You will never go hungry in Mexico City, where quesadillas,sopes and other garnachas* are easily found street-side and served either as a snack or a meal. Filled with a variety of stuffings ranging from flowers and vegetables, to meat and even insects, these portable pockets of pure joy are a staple of any modern Mexican meal. Given the apparent simplicity of their execution, it would be easy to assume thatquesadillas are predictable and uninteresting, but skilled artisan hands bring these delicacies to life in such way, thatdefeños** will consider traveling to indulge in a perfect one. La Marquesa, a national park west of Mexico City, is a popular weekend getaway as well as a quesadilla haven. Here, locals and visitors are able to choose from a multitude of establishments offering a variety of quesadillas among other local delicacies that include trout and even rabbit.
For a sampling of Mexico´s mestizo nature in a bite, (the fusion concept of a quesadilla already combines the Spanish word for “queso” with the Aztec word “tortilla“) try a chorizoand cheese quesadilla. More pre-Hispanic stuffings includeflor de calabaza (zucchini blossoms) or huitlacoche (corn fungus). The latter might not sound too terribly appealing, but trust me, there is a reason why Mexicans have consider it a treat for centuries.
If you are in Mexico City and the foodie in you wants to venture to La Marquesa, we recommend making a day trip out of this culinary excursion. Consider hiring a reputable cab company to drive you to and from the food area. La Marquesa is about an hour away from downtown Mexico City.
*Garnachas: Slang term for comfort-food, usually made out of corn on a comal.
If you find yourself in Mexico during the months of May or June, and you see mules made out of dried corn leaves being sold everywhere, you might wonder if this handcraft is part of the local charm. It is, but only seasonally. This hybrid mammal appears just in time for the Catholic celebration of Corpus Christi or Día de la Mula (Mule’s Day), and sometimes you may find them stuffed with candy.
Some attribute the association of mules with this festivity to the fact that in the 1500s, the faithful went to church carrying the best of their harvest on their mules to give thanks. This is a nod to pre-Hispanic rituals, in which gratefulness was shown to several deities through offerings. Even today, more than 500 years later, it is easy to see pre-columbian traditions seeping through modern-day celebrations.
Others explain this whimsical tradition with legends featuring mules kneeling down in reverence. My favorite one is the story of a man who, while wondering if he should dedicate himself to a life of priesthood, asks God for a sign. When he went to church on a Corpus Christi Thursday, he found himself in the midst of a crowd of men and mules. The man said to himself that if God were present, even the mules would kneel down. The story, of course, tells that a mule did.
Curiously, the word “mule” is also used it to refer to someone who is advantageous. If someone wishes you un ‘Feliz Día de las Mulas’ it could be either friendly ribbing, or time to wonder…
If you are in Mexico, chances are that you will find cacti in your dish. As surreal as it may seem, Cacti have been an element of Mesoamerican cuisine since pre-Columbian times. Nopales and tunas, also known as “prickly pear cactus” and “prickly pear fruit” in the US, can be easily found today as an ingredient in sweet and savory dishes and drinks ranging from tacos to sherbet. The jiotillas or xoconostles in the picture, for example, can be turned into a smoothie or a refreshing drink.
Find a delicious recipe for a salsa made with this fascinating and healthy ingredient, here.
Pinole, from the Náhuatl, ¨pinolli¨ is a sweet powder made with dry or toasted corn. It can be eaten as candy when it is mixed with cocoa and other spices; used as flour or mixed into a drink.
Pinole is not only part of the diet of many Mexicans, but this delicate dust has also found its way into a variety of sayings or figures of speech. For example, ´se hizo pinole´ (it was turned into pinole) is used to say that something or someone was pulverized. The saying: ´No se puede chiflar y comer pinole´(it is impossible to whistle when eating pinole) refers to the difficulty of simultaneously carrying out two incompatible tasks.
The lady in the photo sells pinole as her livelihood. The picture was taken at the main square of the town of Atlixco, Puebla.
Mayans believed people were made out of corn. This grain was such a part of this people’s existence, that their legends and folk heroes have maize at their core. The crop was also essential to the Aztec world to such degree, that important characters in their mythology, Centéotl and Chicomecóatl, both corn deities, represented food, fertility and life.
Today, we might not think people are made out of corn, but this cereal is fundamental to the Mexican diet of any region. From tortillas to tamales and atole, and even on the cob with lime, chili, mayo and cheese as a street snack, “elote¨ or ¨maíz¨ is easy to find in any of its delicious forms. And while in Mexico perhaps, corn is no longer revered, it is definitely still adored.