes it that way.

You know how lazy Saturday mornings can be when you don’t have anywhere to be at a certain time? Sleeping in. Relaxing around the house. Watching TV in your pajamas. Not answering the door if you don’t feel like it. Watching Lifetime TV for hours. Then at some point your stomach growls, or in the case of Dad, he starts rattling things around in the kitchen, and then Mom decides it’s time to make breakfast.

Dad cannot go without breakfast, even if it is served in the afternoon. He always has to a have his eggs, bacon, frijoles, papas, chile and tortillitas calientitas for his first meal of the day.

Even when we go out of town with Mom and Dad and stop to eat at a restaurant, Dad wants breakfast. It can be 11 a.m., and my daughter Laura and I will be ready for burgers or salad, but there’s Mom and Dad ordering their eggs. And Mom, she always has to have her coffee, with cream, even if it’s evening. Even if it’s 100 degrees outside. And they know which restaurants in town serve late breakfasts.

Personally, I think it’s just plain wrong to eat eggs past noon. But then again, many people also like to eat a fried egg on top of a stack of enchiladas anytime of the day, which I also don’t understand. But maybe I’m just not an egg person. I’ve never been able to eat eggs over easy, or as they say, sunny-side up. I have to have my eggs scrambled, maybe so I don’t feel like a giant eyeball is starring up at me.

I suppose people who eat eggs at all hours of the day are no more strange than people who eat bowls of cereal at all hours. One of my former newspaper colleagues in Abilene, Texas, liked to have a bowl of cereal for dinner. Needless to say, he was a bachelor and sometimes he didn’t even use a bowl, but that’s a whole other column.

Helena Rodriguez is a columnist for Freedom Newspapers of New Mexico. She can be reached at
helena_rodriguez@link.freedom.com