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Tequila on the Sunrise

Like all good food and drink, tequila had a humble begging– starting with family distilleries, harvesting the coveted blue agave plant. And now it has expanded not only within Mexico but with big companies that were quick to pay attention to tequila’s rising popularity. Companies like Patrón, Don Julio, and Casamigos have all seemed to dominate this sector of the liquor industry. But it is always important to shed light on where and how the tequila phenomenon started: “9,580 feet atop Volcán de Tequila, were a spiky blue agave…supposedly exploded after being struck by lightning, and the Nahua tribe tasted the plant’s sweet nectar, which, both holy and blessed by Mayahuel, goddess of agave, became the spirit that would intoxicate the world: tequila” (Seal). Just like an epic-like story tequila was born. This description gives a strong impression that tequila is divine; almost as if the Mayahuel were responsible for giving the Nahua people the answer that they did not know they needed. Eventually, with the arrival of Spanish settlers, this very tequila would be used to welcome them to the New World. And hundreds of years later it would be the spirit of choice to put in a margarita. Though with all the popularity, we must remember the tequileros, the tequila makers. These specialists are tasked with harvesting the blue agave by chopping down the plant to its core (which looks like a giant pineapple). From there the agave cores are taken back the distillery to then be halved, roasted, fermented, distilled, and aged. Finally, with the finished product whether it aged for two months or three years, you can add to your very own tequila sunrise. 

Work Cited:

“Bienvenidos.” Welcome to Patrón Tequila | Patrón Tequila, http://www.patrontequila.com/our-story/tequila-guide.html.

Seal, Mark. “The Wild, Vibrant History of Mexican Tequila; Mark Seal; National Geographic.” All About World Heritage Sites, 20 May 2018, allaboutworldheritage.com/2018/05/19/the-wild-vibrant-history-of-mexican-tequila-mark-seal-national-geographic/.

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Who are the Nahua?

Throughout this course on Taco Literacy, the Nahuatl language has been mentioned consistently. The language has attributed to many of the Mexican food words we know now, like ahuacatl (avocado) and tomatl (tomato). Therefore my curiosity about the people behind the language was piqued– who are the Nahuas? The Nahuas, also called altepetl, is one of the states that belong to the Aztec Empire. Religious wise, their beliefs surrounded the death. Nahuas prayed sum of gods, with the most powerful god being, Huitzilopochtli, the god of the sun, war, and human sacrifice. But most importantly, the Nahuas are who we look to for the model of Mexican cuisine. The Nuhuas is the reason why present-Mexico can never get rid of corn. According to James M. Taggart, author of The Rain Gods’ Rebellion, “The concentration of land by the Mestizos made it difficult for many Nahuas to achieve their goal [of growing enough corn to last a year]” (176). The Nahuas have been known to be resilient– and no matter what they were told, they continued to produce corn to provide for their community. Regardless of how colonialism altered their lives, it did not stop them from farming the famous crop that has been embedded in their history. With the eventual loss of their pagan ways, the harvest of corn has continued to survive. But, the survival of corn is becoming more and attributed to places outside of Mexico, and the country continues to emphasize unhealthy foods. On a lighter note, the Nahuas still make up a significant percentage of Mexico’s population, but to this day, they still speak the language that has influenced so many worldwide.

Works Cited:

“The Cultural Basis of a Nahua Insurgency.” The Rain Gods’ Rebellion: the Cultural Basis of a Nahua Insurgency, by James M. Taggart, University Press of Colorado, 2020, pp. 175–178.

“Indigenous Identities in Mesoamerica after the Spanish Conquest.” Native Diasporas: Indigenous Identities and Settler Colonialism in the Americas, by Rebecca Horn, University of Nebraska Press, 2014, pp. 31–38.

