Person of the Month: Mercedes (Meche) Arteaga

Mercedes Arteaga

Mercedes de jóven en Bugambilia

Libros de Meche Arteaga

By Karla Ortiz

Mercedes Arteaga, better known as Meche to San Miguel residents, is a well-known figure in the city for her career as a cook and writer.

Meche used to go to church with her mother at the Oratorio church when La Biblioteca was still a slaughterhouse, and they always had to be careful walking at mass time because the animals went through there. When it stopped being a slaughterhouse and La Biblioteca was established, it was great news for the people and for Meche. She remembers the new library with great affection. Since she spent so much of her time in the different rooms reading her favorite books, she is proud to still have her 13th membership card from the library.

Meche mentioned that then the library was not used for homework or school projects as it is now. There were no workshops or courses every day or internet and computers. Few students were going there to do their homework. Its purpose was more for the pleasure of reading. It was very well-known to both locals and foreigners. “The English room always had a lot of visitors,” Meche added.

Meche is very proud to be from San Miguel, a town that has one of the best libraries in the state. Meche was among the group of volunteers who supported the Bodega de Sorpresas in the books section.

Meche was so passionate about reading that she decided to write two books. One is a novel of which she is very proud, El Perfume de la Pólvora (The Perfume of Gunpowder), a novel that sold a total of 3,000 copies and then ran out. She mentioned that people liked this book a lot. The other book is Cuentos de el Lotero, a book that describes the lotteries. In this book, Meche gave meaning and history to some of the Mexican lottery cards. Both books are on the shelves at La Biblioteca. She is currently working on her third work, The Story of My Parents’ Dream, which recounts the history of Don Gabino and Doña Carmen, who opened their restaurant, Bugambilia, in 1945, the first in San Miguel de Allende.

Meche herself was always a passionate cook. She inherited this talent from her mother, who had learned from her mother. She worked as a cook at some good restaurants in San Miguel and had great job offers because of her talent.

At 32, Meche had her first and only daughter, Aisha, a name that means gift from God. In 1983, her mother gave Meche the reins of the restaurant, and with the support of her family, she managed to get the place moving. Although her mother was 80 years old, she supported and supervised the kitchen to make it stand out as a quality restaurant.

At that time, Meche had never left the country, so she didn’t know and couldn’t prepare food from other countries. She thought that foreigners saw Mexican cuisine as a disgrace and did not include it in their menus or only included three dishes, enchiladas, chilaquiles, or quesadillas. Most of the time people served them “badly prepared.”

Her best dishes were always the Mexican ones. She liked to promote that part of the menu since the other restaurants that were appearing in the city were dedicated to preparing international dishes, like pasta, steaks, asparagus, and other things that were not part of traditional Mexican food.

Because her restaurant had a style of its own, every dish was meticulously prepared. Meche saw that Mexican food needed to be dignified, especially in a city like San Miguel, where tourism was growing. Foreign customers were the ones who began to request Mexican cuisine, discovering guacamole, pork patties in vinegar, pacholes, Aztec soup, and other Mexican dishes. There were customers who went every day and looked through the entire menu. They took their friends to try something different. It was a success that was reflected on the revenue side, but it was also a success for Mexican food because people began to see a gold mine in it. Soon more restaurants began to add Mexican food as their main dishes. “But I can honestly tell you that what characterized us was the seasoning,” Meche added. After her mother’s death in 1993 and her older sister’s death six months later, Meche wanted to close the restaurant. That didn’t happen, and thanks to the staff, the restaurant continued to grow. By that time her daughter was finishing college, and her parents decided to leave aside the problems and began traveling to get to know various parts of the world and, above all, the typical cuisine of the countries they visited.

In 2009, the restaurant was affected by the first influenza outbreak after a decline in tourism, and income stopped coming in. After having problems with lowering the rent and an inheritance, Bugambilia had to leave Hidalgo 42 and move to Sollano. For Meche, nothing was ever the same. It was just a restaurant that tried to follow her parents’ dreams and nothing else. After some personal problems, Meche decided to start thinking only about being happy with her daughter and her four beloved dogs. She left the restaurant.

Meche has been honored by some institutions that have made her proud of her career. A few years ago, the Universidad Tecnológica de San Miguel de Allende named her as a UTSMA woman, allowing her to attend the school to give some classes on the subjects of Good Manners for the Client and Food and Beverage to students of tourism and gastronomy. Also, a few weeks ago, she received a Diploma from the Mexican Culture Council, signed by Silvia Molina, director of the Council.

She divulged to us where the name of the Bugambilia restaurant came from. Her father was always a movie buff and when the film Bugambilia was released in 1945 with Dolores del Río and Pedro Armendáriz, he loved the movie so much that he decided to pay tribute to them by giving the restaurant the same name.

“There may be hundreds of Bugambilias, but Bugambilia will always be Mercedes Arteaga.” concluded Meche Arteaga.

 

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