If you ever find yourself in Laredo, Texas, stop in to say hello to Elsa Sanchez, the owner and operator of La India Packing Co. Inc. & Tasting Room Cafe.
By Gilda Claudine Karasik
La India has been a Laredo mainstay since Elsa’s grandparents founded the company in 1924. Since then, the company has grown and their products are now sold in H.E.B., Walmart, and Fiesta stores throughout Texas.
Elsa’s grandfather, Antonio R. Rodriguez, learned about medicinal herbs and spices from an old Indian woman in Lampazos de Naranjo, Mexico during the Mexican Revolution when he sought remedies to treat sick and injured soldiers along the northern border. Later, Don Antonio and his wife began selling candies and Mexican hot chocolate from their home on Marcella Avenue, the same house Elsa grew up in. Today, the house serves as La India’s headquarters and offers customers authentic Mexican dishes, like made-from-scratch mole, and specialty teas in a small cafe in what I imagine was once the family’s living room.
La India imports hundreds of wild-crafted medicinal herbs and spices from Mexico. Employees pack and sort the products efficiently in a large, well-lit room and La India’s chefs cook al fresco in a small outdoor structure containing a grill and wood-burning rotisserie oven. Everything on the menu is homemade.
The place has the feel of something treasured and worn, unique and pleasant. It’s a stand-out in Laredo, now one of the country’s busiest ports-of-entry and a city stretching north with tract housing and strip malls. While the recent economic growth is due to the fracking/oil and gas boom in surrounding areas, much of Laredo remains impoverished and many of the historic homes and buildings downtown are literally crumbling.
La India sits quietly in an old Laredo neighborhood like a grandmother knitting on a front porch. She represents a commitment to tradition and offers newer generations an anchor to the past. Laredoans are fortunate to claim this modest palace of spices as their own.
Gilda Claudine is a lawyer and freelance writer. She blogs about Mexican food and culture at www.dosgildas.com and about writing at www.dkwritings.wordpress.com. She is currently working on a her first novel.