I Went to Carrboro for Cilantro – Student Blog

I Went to Carrboro for Cilantro …


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I went to Carrboro on purpose of buying cilantro. In recent trips to the town, I’d noticed a little Mexican tienda with a colorful sign promising authentic groceries.

As I had volunteered to teach the girls on my dorm floor how to prepare chicken nachos, I figured this was the perfect opportunity to indulge my curiosity about the store. Most of the ingredients for the nachos were quite simple: rotisserie chicken, taco sauce, tomatoes, olives, etc. But I wanted to give the dish a more authentic flavor. I wanted it to transport my friends south of the border. I wanted cilantro.

I struck out with my friend and resident adviser, Taylor Dodge, in the early evening, shortly before the cooking class was scheduled to start. Taylor had already purchased the other groceries and laughed about taking such a long walk just for one little spice. But I had my priorities straight. I knew cilantro was the make-it-or-break-it ingredient.

I didn’t want just any cilantro, either. I wanted fresh cilantro. I wanted it to zing my taste buds. To roll my rrrrrrs. And the store, I’ll call it Don Gato, was the only place to get it.

Did I say, “Get it?” I meant to say, “Get it on.” You see, Don Gato turned out not to be a grocery store at all. That’s right, I dragged my friend along for a lengthy walk an hour before I was supposed to teach my cooking class, just to stand, open-mouthed, outside the doors of a shop that could only be termed a front, for — judging by the posters taped to the windows — a place two girls should not be at dusk. We high-tailed it back to our dorm, sans cilantro.

But I have misrepresented Carrboro. I have painted a degrading picture of a town that just last week I came to love. Let me backtrack. Let me tell you about my much more successful venture to Carrboro with my friend, Abbey Wen Wu.

Coming to the realization that neither of us had spent much time in Carrboro, Abbey and I set out to explore the town last Saturday. We missed our bus, so we took the more scenic walking route, passing by Mama Dip’s, the Open Eye Café, and Bread and Butter.

We stopped at a thrift store featuring a 25-cent bag sale — all you can stuff inside a large paper bag — for the price of a quarter. We were interested. Until we discovered why we could get so much for so little. Our selection included: corduroy jackets, heavily worn at the elbows, puzzles with missing pieces and books by authors obscure for a reason. A woman with a beehive of bright yellow hair, smiled at us from behind the cash register, her hand forever caressing a large brown woolly dog.

I was more charmed by our next destination. The walls of the Music Loft were covered with brightly colored guitars. My fingers tingled at the sight of the bright red 1969 Baldwin electric guitar that was propped in the corner. Never having played a guitar in my life, I promptly asked to see it. I was equally struck by the display of acoustics further into the store. I went for one with inlaid mother-of-pearl dragonflies around its sound hole while Abbey set her sights on a white-faced banjo.

With our poorly tuned music still dangling in the air, we started back toward campus. But a magnificent mural splashed across the side of a brick building soon diverted us. It depicted a longhaired woman blowing lime green-colored monsters and purple smoke.

A walk-through of Weaver Street Market with a quick stop in its bakery section for croissants, a tour of a nearby nursery with large ceramic pots and potted herbs, and a pleasant stroll down the railroad tracks and through several quaint little neighborhoods featuring houses with long porches and tidy front yards completed my first impression of Carrboro. Until my incident at Don Gato.

Even without the cilantro, the cooking lesson was a success, though. I guess sometimes the most important spice can’t be found in a store. The best flavor really comes from the people you share it with.

Emily PalmerEmily Palmer, a sophomore global studies and creative writing student from Durham, is an intern for the Carolina Alumni Review. She is blogging for the Review and wants to hear about your can’t-miss experiences while at Carolina.