Ah Mexican food! We all love it, whether we are enjoying a taco or an enchilada at our favourite local Mexican restaurant. But did you know that Mexican cuisine is actually an international treasure? In fact, it was inscribed by UNESCO as an Intangible Cultural Heritage of Humanity in 2010.
According to UNESCO:
“Traditional Mexican cuisine is a comprehensive cultural model comprising farming, ritual practices, age-old skills, culinary techniques and ancestral community customs and manners.”
Mexican cuisine is the perfect example of a culture that can’t be on display in a museum, and that it must be transmitted from one generation to the next in order to preserve it. There is such a rich diversity in cultural traditions within Mexico itself, and that’s had a significant impact on local cuisines, from Michoacán in the center to Oaxaca and Yucatán in the South, and throughout all of Mexico as well.
The pre-Hispanic diet of the local indigenous peoples was based on a staple corn, beans and chili peppers, and complemented by other native ingredients such as tomatoes, avocadoes, squashes, cocoa and vanilla.
Some of the crops were grown thanks to unique farming methods like milpas -rotating fields of crops to avoid nutrient depletion – and chinampas, which are man-made islands in the middle of lakes. Traditional tools such as stone mortars and grinding stones are still a revered part of food preparation rituals in Mexico today.
The Spaniards brought with them many farm animals like chickens, cows and goats which the locals then gradually introduced into their cuisine.
While it would be nearly impossible to document the richness and the incredible variety of Mexican cuisine, let’s look at a few representative dishes.
Mole is a traditional sauce in Mexican cuisine – it comes from the Nahuatl word molli, meaning “sauce” – and while it comes in so many different delicious varieties, the base ingredient is chili peppers to which is added a variety of spices and other ingredients like black pepper, cumin, garlic, tomatillo, achiote and yes even cocoa. There are many legends surrounding the origin of mole from the time the Spaniards came to Mexico, but mole had definitely been around for a long time before that.
Tamales are easily recognizable as packages wrapped in corn husks or banana leaves. They consist of a corn-based dough or masa, to which are added vegetables, chilies, beans, meat, cheese or fruit, then wrapped and steamed. The Mayas and Aztecs served tamales at feasts and during festivals.
As with most Mexican dishes, there are a number of varieties of Pozole recipes from the different states, and they are all a traditional type of soup or stew. The base is hominy, made from dried corn kernels treated with lime, to which can be added meat, chilies, cabbage, onions and other ingredients. It is often served on New Year’s Eve or on Mexico’s Independence Day.
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