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Plates for the Ancestors

When I saw Disney Pixar’s Coco for the first time, I was finally able to pin the name ofrenda, the flower-covered shine that I have seen on TV shows and children’s cartoons for years. More so I was able to understand a little bit more about what the ofrenda means in Mexican culture. According to Catalina Delgado-Trunk, “an ofrenda is a shrine or altar space that acts as a memorial or tribute to one who has died” (312). The ofrenda is especially important in celebrating El Día de Los Muertos, or the Day of the Dead. What strikes me most about Día de Los Muertos, is that it is one of the ancient Mexican traditions that could not be erased by the coming of Spanish settlers. Also, this celebration so fascinating because it has been integrated with the practice of Catholicism– and many countries tend not to celebrate “All Souls Day” in the same way. Usually, it is celebrated with a prayer service in the church. But in Mexico, is the ofrenda is at the center of this celebration because is it how families honor the members who passed by welcoming them back to their home. On the ofrenda is usually a picture of the person who passed, depending on the region papel picados, various flowers, and of course food. “Traditionally, the ofrenda is placed on a table that serves a double purpose. It is an altar space for prayer, as well as a place to display food that has been prepared for the soul invited to dinner. The food is placed in new clay pots and baskets which are arranged on a petate (mat) or on a well-starched linen clot.” I think it is safe to stay that even in death, food is a way to keep a family connected. What I love so much about this custom is that placing food on the ofrenda is a symbol that the family wants the returning spirits to feel right at home. I could only imagine that if someone who has passed on loves mole with turkey would (in their spiritual form) be appreciative of that dish being presented in their memory. Also, the manner in which the food is arranged on the ofrenda is admirable because even the food must be on something that is new. It places emphasis on the importance of the life that they lived, and show the spirits that they will continue to be loved. Lastly, besides mole and tamales, pan de muerto, the bread of the dead, is placed on the ofrenda. This bread is similar to pan dulce, and is made with flour, eggs, and orange zest– once it is baked it can be covered with sugar or sprinkles. On the bread itself, symbols like bones, crescent moons, and silhouettes of animals can be found. The significance of the pan de muerto is that the serves as a source of “essence” for the nourishment of the visiting spirit. When it comes to beautiful traditions like the ones practiced on Dia de Los Muertos, it allows the family, both living and dead, to maintain an everlasting connection so that no one is forgotten.

Work Citied:

Congdon, Kristin G., et al. “Teaching about the ‘Ofrenda’ and Experiences on the Border.” Studies in Art Education, vol. 40, no. 4, 1999, pp. 312–317., doi:10.2307/1320552.

Martínez, Mely. “Mexican Bread of the Dead Recipe: Receta Pan De Muerto.” Mexico In My Kitchen, 12 Aug. 2019, http://www.mexicoinmykitchen.com/pan-de-muerto-mexican-bread-of-dead/.

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Intergalactic Tortillas

Mexican food in space? Absolutely! It has been found that tortillas are the perfect bread-like food to survive the pressure of space. Bread is unsuitable for space missions because when consumed, they produce crumbs that could possibly tamper with the equipment on board. Therefore, tortillas are a staple food on space missions. Astronauts, like Chris Hadfield, are known for sharing his inter-galactic recipes. Suspended in his ship, he shows the camera tortilla that he will be used to make a burrito, which keeps floating away. He cuts open a package of rice and beans, and stealthy applies it to the surface. After he shreds some steak and adds some hot sauce for a kick. The real question is (besides being crumbless), why tortillas– they can still soil, so how are they able to survive in space? Well, fortunately, American is home to the largest Mexican food chain, Taco Bell, which collaborated with NASA to produce the most special tortillas. According to an article by Janaki Jitchotvisut, Taco Bell created tortillas that met NASA’s microbiological needs, “[their] tortillas can last up to an entire year with no bitterness or degradation.” Space tortillas are indestructible. In addition, these space tortillas are made from flour which guarantees that it will last long unlike corn tortillas. Regardless of type, tortillas can a meal on its own– they make you full and are tasty. Therefore, it’s safe that tortillas have not only been found worldwide but also on the planet’s galactic frontier. 

Work Cited:

Jitchotvisut, Janaki. “Taco Bell’s Tortillas Are Extreme Enough For NASA.” First We Feast, First We Feast, 1 June 2018, firstwefeast.com/eat/2014/07/nasa-launched-taco-bells-tortillas-into-space.

