Don Rogelio Gonzales has been in the pancake portraiture business for a long time. He’s a third-generation pancake flipper in a market in Mexico City. His stand, which is over 45 years old, is located in the pedestrian-friendly neighborhood of Coyoacan. On weekends, passersby flood the streets, angling for snacks like churros, elote, and hotcakes.
In Mexico City, pancakes, hotcakes, or pankekes are most often served on the street. Simple carts are outfitted with skillets and a line-up of condiments like Nutella, strawberry jam, cajeta, chocolate syrup, honey, and sweetened condensed milk. “We tend to eat hotcakes at night” said Gonzales, presiding over his griddle, “You guys (Americans) only in the morning.” He takes a ladle of batter and starts to paint on his sizzling, black canvas.
Gonzales holds court in a cauterized steel castle that his grandfather first bult; the stones outlined in black spray paint with patriotic garlands of red, white, and green hanging from the ceiling. Despite the rococo setting, his pancakes have a low-overhead: The set-up is just a big bucket of batter, a skillet, and a cheery red apron.
The walls are plastered with available pancake designs. The Bart Simpson and Sonic the Hedgehog are faded, decades old, with newly posted designs of cat emoji, angry birds, and characters from the movie Frozen. Minions are a big deal here. You can also get your portrait captured in edible form. And for a premium, at $100 pesos (or about five dollars) an erotic pancake featuring genitalia or full-body nudes, called “Sexxxysss” on the menu.
I spring for a sexy and Gonzales gets to work with the brio of a capable hand. Five minutes later my order is slipped onto a Styrofoam plate and handed over. It’s a pancake penis, erect and veiny, glistening with butter. “I suggest this one with sweetened condensed milk,” Gonzales says, with a faint smirk. The pancake is excellent, toasty and tasting from scratch; he uses his grandmother’s recipe. Not a moment after I finish, a girl in her private school uniform struts to the counter with her mother in hand, who requests a portrait. Gonzales draws an angelic face with long eyelashes. This is exemplary Mexican humor—bawdy, hidden in plain sight.
Straightening up his workspace which is covered with grey paper, a dropcloth to catch errant spills and drips of batter, Gonzales tells me, “There are imposters copying what we do. But all the good things in life are always imitated, are they not?” He’s available for birthdays, baptisms, weddings, and communions, where you can bet the genital pancakes are off-limits. Pikachu is currently the most popular hotcake.