The very first class I taught at the Mexican Cultural Institute, after I switched from being a policy analyst at the Inter American Dialogue, was October 18, 2007. I remember the date exactly, because it was a day after Sami’s 6th birthday. For months, I had been teaching him and his two brothers, Alan who was then 8 and Juju who was just 1, how to make sopes every night for at least 3 months.
Mexican cuisine is riding such a high wave these days. Compared to when I first moved to the US, 20 years ago, you can now find all the ingredients you need to prepare Mexican food. People are not only eating Mexican food out, but are bringing it into their home kitchens. There’s the #tacotuesday and the #taconight. Wherever you travel to in the US, there’s Mexican food to be found…
What to do with a couple cans of sardines? Do what the people from landlocked Aguascalientes do: make the tastiest empanadas. Over the past dozen years, I have been amazed by so many things, as I’ve ventured into a deep exploration of Mexico’s cuisine to share it with the world – or whoever will listen. Its richness, its diversity, its depth, its accessibility, its generosity… One thing that has also stood out, everywhere, is the resourcefulness of its people.
I don’t know if I have shared this with you before, but I am obsessed with eggs. I just love them. In fact, many of my dear childhood memories have eggs in them. Like sitting next to my mom before she left for work, so many mornings, as she ate her usual scrambled eggs with ham, always cooked until tender, along with a piece of black toast with a thin spread of honey.
A cuisine as rich and diverse as Mexico’s needs for us to make an effort to preserve what has been passed on. But, you also have to keep an open mind to new ideas that may in turn become classics. In that sense, I find the kitchen to be one of the most humbling places because food is always growing and evolving and taking you along, if you let it. You get to constantly learn, apply what you learn, share it, and then start all over again. Take tamales for example. I have made countless kinds from all regions of Mexico and from different historical times.
Ok, yes, hot dogs are originally yours, America. But we Mexicans have found a way to make them our very own, too. We love hot dogs so much that they have also become part of our street food. This isn’t something new. Not even from a decade ago. Hot dogs have existed in Mexico for at least a century. So right next to a taco stand, you are likely to run into a hot dog stand.
This meal makes for a beast of a taco. Well, quite a few beastly tacos. Melt in your mouth chunks of short ribs, braised in wine and pomegranate and topped with a scoop of a one of a kind guacamole, get tucked into warm corn tortillas. The guacamole has a mashed ripe avocado base seasoned with fresh ginger, jalapeño, shallots and a dash of lime juice, then tossed with salty chunks of queso fresco and sweet and juicy pomegranate seeds. You can garnish the final thing with chopped fresh mint.
Tamales are practically required on so many December holidays. Take Posadas. And Christmas. Not to mention New Year’s. Wait, of course, that spills over to January with Día de Reyes. Then it continues in February for Día de la Candelaria… It seems to me that the tamal coloradito is particularly festive because, aside from tamales screaming out for celebration on their own, this one is filled with quite a stunner of a mole sauce. And moles are cause for celebration, too! Pair the two into one bite, and you have a happy crowd.
You shouldn’t be surprised about Mexican-style hot dogs in the Mexican culinary repertoire. We love our hot dogs! In every city or town in Mexico, no matter how small or big, a few feet away from the top-selling taco stand, you are likely to find a top-selling hot dog stand. And once you try one, I bet that’s how you will want to prepare them in the future.
My present career began with ceviche. After years as an academic, with two degrees and many policy research papers under my belt, with a husband, two kids and one on the way, I resigned from a prestigious think tank to walk a completely uncharted path. What triggered my career change was this: I had been asked to write a research paper comparing the democratic transitions of Mexico and Peru…