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Seeds Grow in New Places Too

Ever since I was 14 (the age I believe my taste buds matured), I have insisted that on my birthday we dine at a Mexican restaurant. The first notable restaurant I remember visiting was El Mariachi, in Rockville Center. The inside was adobe style, with curved thresholds; walls decorated with Mayan calendars and serape blankets. The food was amazing and that is where I fell in love with enchiladas. The second restaurant in the city is El Cantanero, located in the West Village. This restaurant was similar to El Mariachi, but this time, it has two levels, with the second being a full-fledged club. I can say with confidence that El Cantanero has some of the best chimichangas I’ve ever. I know this sounds like a restaurant review, but it’s not– this is an acknowledgment of two Mexican restaurants out of thousands that have established themselves in New York City and Long Island. And thinking deeply about how Mexican foodways, I now realize how much people enjoy it. But we wouldn’t be able to experience Mexican food if people didn’t immigrate and set up restaurants that share the food with a new country and community.  In Jeffery M. Picher’s Planet Taco, he mentions the success of Mexican chefs, “[y]et, even with a growing Mexican national homogenization, chefs remain proud of their hometowns and will gladly explain their local culinary twists. Indigenous population offers the most distinctive cuisines…” (208). The restaurants described above are the product of immigrants whose mission is to share not only the generic cuisines of Mexico but also the cuisines of the indigenous states of Mexico. The idea of explaining the specifics of a dish with a customer at a restaurant is how the people of the new country (the United States) learn about what makes Mexican food special. For example, a customer asks about the “green sauce” on a tostada, and the waiter replies the main ingredient are poblano peppers. That leads the customer not only to wonder what poblano peppers are but also allows them to realize that the taste associated with the green sauce can only be attributed to the poblano pepper because it is truly unique. I think having a Mexican restaurant in the United States, especially New York City, chefs forced to put their twists on dishes because the standard ingredients are not available. And these twists are just as prevalent as eating the “real thing” in Mexico because it continues to attract people new to Mexican food but also those who crave to feel closer to home. The presence of fellow Mexicans in a restaurant is what signifies the owners and the people that work there that what they do means something. Maybe that time when I celebrated my birthday at El Cantanero, somewhere else in the restaurant someone was celebrating finding a restaurant that made food closest the way they know it to taste. Further, having the presence of various indigenous foods creates a multiverse of ways to experience Mexico two thousand miles away. 

Works Cited:

Pilcher, Jeffrey M. Planet Taco: a Global History of Mexican Food. Oxford University Press, 2017.

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Tortillas, Down to a Science

A waiter comes toward with steaming hot tortillas and puts it before you on a beautiful Talavera plate. And you assume that because they seem so simple, that it is just grilled dough. Wrong. Tortilla making is a science, literally– a lot like titration, and distillation (for tequila), nixtamalization is the process of adding the needed niacin to corn once it is harvested. Without this process, one could contact pellagra due to corn’s deficiency of niacin. The indigenous people of Mexico, therefore, created an alkaline solution of lime and ash, that would allow the kernels to absorb an array of necessary minerals for consumption. Presently, this scientific process has stuck around, especially at Tortillería y Taquería Ramírez, where their mission is to provide traditionally made tortillas– nixtamalizing the corn in-house perpetuating a self-dependent restaurant. This is especially important to the Mexican Community of Lexington, Kentucky that relies on those like Laura Patricia Ramírez to make things feel like home.

Citation:

Arellano, Gustavo. Taco Usa: How Mexican Food Conquered America. New York: Scribner, 2012. Print. 18

Giglio, Frank. “How and Why to Nixtamalize Corn.” Farm & Forage Kitchen, Farm & Forage Kitchen, 29 Oct. 2014, farmandforagekitchen.com/blog/how-and-why-to-nixtamize-corn.

York, Joe, director. MexingtonSouthern Foodways Alliance, 11 Oct. 2017, http://www.southernfoodways.org/film/mexington/.

How to Obtain True Taco Literacy

The American taco is an extension of Mexican cuisine. This axiom is at the center of Jose R. Ralat’s American Taco. Specifically, in the introduction, Ralat resolves the question of authenticity, once and for all, “Everyone’s abuelita – Spanish for “Little grandmother” and angle code for “authentic Mexican cook” – prepared real Mexican food. It’s true. It isn’t true. Authenticity only exists on paper” (11). We as a culture believe that if a type of food is not approved by an elder then it cannot be authentic. According to Ralat, this type of thinking is wrong, because every grandmother puts makes a dish a certain way, is different from others. For the book American Tacos, the only requirement for authenticity is creativity. That is, he uses his expertise to guide the reader to a myriad of various taco styles to educate them on how various places put their twist on certain types of tacos. Just as the region of Mexico makes dishes a certain way, the United States is the same.  The types of tacos available in a state/region of the U.S. depends on the people who live there, the geographic location, and the group Mexican immigrants from a particular region that is influencing the area. For example, the northern states of Mexico and the immigrants that hail from that area are the pioneers of the breakfast taco– and influenced Mexican-Americans and Americans alike to experiment with new ways of constructing tacos, like the puffy taco. To support this claim, at the beginning of book chapters Ralat gives the locations where a certain type of taco can be found. Overall, American Tacos is the most comprehensive and expansive book on tacos that has ever been written– if you were ever questioning if the U.S. is a taco nation, look no further.

