Every time we talk about how Flavors of Mexican Cuisine was born, there’s always someone who asks “and when did this idea come from?” We could say back in our first photographic exposition “Human Heritage sites in Mexico” which was presented in more than 27 countries and allowed us to know more about the great interest in Mexico, in special those places that rarely get mentioned or promoted. In each of these places where we showed up, a set of complementary events was elaborated, including the inauguration where the assistants always commented that what they liked the most was the food and that they would not let themselves miss the opportunity to assist to places or events where they knew they would get the chance to taste everything it was offered. At the end of this project, there was no doubt that we had to do something around this because it was clear that these people did not have the foundations for this type of gastronomy but, they did have a greater curiosity for knowing and experimenting more of the great gastronomy of our country.
Bu I can assure, without a doubt that the origin of this great passion for Mexican cuisine runs in the family, for this project is born thanks to my mother and all her ancestors that had the taste, the dedication and put their efforts on the art of cooking, especially traditional recipes of the family and place they each came from.
My mother always says that among her childhood memories there are some referring to a
“metate”, her first toy, in which she became an expert and till today she’s the only one who can use and knows how to: it’s like in the prehispanic times in ancient Mexico, when it was told that the “metate” is an extension of your body and soul of its owner, and nobody else must touch, not even to wash it!
I’m referring only to women exclusively, because that’s how it was in my family, although it’s a fact that men value those gifts and graces that distinguished my grandmothers, my great grandmothers, the great great ones, etc. including aunts and a few cousins and that it was them the inspiration for these ladies to make those love bites that kept them bewitched (or chained by the stomach) to their respective and very loved wife or mother. Cooking was part of their elemental education and except a few exceptions; I can say that I don’t remember any of them not feeling the pride of being a great cook, and the ones who didn’t got in charge of finding the best cook of the town or city for the family to enjoy amazing dishes, be it for the daily meal or for special events.
So good and proud were them in that related to cooking that it was really important that for each party, wedding, baptize, first communion, Christmas and New year they made all the food with their own hands. These rituals were not easy. One could start preparing the special recipes a month earlier and everyone was involved, so you can imagine the amount of work and effort around this. It was them and only them who knew the secret for these recipes that made them so special and that they’d rather be dead than share it. When the time was running short on them and it was time to share this, they passed it on to their daughters or most close heirs of that process and ingredient that made the difference in that special recipe.
Besides my grandmother, my great grandmother Carmen, my aunt Gloria and my aunt Consuelo, my dad’s sister, it was them the ones who showed more dedication and care in the art of cooking. This last relative was always stating that the most important thing in her relationship with his husband, son and brothers was to pamper them and show them the great love she had for them by making all those dishes and cravings the loved, because “it was a woman duty”, she said. To see how they devoured everything there was in their plates was the best of her pleasures. Not even when my cousins brought her home their school degrees she felt as happy as when my dad arrived at her home for dinner and ate everything she put on the table, and supper ended up merging with dinner because he wouldn’t left the table.
Among other things the special gift my grandmother had was pastries, from cakes to the most difficult European recipes, even simple cookies. Since she departed, I haven’t been able to enjoy those exquisite “buñuelos” she made for Christmas, no matter how hard it was for her given her arthritis, which evolved before the average age. Only my nana Efro and my aunt Gloria followed the tradition, but they’re not here anymore to do it themselves.
My aunt Gloria was good for all that, sweet or not it was all kings worth, and with nana Efro she spent days and days preparing the “romeritos”, the turkey or the cod we ate for Christmas and New Year’s.
And of course, my mother with these two great teachers and my great grandmother would take all the applauses of the recipes she prepared since her most early childhood.
I don’t recall a birthday when these small triangle-shaped sandwiches was all there was, with a little mayonnaise, cream and a slice of ham. It was used to give these among a Russian salad, plus a traditional plastic bottle with gelatin and a cake. This tradition was brought into my house with my kids, until clown and piñata parties stopped. It was really important to make special food for children and grown-ups, and my grandmother would always find something among her recipes something that children will love, and it would have nothing to do with sandwiches, and some other for the parents. In the end, the ultimate prize the birthday cake and even that would take more applauses and congratulations than the birthday boy or girl.
Although my favorite time in respect to gastronomy was and still is Christmas and New Year’s Eve, Lent’s holiday is not left behind because on Fridays we’re only allowed to eat fish. Chub pay in green sauce and the infinity of fish and shellfish recipes included the delicious crappies with garlic and green salad and it would always have a fried banana, in case we had a fishbone in the bite.
My mother from Chiapas, and my grandfather from Zacatecas let through a recipe combination with ingredients and tastes so different from each other, and that gave me the opportunity to enjoy the dishes that still exist in the menus that we prepare for my children. Like those “pacholas” that I could never learn how to do them but, fortunately, one of my children, the heir of the cooking gift was able to, and will assure the preservation of many of the family recipes that make us so proud. These “pacholas” are so valued and exist in the memories of my friends when their grandmothers, nanas or mothers would prepare them and after begging for a while my mother and I would do so for my friends and send them in wax paper so they could enjoy them at their own houses. For over 30 years, at least once a year there is some who still ask me for these. This is when I dare the most experienced chef to make them as good and perfect as my grandmother, with so much delicacy as her.
There are thousands of stories and I would never end telling them all, including that of my grandmother passing away and all the people from Chiapas coming to the city to send her off. We made food for three days because people wouldn’t stop coming and for the masses that continued. It was a conversation for years.
I can say with pride that my biggest heritage and that fortunately have acquired my children, and I hope their children too, is the taste, admiration, respect and passion for Mexican Gastronomy. To understand that the art of cooking has a secret that is not learned in a school nor from the greatest teacher because this comes directly from our own heart and soul. That what makes this gift develop and bigger is the satisfaction of sharing it with someone who makes us feel joy and happiness, because when a recipe is made with these two elements, it does not only feeds the soul, but also nurtures the spirit.