Enrique Olvera, chef-owner of Mexico’s most celebrated restaurant, Pujol, has been known to say that the country has no national cuisine. It’s easy to see his point. I once worked for a chef who kept making me put Philadelphia cream cheese in fish dishes, which I thought was strange (and disturbing), until I learned that he was from Sinaloa, where that sort of thing is encouraged. On the other side of the country, the food of the Yucatán Peninsula seems like a strange and wonderful mix of Jamaican, Spanish, and what foreigners think of as Mexican cooking. And in Oaxaca there are the famous moles, and a sauce that consists mainly of ingredients that have been burned to a carcinogenic crisp.
The breadth of Mexican regional foods is shown by a series of books I’ve been collecting, which were created by Conaculta, the National Council for Culture and Arts, at the end of the last century. The council sent writers to various communities around the country to record indigenous and local recipes, and the result, Cocina Indígena y Popular, is a fascinating piece of social history and anthropology. Some of the recipes are printed in their original Maya or Yaqui (pre-Colombian languages) as well as Spanish; others call for unfamiliar ingredients and animals you’re expected to kill yourself. A few of the more modern entries require processed products from the supermarket alongside chiles, tomatoes, and other traditional foods. It’s an interesting way to see old and new sharing the same space and time. Also, the covers are rather cool.
Photo: Courtesy of Hamish Anderson