Work Cited:

Ralat, José R. “Your Taco Country Guide.” American Tacos: a History and Guide, 1st ed., University of Texas Press, 2020, pp. 11–11.

The Breakthrough Role

When we When we hear the phrase “Mexican actors” we usually think of Diego Luna, Salma Hayek, and Gael García Bernal. But in 2018, Yalizta Aparicio Martínez was added to the list for her revolutionary role in Roma. Aside from her stark performance in her debut film, Yalizta has received a lot of attention because she is the first indigenous woman to have an impact on the big screen. To be specific, when nominated by the Academy for Roma, she was the first indigenous woman from the Americas, to compete for Best Actress. Yalizta, from the state Oaxaca, and she used her role not only to accurately represent women doing domestic work but also to an activism campaign for better domestic worker rights. Yalizta has influenced people to fight for better treatment of domestic workers in their communities and has also given them hope for a better future. She has also been the source that has changed the way Mexico and the world see beauty. Books like Eating NAFTA, and Planet Taco, have both alluded to the idea that the indigenous people of Mexico are unfairly treated not only due to their skin color but also because of their antiquated foodways. I breakthrough actors like Yalizta are needed to remind others of not only where they come from, but also to remind them of who are the pioneers of their culture as a whole. People like Yalizta have been condescended and shunned, but as I have mentioned in a recent post, it seems like no matter how hard Mexico tries to separate themselves from their indigenous roots, it continues to backfire. This is because, Mexico’s history is rich, therefore the indigenous roots will can never truly be erased.

Works Cited:

NAFTA and Its Consequences

Pictured: Alyshia Gálvez, author of Eating NAFTA

Alyshia Galvez’ Eating NAFTA, has provoked conversion surrounding the consequences of the 1994 NAFTA deal on both sides of the border. Her book allows the reader to question not only where our food comes from but also incites them to question who the people behind our food are. More specifically she narrows in on the dynamic of the decline of the Mexican rural ways of life and the upward success of American trade and supply. This book has allowed me to understand why now in 2020, the relationship between the United States and Mexico is so complicated. The influx of Mexican migrants is due to a switch in demand for American products, like corn syrup, soda, canned goods, processed foods. For years, Mexicans living in indigenous communities and on farms have stopped harvesting corn that is native to Mexico and use American corn instead. With this practice has come a decline in the quality of taste and nutritional value of corn products. Also, the new and upcoming Mexican society has viewed the practice of corn farming as primitive, leading more farmers to stop cultivating corn, and switch to finding work elsewhere. This displacement due has led to a plethora of unnecessary repercussions like obesity, unfair pay, lack of rights, and families being separated by the U.S government at the border. Today thousands of Mexican migrants have made a living in the United States, leaving their families and friends behind– working most notably restaurants advancing the types of food offered in American cities. Some like Edgardo Martinez from Puebla has used his rural skills to farm in Staten Island. “His customers seek him out because well he has not been through the organic certification process, he uses no chemicals on his crops, using compost and relying on the richness of the soil to provide all his plants need. He describes the emotion of his customers as contagious when we find products that they remember from their homelands” (190). This is what I call “displacement leads to community.” Martinez has improvised by not only using his skills to farm and plant rare vegetables but also to provide chemical-free produce. Martinez is someone who has spent the majority of his life providing for his family through his business in Mexico. He was a fruit wholesaler, and therefore he knows what fruits should look and taste like. The praise that he receives for his farming on Staten Island should have been the praise received in Mexico. But under circumstances, NAFTA has allowed Martinez to create a new community in America. Vegetables like papalo, verdolagas, tomatillos, and calabazas are not easy to find in a local grocery store but if people know where to get they will go out of their way to get it. Alyshia Gálvez mentions Martinez’s story to illuminate how hard it is for people to leave Mexico for a new way of living. Above all, the main theme of her book it that capitalism has infected Mexico, and due to its strict boundaries, people have been forced to preserve the food traditions that distinguish Mexico from the rest of the world.

Corona Extra, Please

It seems like Americans love anything Mexican! This became evident in the 1980s when Corona Extra (this is its proper name), began to fly off the shelves. The demand in bars astonished bartenders and Americans created their own trend with the beer sticking a lime in the neck of the bottle. Today, Corona Extra can be found in abundance at every major summer barbeque, especially at the Fourth of July celebrations. This is interesting since Mexican beer is used to celebrate America. According to Jerry M. Pilcher, “Mexico’s leading brewer, Groupo Modelo, also shared in the export bonanza, and its best-selling brand, Corona, helped to push Mexican food onto a global stage” (178). This is very true– there is no restaurant in the United States that doesn’t have Corona Extra.  Whether it’s a Mexican restaurant or not, most people would choose Corona as their choice of commercial beer. Plus, as a fun fact, Corona is the #1 beer in America. A mini-article by Craft Beer and Brewing describes the beer’s taste, “the beer is light straw in color, light in taste, and has little hop bitterness” These flavors are what allows Corona Extra to be versatile in the various foods that it can be paired with. Lastly, the label that is found on the beer has a very significant meaning. The crown found on the label actually modeled after crown found at the of the Cathedral of Our Lady of Guadalupe in Puerto Vallarta, Mexico. So, Corona Extra is not just a beer, it’s a beer that is deeply rooted in the culture of Mexico. 

Works Cited:

Hampson, Tim. “The Oxford Companion to Beer Definition of Corona Extra.” Craft Beer & Brewing, beerandbrewing.com/dictionary/MIqZMAURFM/.

International Mexican Restaurants

Yucca restaurant in London, England

Mexican Food has spread to almost all corners of the world. There is a constant trend that as the demand for traditional food making decreases in Mexico, it increases in other countries miles away. Owners of restaurants like El Sombrero in Stockholm had to “recreate a small tortilla factory” (Pilcher 169). This is evidence that many places around the world want to give their customers an authentic Mexican experience outside of Mexico. While this may sound exciting, this could be hurtful to the many Mexicans who are forced to witness other embarrassing the culture and traditions that they were forced from in their homelands.  Further, hence being far from Mexico, chefs are forced to substitute the ingredients. For example, a chef working in Paris, Earlene Ridge, has to travel to Algerian markets to obtain jalapeño-like pepper along with cumin seasoning and pinto beans (169). This theme is similar to an earlier post where people, like Selma Hayek, try their best to find ingredients that similar to those found in Mexico. It is evident that in the future restaurants across the globe will strive to preserve the Mexican food traditions that the Mexican culture has continued to reject. Specifically, this behavior is aimed at modernizing the indigenous people of Mexico, by urging them to consume more processed as a result of the NAFTA trade agreement. In upcoming posts, stay tuned to find out more about the effects of NAFTA, with Alyshia Galvez’s phenomenal book, Eating NAFTA. 

Work Cited:

Pilcher, Jeffrey M. Planet Taco: a Global History of Mexican Food. Oxford University Press, 2017. p. 169

A Word on Planet Taco

Usually, if someone mentions, their line of work is the Taco industry, they would laugh, and say that it’s “not a serious profession.” But Jerry M. Pilcher’s Planet Taco proves otherwise. Through his well-crafted words and fact-based delivery, Picher allows the reader to take tacos seriously. Compared to Taco USA, which has more of a journalistic approach, Pilcher takes on a historic approach. The book itself is divided into chapters with subsections that delve deeply into each topic. Pilcher’s book is centered on the question “What is Mexican food?” And explores this question by writing about the Aztecs in ancient Mexico, contending that tortillas are one the oldest foodways in the world. He demonstrates the various influences on Mexican from the Spanish inquisition to the brief but impactful French colonization. He takes the readers through Mexico’s gradual tradition of relying on corn to elevating the use of flour as the more prestigious way of making tortillas. Also, he focuses on Mexico’s strong influence on American cuisine as more taquerías begin to appear in the American Southwest, changing the flavors of the region forever. Further, he points out how globalization has been used to elevate traditional Mexican cooking (using corn) in a restaurant operated by people influenced by Mexican cuisine or Mexican’s that have migrated. And conversely, Pilcher touches on how Mexico has turned against the more traditional ways of cooking to accept more modern methods. Overall even though the language is dense, Pilcher makes sure that no small detail is missed or sugar-coated

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